'Alien DNA' And Imagining The Superhuman
Yesterday, scientists reported a significant breakthrough. Well, it hit the front page of Reddit, so I assume it's a pretty big deal. For the first time ever, scientists were able to create a living organism with "alien DNA", a totally sci-fi term for the addition of two new bases, X (titled d5SICS) and Y (titled dNaM).
As it currently stands, our DNA is made up of four bases: T, G, A and C. They stand for thymine, guanine, adenine and caffeine. Each base only pairs with a specific base, creating sequences ranging from our eye color to what we have a higher chance of dying from thanks to traits passed down by our ancestors.
C actually stands for cytosine, but I digress. ExtremeTech broke down what scientists have been working on for the past 15 years in language that doesn't require a PHD to understand:
"First, the scientists genetically engineered an e. coli bacterium to allow the new chemicals (d5SICS and dNaM) through the cell membrane. Then they inserted a DNA plasmid (a small loop of DNA) that contained a single XY base pair into the bacterium. As long as the new chemicals were available, the bacterium continued to reproduce normally, copying and passing on the new DNA, alien plasmid and all. In the study, this process seems to have carried on flawlessly for almost a week."
So this organism has super powers like the ability to self-heal, right? Sadly, the extra bases don't do anything right now. They're just there like that friend you wish would get their life together instead of taking up space on your couch. But, and this is a very big
butt but, this breakthrough could one day lead to a number of revolutionary breakthroughs...
Creating Disease-Fighting DNA
From diabetes to cancer, nature has a lot of ways of taking us out. While scientists have yet to figure out a way to safely and effectively alter DNA, we could eventually see the day where our future species is not plagued by such nuisances, and can automatically kill off dangerous cells without the need for costly medicines or procedures.
Next Level Strength, Intelligence, Etc.
Humans in their current form are pretty awesome meat machines. They're capable of creating a nearly limitless number of things, and accomplish amazing physical feats that consistently get surpassed by the next guy or gal. Our minds contain the most complex intelligence that, until aliens 1-up us, is the most advanced of its kind.
It's not far from the realm of possibility that we could one day make our current species look like dial-up Internet. Imagine stronger bones leading to more resilient muscles, and being able to lift 1,000 pounds with ease. Or enhanced lungs which would lead to better oxygen delivery, further enhancing endurance. Or brains capable of processing 2-3x their current output.
Becoming A Walking Flash Drive
Back in August 2012, Harvard researchers were able to successfully store 700 terabytes of data on one single gram of DNA. With the addition of two extra bases in DNA, part of that could be used towards storing such vast amounts of data. Obviously, there's many technical hurdles to overcome such as how the hell to even transmit and download the data efficiently. As cool as The Matrix is, wireless is definitely the way to go.
Scientists have been exploring how to access data in the brain for years, and our DNA could become humanity's Time Capsule, backing up and storing every memory and experience.
As we head into the future, there will be many questions. Science is already stretching beyond playing God to being God. Is it right to alter nature's course? Is it okay to create new breeds of humans in the same way crops are genetically engineered? Each question will have a different answer. And each outcome will rewrite history.
Photo credit: Adam Evans
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