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Current Topic: Biotechnology

Our Biotech Future, by Freeman Dyson
Topic: Biotechnology 11:37 am EDT, Jul  3, 2007

Al Gore is such a wonk! Dyson rocks.

The question I am asking is, how long will it take us to grow plants with silicon leaves?

Dyson has been honing this piece for a few years now, and it just keeps getting better. If the US had a Scientist Laureate, it would be Dyson.

Will the domestication of high technology, which we have seen marching from triumph to triumph with the advent of personal computers and GPS receivers and digital cameras, soon be extended from physical technology to biotechnology?

I believe that the answer to this question is yes.

Here I am bold enough to make a definite prediction.

I predict that the domestication of biotechnology will dominate our lives during the next fifty years at least as much as the domestication of computers has dominated our lives during the previous fifty years.

Join the Homebrew Cloner Club, which meets every first Friday in the mall food court next to Chick Fil A. Please, no chimeras over 36 inches, or the mall police will hassle us. Unless, of course, you are the chimera. Also: plants that make loud noises have to be left outside, unless they have a headphone jack or a mute button.

I wait in eager anticipation of Grey Goo Graffiti.

Meanwhile, Dyson plows right into Joyland:

First, can it be stopped? Second, ought it to be stopped? Third, if stopping it is either impossible or undesirable, what are the appropriate limits that our society must impose on it? Fourth, how should the limits be decided? Fifth, how should the limits be enforced, nationally and internationally?

It's time to reinvigorate the hacker ethic:

Whatever Carl Woese writes, even in a speculative vein, needs to be taken seriously. In his "New Biology" article, he is postulating a golden age of pre-Darwinian life, when horizontal gene transfer was universal and separate species did not yet exist. Life was then a community of cells of various kinds, sharing their genetic information so that clever chemical tricks and catalytic processes invented by one creature could be inherited by all of them. Evolution was a communal affair, the whole community advancing in metabolic and reproductive efficiency as the genes of the most efficient cells were shared. Evolution could be rapid, as new chemical devices could be evolved simultaneously by cells of different kinds working in parallel and then reassembled in a single cell by horizontal gene transfer.

"You shared your code, you shared your genes, ..."

Thanks for the link Jeremy!

Our Biotech Future, by Freeman Dyson

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