A new story of the Origins of Humanity is unfolding. In this post-modern Bosh-like Garden of Earthly Delights, Adam and Eve will download new abilities into any cell, flower, microbe or spider from a yet-to-be synthetic biology App Store. Viruses and bacteria are pointing the way towards this bizarre future. Viruses like HIV, Ebola, H1N1, SARS, and SARS-CoV2 are biological flash drives. These living memory sticks transport microscopic code that can thrive and replicate in an unprotected host. After attaching to a target cell, fresh code that is unknown to the host begins to download. These viruses are the prototypes for edited life. Viruses programmed to fight ailments will push the frontiers of genetic privacy, Linked Data, health, edited life, and food security. Life is programmable.
We have already accepted home diagnostic kits that detect viral downloads, and mRNA vaccines as firewalls. Programmable life is one of the ways that many will choose to confront the existential challenges posed by devastating floods, drought, the second spring, global food insecurity, and the mining of neodymium, lithium and cobalt during the energy transition. Genetic code is the alphabet for an entirely new way of living, and for new forms of life. This alphabet is already being used to write multiple futures and architectures.
In October 2022, Merck and Moderna activated a preference to jointly research and commercialize a treatment known as mRNA-4157/V940. This deep collaboration combined powerful drugs and mRNA vaccine technology to unleash the immune system on mutated tumours. To design personalized vaccines, the team took tissue samples of patients’ tumours and healthy tissue. Next, the genetic sequences of the two samples were decoded. By isolating the mutant proteins associated with the cancer, the researchers were able to design bespoke cancer treatments.
Once injected into the ailing patient, the cells of the patient become a factory. The cells produce exact duplicates of the mutations for the immune system to spot and destroy. These personalized vaccines can now take about eight weeks to develop, but the aim is to cut that time in half. On December 13th 2022, Moderna shares were up twenty-three per cent at $202.80.
By editing the genome of a leaf symbiont that is actually a bacteria called “methylobacterium extorquens”, scientists enabled the microbe to produce more carotenoids important to the production of better feed for animals. The new synthetic organism has a similar composition of protein, amino acids and other biomolecules. The microbes are then decontaminated, desiccated and milled.
The Flayr Savr tomato has an improved shelf-life and increased fungal resistance. The tomato was intended to be harvested ripe for increased flavour and for long-distance shipping. Its reversed antisense polygalacturonase gene inhibits the production of the rotting enzyme, and a gene that offers resistance to certain aminoglycoside antibiotics. These proprietary modifications have not skirted robust public discussion.
In the future Garden of Earthly Delights, botanical collections of varieties of plant species in vertical farms and arboreta of precious trees will be attended to by robots, and benefit from irrigation systems, and artificial lighting. Outputs at every stage of production will be quantified by sensors, algorithms, and optimized analytics – right down to the last leaf of chadon beni. Microsoft already operates FarmBeats. This is its Internet of Things for farms on its Azure Marketplace. The farm uses long-range TV frequencies to connect and capture data from solar sensors with support from drones. Farmers get feedback on which variables to tweak from machine learning algorithms that mine and refine the data.
In Kyoto, the Kansai Science City Microfarm deploys collaborative robots to germinate seedlings, water, replant, adjust illumination, and harvest crops. Each plant is bejewelled with sensors like sequins on the wings of Minshall’s butterfly “Marilyn Monroe: Fly Fly Sweet Life”. Using complex algorithms, the sensors produce “linked data” that are captured on each plant. The sensors stream data on plant tissue health, temperature, concentrations of carbon dioxide, and water levels. The aim is to produce the most nutritious foods with a variety of tasty flavours.
CRISPR or “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats” is a family of DNA sequences that have aided in the design of non-browning apples, mushrooms that withstand bumping during shipping, and drought-resistant rice. The Harvard artificial leaf collects solar energy. When the leaf is connected to a strain of bacteria, it converts atmospheric CO2 and nitrogen into organic forms that are beneficial. The solar-fed bacteria store CO2 and nitrogen. When these microbes are mixed into the soil, they release nitrogen, which acts as an organic fertilizer. The CO2 remains trapped underground.
Adam and Eve will edit the future of their offspring and even reprogram their own bodies with bold fresh downloads. Organisms will have owners even if they thrive overlooked in wetlands like the Aripo Savannah. With programmed cells, humanity will write a new architecture of life. This is the next industrial revolution. It is an entanglement of biology, linked data and technology. It is not a time for alarm, misplaced fear or irrational excitement. Vaccine varieties for COVID-19 were an aria to an opus of intellectual monopoly conflicts, national security concerns, trade wars, and edited life.