Evolution Machine Compresses Eons Into Days
The evolution machine uses multiplex automated genome engineering (MAGE) to radically accelerate the process of evolving novel microbes to solve human problems. Rather than waiting eons for nature to come up with useful organisms, like cyanobacteria that can extract energy from light directly using photosynthesis, evolution machines can put the evolution pedal to the metal and produce new organisms in days.
(The Evolution Machine)
Here's how the process, which is the result of work done by grad student Harris Wang and Harvard genetics professor George Church among others, works to push evolution to its limits.
The basic idea is hardly original; various forms of directed evolution are already used to design things as diverse as proteins and boats. Church's group, however, has developed a machine for "evolving" entire organisms - and it works at an unprecedented scale and speed. The system has the potential to add, change or switch off thousands of genes at a time - Church calls this "multiplexing" - and it can generate billions of new strains in days.
Of course, there are already plenty of ways to generate mutations in cells, from zapping them with radiation to exposing them to dangerous chemicals. What's different about Church's machine is that it can target the genes that affect a particular characteristic and alter them in specific ways. That greatly increases the odds of success. Effectively, rather than spending years introducing one set of specific changes, bioengineers can try out thousands of combinations at once.
Church is also adapting MAGE for use with human stem cell lines. The intent is to create human cell lines with slightly different genomes in order to test ideas about which mutations cause disease.
"Sequencing is now a million times cheaper, and there are a million times as many hypotheses being generated," he says. "We'd like to develop the resources so that people can quickly test hypotheses about the human genome by synthesising new versions."
As the technology improves and becomes routine, says Church, it could also be used to alter the cells used for cell-based therapies. Tissue-engineered livers grown from stem cells, say, could have their genetic code altered so that they would be immune to liver-destroying viruses such as hepatitis C.
"Everybody getting stem cell therapies will be given a choice of doing ordinary stem cell therapy - either with their cells or donor cells - or doing stem cells that are resistant to viruses," he says.
SF Golden Age great Edmond Hamilton wrote about this idea in his 1931 short story The Man Who Evolved. In the story, Dr. John Pollard has an idea for a machine that will increase the speed of human evolution by millions of times.
A big cube-like structure of transparent metal surmounted by a huge metal cylinder resembling a monster vacuum tube, took up the room's center, and he showed us in an adjoining stone-floored room the dynamos and motors of his private power plant...
"...it is the cosmic rays, beating upon every living organism on earth, that cause the profound changes in the structure of those organisms which we call mutations...
"I have been able in the last months to do something no physicist has been able to do, to concentrate the cosmic rays and yet remove from them their harmful properties. You saw the cylinder over the metal cube in my laboratory? That cylinder literally gathers in from an immense distance the cosmic rays that strike this part of earth, and reflects them down inside the cube.
"Now suppose those concentrated cosmic rays, millions of times stronger than the ordinary cosmic rays that strike one spot on earth, fell upon a man standing inside the cube? What will be the result? ...He will be changed millions of times faster than ordinarily, will go forward in hours or minutes through the evolutionary mutations that all mankind will go forward through in eons to come!"
(Read more about Hamilton's evolution machine)
Read more about the work of Church's group in New Scientist; thanks to Winchell Chung (aka, @nyrath) for the story and the sf tip.
Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 7/3/2011)
Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.
| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit |
you like to contribute a story tip?
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add
Comment/Join discussion ( 5 )
Related News Stories -
Oil from Algae - Can It Be Done?
'We dump everything that's waste into the tanks, pump the oil off the top.' - Hal Clement, 1950.
Amazing 'Hybrid' Solar-Powered Sea Slug Does Photosynthesis
Thank goodness for Star Trek.
Should You Submit Your DNA To A Database?
Consumer DNA services are often inaccurate.
Humans Evolve Deep Diving Abilities
Sounds like '60s sci-fi to me.
Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!)
is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for
the Invention Category that interests
you, the Glossary, the Invention
Timeline, or see what's New.
Musk Declares Tesla Supercharger Capacity Will Double By Next Year
'Recharge the batteries... in almost every town and village...'
Drywall Robot Looking For Sheetrock
Sheetrockers have sure changed since my day.
Ford's Autonomous Cabs 'Transportation As A Service'
'He was glad to crawl into his autocab and close the cover.'
Sex In Driverless Cars?
'...admirable for petting.'
Amazing Kepler Space Telescope Decommissioned By NASA
'Thus it came about that the search for a planetiferous sun... was not unduly prolonged...'
ODYSSEUS Solar-Powered Stratospheric Plane Flies Forever
'The planes flew continuously, twenty-four hours a day...'
Augmented and-or Virtual Reality Shoes From Google
'The auto-treadmill's bumps and gullies matched whatever terrain the goggles showed me...'
Soon, Your Tesla Will Follow You Like A Pet
'... follow him as faithfully as a well-trained hound.'
Chinese Watrix Gait Recognition Watching You Always
'... those pesky gait-recognition cameras.'
FlexPai Foldable Phone By Royole
'...A paper thin polycarbon screen unfurled.'
Bioreactor Helps Legless Frogs Get Their Jump Back
'An alien drug... Used by an insect race... It can repair bones and organs. It can grow new tissue."
Oh Yes, We're Building The Rotating Tower In Dubai
'Give me an old-fashioned tetragon on a central pivot every time.'
Xinhua AI Anchor Puts CGI Face To Automated News
'...a congeries of software agents.'
Wirewax Watching You Watch, Adjusting Your Experience
'He adjusted the n, the r and b knobs, and hopefully anticipated a turn for the better...'
LawGeex AI Beats 20 Top Lawyers
'The Law Society has strict rules on the use of pseudo-intelligent software - terrified of putting... its members out of work.'
ROAM Robotics Skiing Exoskeleton
'The real genius in the design is that you don't have to control the suit; you just wear it...'
More SF in the News Stories
More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories