[Paleopsych] re: bacterial engineering and our future in space

HowlBloom at aol.com HowlBloom at aol.com
Sat Nov 26 04:49:53 UTC 2005

Joel--The article you sent, the one below, is not only amazing.   It 
dovetails with a piece of poetry I wrote as a treatment for a short film in  2001.  
As usual, the poem was inspired immensely by my interchanges with  Eshel.  
Take a look:
Could  swarms of robo-microbes 
Made by  humans and biology 
The  techno teams  
That come  from dreams 
The wet  dreams of technology 
Could  cyborg microbes by the trillions 
Launched  as space communities 
Explore  the dark beyond our skies 
Thrive on  starlight, climb and dive  
through  wormholes and through nebulae? 
Could  they re-landscape Einstein’s space  
And tame  time with phrenology?   
Could  they ride herd 
on mass  stampedes  
of x-rays  and raw energy 
corralling  flares spat by black holes  
at the  cores of galaxies? 
Could  genes retooled 
In swarms  of cells 
Become  our new conquistadors? 
Could  they explore 
Galactic  shores 
And  synapse reports 
To our  brains? 
>From  global thinking 
Could we  go 
To  cosmos-hopping megaminds 
One small  step for E. coli 
A giant  step for human kind? 
The  article: 
Retrieved November 25,  2005, from the World Wide Web  
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------  November 24, 2005 Live From the Lab, a 
Culture Worth a  Thousand Words  By ANDREW POLLACK  Your portrait in a petri 
dish? Scientists have created living photographs made of bacteria,  genetically 
engineering the microbes so that a thin sheet of them growing in a  dish can 
capture and display an image. Bacteria are not about to replace  conventional 
photography because it takes at least two hours to produce a single  image. But 
the feat shows the potential  of an emerging field called synthetic biology, 
which involves designing living  cellular machines much as electrical engineers 
might design a circuit.  "We're actually applying principles from engineering 
into designing cells," said  Christopher A. Voigt, assistant professor of 
pharmaceutical chemistry at the  University of California, San Francisco, and a 
leader of the photography  project, which is described in a paper being 
published today in the journal  Nature. One team of synthetic biologists  is already 
trying to engineer bacteria to produce a malaria drug that is now  derived 
from a tree and is in short supply. And J. Craig Venter, who led one  team that 
unraveled the human DNA sequence, has said he now wants to synthesize  microbes 
to produce hydrogen for energy. The technology could also be used  to create 
new pathogens or synthesize known ones. So far, however, most  synthetic 
biology accomplishments have been like the bacterial film - somewhat  bizarre 
demonstrations of things that can easily be done with electronics. Synthetic 
biologists have, for  instance, made the biological equivalent  of an oscillator, 
getting cells to blink on and off. To make the bacterial  film, common E. coli 
bacteria were given  genes that cause a black pigment to be produced only when 
the bacteria are in  the dark. The camera, developed at  the University of 
Texas, Austin, is a temperature-controlled box in which  bacteria grow, with a 
hole in the top to let in light. An image on a  black-and-white 35-millimeter 
slide is projected through the hole onto a sheet  of the microbes. Dark parts of 
the slide block the light from hitting the  bacteria, turning those parts of 
the sheet black. The parts exposed to light  remain the yellowish color of the 
growth medium. The result is a permanent,  somewhat eerie, 
black-and-yellowish picture.  
Scientists involved in the project said  they envisioned being able to use 
light to direct bacteria to manufacture  substances on exquisitely small scales. 
"It kind of gives us the ability to  control single biological cells in a 
population," said Jeffrey J. Tabor, a  graduate student in molecular biology at  
Texas. Scientists, of course, have been adding  foreign genes to cells for 
three decades, and the distinction between synthetic  biology and more 
conventional genetic engineering is not always clear. Proponents of synthetic biology 
say genetic engineering so far has mainly  involved transferring a single gene 
from one organism into another. The human  insulin gene, for instance, is put 
into bacteria, which then produce the  hormone.  Each project, they say,  
requires a lot of experimentation, in contrast to true engineering, like building a 
microchip  or a house, which uses standardized parts and has a fairly 
predictable  outcome. "We haven't been able to transform it into a discipline where 
you  can simply and predictably engineer biological systems," said Drew Endy, 
an assistant professor of  biological engineering at the Massachusetts 
Institute of Technology. "It  means the complexity of things we can make and can 
afford to make are quite  limited." Professor Endy and colleagues  at M.I.T. have 
created a catalog of biological components, which they call  BioBricks, which 
are sequences of  DNA that can perform particular functions like turning on a 
gene. Still,  since cells differ from one another and are extremely complex, it 
is open to  question how predictable biological engineering can ever be.  
M.I.T. has also begun holding a competition  for college students to design 
"genetically engineered machines." The bacterial  camera was an entrant in 2004 and 
was made in part using BioBricks. Mr. Tabor  said the idea for bacterial 
photography came from Zachary Booth Simpson, a  digital artist who has been 
learning about biology at the university. By  chance, the Texas team learned  that 
Professor Voigt in San  Francisco and one of his graduate students, Anselm  
Levskaya, had already developed a bacterial light sensor. So the two groups  
teamed up. The E. coli bacterium was chosen because it is easy for genetic  
engineers to work with. But since E.  coli live in the human gut, they cannot sense 
light. Mr. Voigt and Mr. Levskaya  put in a gene used by photosynthetic algae 
to respond to light. The bacteria  were also given genes to make them produce 
an enzyme that would react with a  chemical added to the growth medium. When 
that reaction occurs, a black  precipitate is produced. The scientists created 
sort of a chain reaction  inside the bacteria. When the bacteria are in the 
dark, the enzyme is produced,  turning the medium black. When the bacteria are 
exposed to light, production of  the enzyme is shut off. Copyright 2005 The New 
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Howard Bloom
Author of The Lucifer Principle: A  Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of 
History and Global Brain: The Evolution  of Mass Mind From The Big Bang to the 
21st Century
Recent Visiting  Scholar-Graduate Psychology Department, New York University; 
Core Faculty  Member, The Graduate  Institute
Founder:  International Paleopsychology Project; founding board member: Epic 
of Evolution  Society; founding board member, The Darwin Project; founder: The 
Big Bang Tango  Media Lab; member: New York Academy of Sciences, American 
Association for the  Advancement of Science, American Psychological Society, 
Academy of Political  Science, Human Behavior and Evolution Society, International 
Society for Human  Ethology; advisory board member: Institute for 
Accelerating Change ; executive  editor -- New Paradigm book series.
For information on The International  Paleopsychology Project, see: 
for two chapters from  
The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History,  
see www.howardbloom.net/lucifer
For information on Global Brain: The  Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big 
Bang to the 21st Century, see  www.howardbloom.net

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