PART III: EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES

12

BUILDING INTERFACES TO DEVELOPING CELLS AND ORGANISMS: FROM CYBORG BEETLES TO SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY

Hirotaka Sato, Daniel Cohen, and Michel M. Maharbiz

12.1 INTRODUCTION

The world today stands on the brink of a technological revolution, much as we did in the mid-20th century when we began to build complex electronic devices. Across the globe, engineers are beginning to modify, redesign, and synthesize completely new functions into living cells, a nascent discipline currently called synthetic biology [1, 2]. While this will undoubtedly have a broad impact on medicine and human health, it will have, we believe, an even larger impact on basic technology: Humans will soon begin to make machines with the same processes that nature uses to make organisms. This may be a scary proposition, but it is almost unavoidable. More machines—beetles, trees, bacteria, people—are made using nature’s fabrication technologies than using our factories. Nature’s machines heal themselves when hurt. They rely on components developed over millions of years of evolution. They are often robust in the face of communication noise. They rely on a versatile palette of materials we do not fully understand. As we begin to exploit these and other facets of nature’s fabrication paradigms—with all the ethical implications that this entails—the concurrent development of sophisticated, high-resolution interface technologies to cells, tissues, and organisms will be paramount [3]. It is also ...

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