DNA/biotech/synthetic biology & nanotechnology to Watch in 2009 and Beyond

The technological and other developments to watch was expanded to four parts:
1. Computers, robots, electronics and communication
2. Energy and transportation
3. DNA/biotech/synthetic biology, nanotechnology – this section
4. Medicine, life extension, space, manufacturing and anything else that was not covered

1. DNA nanotechnology

There was a lot of activity with DNA nanotechnology in 2008 with new synthetic bases and a lot of usage of DNA for structures and the precise placement of structures. Some of the big 2008 developments follow. 2009 will see more breakthroughs in this highly active area.

All DNA fabricator constructed walking DNA.

Living cells have become factories for synthetic DNA.

An important thing to track is the progress toward George Church’s vision of lowering DNA synthesis costs by about one billion times to a few dollars per kilogram.

George Church notes two key requirements for implementation:

1. Engineering of [more efficient] nucleotide synthesis: We are collaborating with Philippe Marliere on optimizing metabolic pathways to the synthesis of the four dNTPs in vivo.
2. DNA secretion: This is a natural process in some bacteria, could be enhanced to prevent (potentially toxic) levels of DNA in vivo.

DNA synthesis and DNA sequencing

The George Church goes beyond the rapid progress towards targets like $100 to sequence the entire human genome.

2. Synthetic biology
Bio-diesel from synthetic biology is going commercial scale in 2009 and 2010

A pilot plant is expected to go into operation in early 2009 and commercial production could commence in 2010, according to Amyris.

Amyris renewable diesel contains many of the properties of petroleum diesel, Amyris can blend the fuel at high levels — up to 50 percent — compared with 10-20 percent for conventional biodiesel and ethanol.

3. Synthetic life

Jack Szostak, harvard medicine, and Craig Ventner are working on different projects to develop synthetic life. 2009, could be when one or both of them are successful.

4. Moriarty/Freitas/Merkle diamondod nanotech

Diamond mechanosynthesis experiments were finally funded in 2008. Look for signs of progress (validation of the computational chemistry work and proof that this process would work) at the end of 2009 and into 2010.

Tihamer Toth-Fejel, a senior research engineer at General Dynamics Advanced Intelligence Systems, speculated in an article at the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology blog:

if Freitas, Merkle, and Moriarty succeed next year, all heck will break loose. Not immediately, of course, but diamond is a very useful engineering material. If we could use it to make cars and buildings, we would. Everything depends on availability and cost — and both depend on technology.

Four years from now, the Zyvex-led DARPA Tip-Based Nanofabrication project expects to be able to put down about ten million atoms per hour in atomically perfect nanostructures, though only in silicon (additional elements will undoubtedly follow; probably taking six months each). At a standard Moore’s Law exponential growth rate (doubling time of 18 months), this Patterned Atomic Layer Epitaxy (Zyvex’s approach) will only get us up to 23,058,430,092,136,939,520,000,000 atoms per hour by 2100 — a few hundred pounds worth.

Does atomically precise tip-based nanofabrication follow Moore’s Law? If we take Eigler’s 35 xenon-atom IBM emblem in 1990 as the start, then that gives us a doubling time of just over 12 months, and that adds up. By 2012, we’ll be doing about ten times better than Moore’s law. And that is without the big kick.

What happens when we use probe-based nanofabrication to build more probes? A massive acceleration in progress – a big kick for nanotechnology

It’s starting to happen now (see “Thermal Actuated Multi-Probes Cantilever Array for Scanning Probe Parallel Nano Writing System” by Watanabe, Isono, et al). Chad Mirkin, who also has another piece of the DARPA Tip-Based Nanofabrication project, has already used 55,000 dip pen nanolithography tips to make 1,600 100 nm dots in under 30 minutes. (Mirkin is using standard microphotolithography MEMS to make the dots; this is the most conservative approach to productive nanosystems. The others include Structural DNA — Rothemund, Nanorex, et. al — and Schafmeister’s Bis proteins, plus a few more not as promising.)

What happens when productive nanosystems get built, and are used to build better productive nanosystems? The exponential increase in atomically precise manufacturing capability will make Moore’s law look like it’s standing still.

5. Zyvex atomically precise manufacturing

Zyvex’s atomically precise manufacturing effort has gotten $30+ million in funding and should have interesting results over the next three years.

6. UK ideas factory projects through 2010
programmable assembly of oligomers
Another proposed project from the UK Ideas factory to create reconfigurable computer controlled actuators with sub-nanometer to sub-angstrom precision.

7. Stem Cells

A breakthrough in stem cells for blood production occurred in 2008. We need to watch in 2009 and onwards whether this process can be scaled and reach its potential for solving civilizations blood supply issues.

Can the AFIRM and other regenerative medicine projects achieve success using stem cells and other regenerative medicine to create or regenerate all other cell types.

8. Gene therapy

Gene therapy appears to be on the verge of fulfilling its promise of curing diseases for many people and helping to enhance performance. There are many gene therapy treatments now in the third phase of clinical trial approval.