August 17th, 2024 SciNews Collective
Brett DuGaul Editor: Sheri Vicente
Imagine millions of nano-sized robots working together to build up a metal lattice structure that would eventually form the frame of a highly advanced walking-talking machine. Each nanobot carries within it the complex code that drives its behavior – a code which, by the way, can be re-written by an engineer to make it build anything that the engineer desires.
These nanobots are not the stuff of sci fi. This is human biology.
The nanobots are called osteoblasts and osteoclasts. They work together to break down and rebuild bone. Doctor Yuan Shikai, a professor of genetic engineering at MIT, was fascinated by these little nanobots when he was a child.
“You have these little organic machines building what is essentially an inorganic matrix made up of metal – that’s the calcium in our bones,” Doctor Yuan said in an interview. “One day, I wondered if it was possible to reprogram these cells to build other inorganic structures using different kinds of metals and materials. And that’s the story of how I got into biotech.”
Fast forward two decades, and Doctor Yuan is now the head of MIT’s illustrious Gen-Eng program and co-founder of Biomedica. Biomedica is the brainchild of the cross disciplinary fields of genetic engineering and computer engineering. With backing from Silicon Valley and Biotech giants, Q-Wave and Blueprint 23, Doctor Yuan hopes he can one day engineer a cell capable of growing a computer chip in a process which he calls ‘organo-litho synthesis.’
“Bone formation is an example of organo-litho synthesis,” Doctor Yuan said in the interview. “Basically, organic cells build inorganic structures. We’re going to use the same concept to grow computer chips on a petri-dish. Obviously, we’ll have to re-design the chip to make it more conducive to being grown in this manner, which is why we need computer geeks on our team. My Gen-Eng team at MIT has already demonstrated that stem cells can be re-programmed to synthesize complex inorganic structures using elements such as iron, palladium, platinum, and even silicon. With help from the computer geeks, we hope to synthesize something that’s actually useful.”
When asked about whether or not his method of synthesizing computers chips would be more cost effective compared to traditional methods, Doctor Yuan replied:
“Absolutely. With organo-litho synthesis, all we have to do is smear a few cells onto a petri dish and they’ll each grow into a CPU all on their own. This method of fabrication can easily be scaled up for mass production without the need to invest in expensive equipment. Silicon Valley better watch out.”
When asked about other potential applications of this new technology, he responded:
“Imagine a world where computers, cars, and entire apartment complexes are grown instead of manufactured. There is no limit to what we can grow with organo-litho synthesis. The process is far more energy efficient compared to traditional manufacturing processes, produces far less waste, and it doesn’t require huge polluting factories. If you want a new smart phone, just order a couple of cells, soak ‘em in a nutrient bath, and wait a few days. How cool is that?”
When asked about potential pitfalls or ethical concerns about the new technology, Doctor Yuan replied:
“I can imagine a scenario where this technology might be used to re-program a human embryo to grow a computer chip in its brain. If we’re not careful, humans who possess the computational abilities of a supercomputer could end up taking over the world.”
Whether or not that chilling prediction comes to pass, one thing is for sure. The future is sooner than we think.
The above is a work of fiction. Any similarities to persons, places or events are entirely coincidental.
This article is part of an ongoing 'Onion-style' news posts where I will provide the backstory to my novel, Red Eden: Homeworld Bound. If the backstory has you intrigued, please support me by clicking here and purchasing my novel on Amazon.com.
Michael E. Vigil
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