Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Weird Wednesday - The Evolution Machine

First, check out this article from New Scientist about The Evolution Machine. It's OK, I'll wait.

I love the description in the first paragraph of what sounds like a mad scientist Lego Machine mixed with Dr. Frankenstein designer labware and tormented bacteria. And, it would all fit on the desk in your dorm room or spare bedroom:
"Say hello to the evolution machine. It can achieve in days what takes genetic engineers years. So far it is just a prototype, but if its proponents are to be believed, future versions could revolutionise biology, allowing us to evolve new organisms or rewrite whole genomes with ease. It might even transform humanity itself."
That last line is pretty bold, but it's the aim of a geneticist from Harvard Medical School named George Church. His group has created this machine designed to "evolve" biological organisms using "highly directed evolution." This method of genetic engineering has been christened MAGE - Multiplex Automated Genome Engineering.

Church wants to mass-produce these evolution machines. So instead of taking hundreds of person-years and millions of dollars to make relatively small genetic changes the "old-fashioned" way, now scientists would be able to make revolutionary changes quickly and cheaply.

Working with Joseph Jacobson, an MIT engineer who invented the e-ink technology in your Kindle, Church's ultimate goal is to alter the genetic code itself. This achievement could make organisms "virus-proof." 

"Because all existing life uses essentially the same genetic code, organisms that translate DNA using a different code would be behind a "genetic firewall", unable to swap DNA with any normal living thing. If they escaped into the wild, they would not be able to spread any engineered components."

The logical end result is the production of virus-resistant organs and, eventually, virus-resistant humans. Of course, the consequence of that would be that these new super-humans would only be able to reproduce with other super-humans.

Wow, we've got all the elements for some great pulp sci-fi (only it's real science, so we can bring out the SF moniker instead.)

  1. A guy named Church develops an "evolution" machine
  2. The project has a wicked name: MAGE
  3. The super-humans seem to be essentially a new species
And yet, we still don't have flying cars or jet packs. Or Mars bases or lunar hotels. Anyway, what do you think? Is this brave new world the beginning of the end, or something wonderful?


  1. MAGE is a pretty cool name, hehe.

    I actually have a dystopian YA SF I need to finish someday where they're on a quest to find one of the world's forgotten seed banks, because things got out of hand with all the genetic manipulations, heh.

  2. That sounds like a cool story! Those seed banks are interesting, and a little scary in a bomb-shelter sorta way...