Now that the bio-replicator is a reality, it is easy to transfer biological fragments from place to place – electronically! In fact, you can send the code for a whole micro-organism to a lab for culture, by email.
It sounds like science fiction, but Craig Venter and his team have built a system that acts like a biological email service. You feed a prepared sample of say, a flu virus, into a DNA decoder; the genetic code is automatically ‘read’ and converted into a digital file. Once that file has been transferred to the analysis lab, the bio-replicator reconstructs the organism from DNA chemicals, and the bio sample is available for real-world analysis, testing and modification.
Data compression and Giganet bandwidth mean that entire stem cells can be emailed across the Atlantic, genetically repaired and emailed back to the treatment center. Once considered “too large and complex” to be of practical use, these biodata sets are now routinely shared over the net.
“We’re only working with industrial organisms, enzymes and bacteria, and pathogens – like viruses, says Craig Venter, “but there’s no reason why, in the future, we can’t do this with animal cells, even humans.” The promise of electronic transportation of organic matter is no longer a dream. Of course, the matter itself is not transported, only the digital code of the organism, which can then be replicated from molecules, much like 3D printing.
The implications for the bioengineering and medical industries are profound; gone are the days of expensive couriers with biohazard containers taking long-haul flights. Now you just email your virus to the lab, and get the vaccine emailed back to your nurse. The bio-replicator will make it up on the spot; just hold still for the injection, and soon you’ll be cured!
ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be
Forbes India reports:
In May 2010, Craig Venter and his team showed that it was possible to design and “manufacture” a synthetic life form using four bottles of commonly known chemicals. But that was a proof of concept and the organism that he made was similar to a bacterial life form found in nature. So when will he build something that is unique, and not found in nature?
To his credit, Venter and his team at the J Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland, are doing their best, more than anybody else, to ensure that in the not-so-distant future, one can transfer the digital life code in email, to be downloaded on demand for various applications. He is even building a digital-biological converter, much akin to the telephone that converts digital information into sound, that will convert biological information into digital information.
If that sounds too science-fiction-like, pinch yourself. It is reality, rather going to be reality very soon. For instance, take the pandemic flu vaccine. When H1N1, the swine flu bug, outbreak hit government agencies in 2009, it took almost six months to have the vaccine ready. Using the synthetic genomics tools and working with the US government and Swiss pharma major Novartis, Venter believes the next time such a crisis hits, the vaccines can be readied in less than a week.
How? The US government (say in consultation with the WHO) can email the genetic code of the virus in circulation to Venter’s institute (or his company Synthetic Genomics) which can then download it, synthesise the genome and send it to Novartis for scaling up and vaccine production.