Living machines to change our world fundamentally

Get used to living in a world where products are grown rather than manufactured

The promise of living biological machines, as well as industrial scale 3D printing, seemed just beyond our reach in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries. Now, they are reality – and ‘manufacturing’ will never be the same. 3D printing is now completely mainstream, with millions of printers humming away all over the world, from dinky US$ 25 home models to vast industrial printers turning out large components and whole products – and even printing bio products like meat.

But the real breakthrough has been in synthetic biology; the production of ‘living machines’ made from biological parts, that are doing everything from producing energy from waste, to converting pollution into clear air, to manufacturing low-cost foodstuffs and drugs.

The breakthrough came when scientists adopted what they light-heartedly called an “Ikea approach” – building libraries of high-quality biological ‘parts’ (in reality DNA sequences) that other scientists could speedily stick together to produce a seemingly endless array of living machines… just like assembling furniture from a flat-pack.

“The impact on human life will be revolutionary,” said biotechnologist Professor Audrey Marshall of Tokyo University. “This will reinvent healthcare, chemistry, agriculture, drug manufacture and materials science, just for a start. And we can now tackle so many environmental problems in a natural way, because what we are doing is replicating nature.”

One of the first living machines to emerge from the lab is a synthetic bacteria colony that gobbles up sewage and produces electric power directly – a kind of biological fuel cell. Next on the list is a synthetic leaf, which absorbs sunlight and carbon dioxide to excrete hydrogen and oxygen, providing fuel while simultaneously purifying the air.

The age of abundance is about to begin!

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

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