Posting in Cancer
If a robot is built with DNA aren't we building life? If other building blocks are used is it a second-class robot, even if it's performing an equivalent task to an organic one?
These DNA walkers are incredibly small -- just 4 nanometers -- but they bring together teams of computer scientists, chemical engineers and biologists to seed instructions directly into atomic structures.
The latest model, from a team headed by Milan Stojanovic at Columbia University (right, above), is a spider-like device that can take up to 100 steps along a track also made of DNA. (Stojanovic was named one of the region's best young scientists in 2007 -- he still has pictures form the party.)
The idea is that robots can be programmed to create new devices, or for testing. They could identify cancer cells, for instance, and then deliver the drugs to kill them.
In the latest experiment "staples" of DNA were given designated oligonucleotides at their ends, and the robot followed this like a trail of bread crumbs across a nanoscale field. Researchers in chemistry and biochemistry from Arizona State and the University of Michigan were also on the team.
Because DNA is the building block for the current molecular robots, and because there is so much money in curing disease, medical applications are being seen first for this new technology.
But the implications are not limited to medicine. Just about any chemical process could be done by nanoscale robots which would repeat actions in response to set stimuli the way a knitter works. Inorgranic as well as organic compounds could be created by robots that themselves are either organic or inorganic.
All sorts of boundaries are being crossed here. Between organic and inorganic. Between machines and living things. If a robot is built with DNA aren't we building life? If other building blocks are used is it a second-class robot, even if it's performing an equivalent task to an organic one? If you're building an organic construct is it really a robot?
Compared with this Frankenstein had it easy.
May 13, 2010
It's presumptuous to assume I was catagorizing all spiritually enlightened people in the "religious wackos" group. I expect most people know what I'm refering to (and what I am not).
Sigh.... the problem with these guys who complain about "religious wackos" is that they get all their information from a press which is as clueless that they. They have not ever actually met a scientist who believes in God, and if they did none of them could ask an intelligent question about his/her beliefs. They just don't think about it, and "go with the flow" as they are fed stereotypes from the media. As a physicist, I see that strict materialists are the ones these days who have a problem justifying their belief. khdetw, go find a scientist who knows what she's talking about when it comes to religion, and ask some decently intelligent questions.
I am what YOU would probably call a "religious wacko" - I believe in God, I practice my religion on a daily basis, and believe that the world would be better off if people paid more attention to the precepts laid out in the Bible. Come into the 21st century, khdetw! We're not the backwards, dogmatic zealots of the middle ages (at least most of us). Most of us truly believe in scientific principles, and believe-it-or-not, many of us even understand them. Among us are scientists, biochemists (which my christian son-in-law is), physicists, astronomers (many astronomers), and people from all walks of academic pursuit. We may not see EXACTLY eye to eye with the scientific community at large on certain things, but very few of us still believe that smoking and drinking is caused by demons, or that fossils were created by God to deceive unbelievers. Personally, I'm thoroughly intrigued by the idea of molecular bots, nanobots, and, well, all things scientific. joe :)
At the risk of sounding rude, or perhaps obvious, perhaps you missed the lecture in high scholl bio where they defined the criteria for what characteristics must be present for something to be a living organism. Saying something is alive because it uses DNA is like saying a car is alive because it has leather seats. That said, and being a biochemist, the folks who are messing with this stuff are doing some fascinating work. Just make sure the FDA watches what's going on before they get to making grey goo.
Fascinating! The religious wackos will have a field day with this, which of course they won't understand. But that never stopped them. LOL.
I once painted a picture, Deus Et Machina, of a robot with a flag standing before a huge and old face on a cliffs edge. It asked, by juxtaposition, who was the creator's creator. It was met with the same puzzled absence; even the usual loudmouths said nothing. Western culture is just beginning to accept non-biological adaptations - facial piercings and bluetooth headsets no longer seem alien - so when you ask them to define whats artificial and what is not, its easy. But ask them to redefine what counts as artificial, and include it in the body? Only if it runs Android...