Bioprogramming, Tech and Business

Exponential Revolution #5 – Bioprogramming

Bioprogramming is the capacity to understand, modify, and create from scratch the functioning of living organisms manipulating their underlying genetic code as if it was digital code. It will allow reprogramming of existing organisms or the creation ex-novo of new ones. This reprogramming and creation will be potentially as easy and fast as with digital code. The reprogrammed life forms will to heal, fabricate, and much more.

Now we enter a completely different terrain and one that impinges one step further into what we consider our core. Bioprogramming doesn’t only have great economic impact, it also touches the substrate of our own bodies. It promises to change our relationship with them, giving us knowledge that seemed an unattainable mystery and perhaps impacting some of the deepest human mysteries like health, disease, reproduction, or death itself.

Like the New Energy Matrix, Bioprogramming combines digital technologies with very physical and “wet” technologies. It is based strongly on the breakthroughs in genetic engineering and biology that have allowed us to improve our understanding of how living organisms are coded and work. It has also required substantial advances in chemistry and physics to create the physical capability of manipulating micro scale genetic material at a very low cost. The latest in a long list of advances is the CRISPR/CAS9 technology, which allows permanent modification of the genetic information of organisms. Of course, it has also required the advance of digital technology to allow to do all this in an automated and cost-effective way.

Bioprogramming allows reading, writing and modifying genetic instructions in living cells. This can be used in mainly three ways: read the genetic instructions of existing organisms, write new genetic organisms ex-novo based on previously understood genetic sequences, and modify genetic instructions of existing individuals. This can be done in micro-scale organisms, in human-scale animals and plants, or in our own genetic information.

Manipulation of microscale organisms can be used for several purposes. On the one side, it can be used to create natural “fabrication” organisms that create a given compound that is difficult or expensive to create through non-organic means. On the other side of applications, it can be used to understand and control dangerous bacteria or virus.

Manipulation of human scale animals and plants can be used to improve agricultural output, although it is increasingly being used to add new functionality to organisms for new uses. The level of manipulation available goes far beyond what can be achieved through previous methods of genetically-modified organisms as it can be done from almost scratch.

Finally, manipulating human genetic information is useful to reduce the incidence of known genetic disease. And is increasingly being used beyond that to understand and improve some diseases like cancer. Eventually, it could also be used to improve humans dramatically by eliminating shortcomings (e.g. aging) or adding new functionalities.

Overall, Bioprogramming will have a tremendous and transformative impact on our lives and it brings forth deep and worrisome ethical challenges. However, in terms of sectors of economic activity, it will impact only some sectors. It will probably change healthcare and agriculture completely. It might also have an impact in other industries in which some organic use case can be found. But most industries will not have much direct impact from bioprogramming.

Even though most sectors will not change, we should all be concerned about bioprogramming. The changes we will see in humans could be breathtaking and the potential for change in our society is massive. Receding old age, important healthcare differences between haves and haves nots, designer babies, eugenics and re-genics, super-cattle and super dogs… The decisions we need to take as a society are innumerable and they deal with the core of our legends and myths, life, death, and rebirth.

We are seeing the dawn of the bioprogramming revolution with innovations that seemed beyond science fiction not so long ago:

Facts

  • Artificial Organisms. Creating new organisms
  • Targeted medicine. Medicines for individuals
  • Improved animals and plants. Superfarming.
  • Genetic therapy. Getting the bugs out of the (genetic) code.
  • Protein drugs. Taking pharma research to the next level down.

Speculations

  • Leather and meat fabrication. No cow was hurt preparing this hamburger.
  • Genetic modification. Designer babies.
  •  Genetic mapping. Decoding the spaghetti code of life.

Future scenario: 120-year-old youths

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