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Interesting possible use of genetic engineering

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posted on Dec, 5 2004 @ 11:17 AM
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This idea came to me in a military thread originally (where it was under appreciated) but I have sense realized that it's useful in far more ways than simply as a weapon.

To make an ugly generalization, organisms are basically just self-sustaining chemical machines. It takes in certain chemicals, breaks them down and assembles useful chemicals from those components and uses those components for building onto itself and for repeating the process of breaking down and using other chemicals.

With the proper engineering, there are few limits t the abilities of a swarm of single-celled creatures.
The original application of my idea was military- if an organism were designed to digest rubber and plastics for carbon a release of these things over a warzone would bring fighting to a stand still. Vehicles would be crippled as suspension components, tires, belt drives and many other parts disintegrated. Much of the equipment soldier rely on, even the packaging of meals would rot away. If the organism were designed to be asexual and had a short lifespan they could be used without becoming a plague on the Earth.

What I've realized just now is that engineered organisms could do other things as well. Imagine an airfilter on your car full of little critters that absorb air and make use of Nitrogen and Carbon, exhaling pure oxygen into your engine. Another sort of organism in your fuel tank might break down water into Hydrogen.

I'm not exactly an expert in biology or chemistry, so I'm not really just throwing this idea out there as much as asking how feasible it is. How far are we from being able to design our own small organisms, and how likely is it that we could manipulate them for such uses as produce hydrogen to power a hydrogen economy, etc?




posted on Dec, 5 2004 @ 06:30 PM
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With the proper engineering, there are few limits t the abilities of a swarm of single-celled creatures.

There are limitations. We are currently limited to exploiting only genes that exist, so there are limits to what can be broken down. We certainly can't engineer organisms to do something highly selective, such as a break down and use carbon fiber for a source of carbon.


The original application of my idea was military- if an organism were designed to digest rubber and plastics for carbon a release of these things over a warzone would bring fighting to a stand still. Vehicles would be crippled as suspension components, tires, belt drives and many other parts disintegrated. Much of the equipment soldier rely on, even the packaging of meals would rot away. If the organism were designed to be asexual and had a short lifespan they could be used without becoming a plague on the Earth.

The problem with this is that the asexual thing doesn't prevent proliferation. Certainly many microorganisms don't reproduce sexually, and as far as engineering in a short life span, this is probably easier to do in plants or animals than it is in microorganisms.


What I've realized just now is that engineered organisms could do other things as well. Imagine an airfilter on your car full of little critters that absorb air and make use of Nitrogen and Carbon, exhaling pure oxygen into your engine. Another sort of organism in your fuel tank might break down water into Hydrogen.

It's a great idea... People are doing this type of research currently... not exactly this, but similar... I saw a seminar a couple of years back... can't remember who... but this guy was engineering a fusion protein by combining domains from different proteins and generating pure Hydrogen gas via a biological system. The problem with this type of system is getting sufficient turnover by the enzymes. Of course microorganisms in solution have a definite 'shelf life' as well. Once they are too deep in their own waste, replication begins to taper off, as does metabolism. This isn't to say that you couldn't put them in a flow through system of one variety or another. With current technology though, you'd probably have to have a tanker of bacterial culture attached to your car to get sufficient fuel. This would of course make for some messy accidents.


I'm not exactly an expert in biology or chemistry, so I'm not really just throwing this idea out there as much as asking how feasible it is. How far are we from being able to design our own small organisms, and how likely is it that we could manipulate them for such uses as produce hydrogen to power a hydrogen economy, etc?

Again, this depends on what you mean by developing our own organisms. We can certainly manipulate the existing gene pools of multiple organisms, but once again we are limited currently to existing genetic information. We may never be able to create genes de novo.



posted on Dec, 5 2004 @ 07:53 PM
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I kind of figured it would be nearly impossible at present to just create new genes, but I am sort of curious about something. DNA is just chemicals and could theoretically be synthesized right?
Has anybody ever proposed or tried to do some trial-and-error experiments in patterns similiar but not identical to known organisms? I realize it might be a laborious and expensive progress, but wouldn't that be an effective way to get an idea of the rules by which DNA behaves, and therefore a step towards the ability to design entirely new genes?



posted on Dec, 5 2004 @ 08:43 PM
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Go and watch the movie The Andromeda Strain then do a web search on Eric Drexler Grey Goo.

You do realize that soldiers are also great sources of carbon? Not to mention civilians, animals, plants...

Please, do not grow up to be a molecular biologist.



posted on Dec, 5 2004 @ 08:54 PM
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Chakotay, Nanobots are THEORETICAL, not somthing that has proven to be possible yet, and its not that desirable either IMHO. There are much better ways to achieve Molecular Presicion Manufaturing then Nanobots(btw if Nanobots becomes reality then we will probably invent a counter shortly after) Nanobots would also have to compete with natural organisms for energy as well as for sources of building materials(ie Carbon will not be the only building material used)

Also note that in Sci-Fi movies, that they need villians and a "moral" to the story and Technology running Amok is a convientient target esp. for Chriton.




Image source www.foresight.org...

[edit on 5-12-2004 by sardion2000]



posted on Dec, 6 2004 @ 01:24 PM
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Originally posted by The Vagabond
I kind of figured it would be nearly impossible at present to just create new genes, but I am sort of curious about something. DNA is just chemicals and could theoretically be synthesized right?

Absolutely. However the problems are not in coupling a few nucleotides, rather the situation gets more difficult when you are trying to synthesize long strands. Most commercial DNA synthesis houses won't do more than 100 bases, and 100 is a lot. A lot of companies max their synthetic DNA synthesis out at 70 bases. Personally, using the same equipment as the commercial manufacturers, I've only successfully made 43 base strands. Keep in mind this is not necessarily because they can't do it, but because it becomes expensive and difficult to purify. Synthesis must be done immobilized on a solid support, so that unreacted species can washed away after each coupling; coupling reactions that join nucleotides are thought to be greater than 99% efficient, but nonetheless leave ~1% n-1 strands after each coupling. So you get a lot of garbage mixed in with what you want. This type of stuff is better performed by introducing random mutations into proteins of interest. Experiments like this are done all the time. I know people that have made mutant libraries containing more than 4000 mutants personally, and in the lab, probably have more than 100,000 mutants of this particular photosynthetic bacteria. Now it becomes a throughput problem, which I've pointed out to people in the lab. They need personnell to screen said mutants. They really just need to stop making and start screening, but I digress.


Has anybody ever proposed or tried to do some trial-and-error experiments in patterns similiar but not identical to known organisms? I realize it might be a laborious and expensive progress, but wouldn't that be an effective way to get an idea of the rules by which DNA behaves, and therefore a step towards the ability to design entirely new genes?

Not quite sure what you mean by this question... perhaps you could clarify.



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