So, you’ve heard me yammer about augmentation, chemical, biological, human. There’s nothing particularly special about this word. Other folks talk about engineering. Same difference. I guess I just like the word because engineering always seems to inherently presume that you have a precise goal in mind, or a set of known tools that you’re using. That could just be my bias. But to me, augmentation is … more open-ended. (more…)
Archive for July, 2010
Today I’m at the NSSEFF meeting in Virginia. I was lucky enough to get one of these DoD Fellowships, and I thought I should show up and thank folks in person. Actually, this is a prelude of what I’ll have to be doing in future years, reporting on my own efforts to make NeoLife, programmable organisms with novel chemistries. (more…)
I have at various times and in various places participated in ‘red team’ exercises, where my job was to think about how to do damage to the United States of America. As I may have alluded to elsewhere, it is a surprisingly easy thing to do. (more…)
You all know what siRNAs are. Short, double-stranded RNA molecules that can regulate gene expression in a site-specific manner. Along with their various other natural and engineered counterparts (shRNAs, miRNAs, pi RNAs) it is anticipated that these reagents can be engineered to be effective drugs. Of course, we’ve been promised this before, in the guise of antisense oligonucleotides, which appeared not to pan out so well (but now are panning out surprisingly well; check out the ability of antisense oligonucleotides to alter splicing patterns and restore the function of mutant dystrophins in humans). In some ways, siRNAs can be thought of as son (or daughter) of antisense, but with greater potency because of the natural machinery that brings their base-pairing capabilities to bear. (more…)
We are the only life we know. We have 20 canonical amino acids, 5 canonical nucleotides, and we relate the two via a genetic code where the exceptions prove the rule of its common origin. Boring.
But effective. Life is parsimonious because evolution is parsimonious. Shortest path to best fitness wins. In a fitness landscape that has foothills undulating up into mountains, that’s great. In a landscape where there is a distant Olympus, though, rising starkly from the plains, not so much.
This is where we come in. (more…)
So today I’m in Golden, CO, of all places, waiting to give a seminar on “Synthetic Biology and Origins” (or maybe the other way around). This always brings up the odd place I occupy in the scientific spectrum on origins. I’ve pretty much been an origins of life biochemist most of my career, from my graduate work with Steve Benner to my development of in vitro selection with Jack Szostak to my own independent career, which has always to my mind been trying to invent life for fun and profit. So, I think I am somewhat qualified to speak on the subject. But what I have to say usually sets most folks’ teeth on edge, one way or the other. (more…)
I’m on record as suggesting that synthetic biology does not constitute much in the way of a biothreat (Nature Biotechnology, December, 2009, pp. 1071-1073). However, this does not stop many of the practitioners of this ‘discipline’ from declaring that the sky is falling. This sort of raises the question as to what synthetic biology actually is, and how it differs in some significant way from what has come before. (more…)
I have a tendency to be too limited in my vision. Back before the human genome was sequenced, I really couldn’t see the point of it. And more recently, as we’ve begun to contemplate the ease with which genome synthesis can be carried out, I again sometimes fail to see the importance. My limitations primarily have to do with having to deal with the nitty gritty of technologies that are right in front of my eyes, and therefore failing to step back and see what the future might bring. It’s easy to dream, and hard to do. (more…)