Synthetic Biology, Nanotechnology and Life Extension

Nextbigfuture had written about the big common components of “visions of the future” as noted by Jamais Cascio.

The list Jamais had was :

Synthetic biology
Molecular nanotechnology
Life extension
Artificial intelligence and robots galore
3D printers
Augmented reality
Ultra-high speed mobile networks
Space colonies

I have grouped together Synthetic Biology, Molecular nanotechnology and Life Extension.

I will focus on the next 20 years out to the end of 2032.

Some comments on the list of big technologies

I have already discussed ultra-high speed mobile networks. Some people are getting 1 gigabit per second wireless this year and most should have it by 2017 as LTE advanced and a lot of super-wifi and more hotspots are rolled out. Over the next 20 years we will be heading to terabit wireless speeds. This will happen first at the hotspots. It is easier to speed up the optical network and rollout fast wifi with new vortex / twisted signals to boost data. Having new memristor combined memory and logic for petabytes of superfast and persistent data storage will help enable more caching.

The list is missing energy technologies like deep burn fission, modular mass produced fission or fusion, low energy nuclear reactions, nuclear fusion, radically improved solar, space based solar and exotic energy production. Recently the big impact on energy has been shale gas and tight oil. Low natural gas prices have shifted 10% of US energy generation from coal to natural gas. This trend and increased natural gas production will continue and spread out globally through 2030.

I would also integrate in my Mundane singularity list of technologies.

3d printers. I would include all additive manufacturing. This needs to be integrated into overall manufacturing to broadly impact the economy. Airbus is working on projects to develop the materials which will enable the printing of wings and the body of airplanes. There is work towards the printing of organs and human tissue.

Space Colonies – mainly it depends upon Spacex getting the Falcon Heavy and ideally fully reusable rockets. Blue Origin, Skylon spaceplane are also in the running on reusable space launch. It is also will be with Bigelow aerospace and the inflatable space stations. There is also the Golden Spike company trying to commercialize travel to the moon and Planetary Resources trying to develop asteroid mining. There are also the NASA NIAC projects.

Augmented reality is coming with Google Glass, but unless there are big breakthroughs applying it to radically improve education, then it is “just” the next form factor after the chocolate bar shape for the smartphone.

AI and robotics will have a lot more economic impact over the next 20 years. I have discussed it before and I will focus on an update over the next few days. I will also include new computing, quantum computing and other electronics.

Synthetic Biology has big commercial Success and will have More

Synthetic Biology already has had some commercial success with drugs, materials, biofuel, chemicals, cosmetics and medicine

George Church has detailed many powerful possibilities in his book Regensis

Control Epigenetics

Many epigenetic components self-assemble under the guidance of the genome (imbedded in a highly related cytopasm). We are also getting quite good at manipulating the epigenetics directly by introducing regulatory factors– for example the 4 factors needed to change adult skin fibroblasts into embryo-like stem cells. Both strategies are improving rapidly now.

Reprogram Viruses

For diseases, Duke’s Jingdong Tian’s lab recently created a 3D printer that can print out DNA using wells and layering. Possibly tissues and organs are next, which is very exciting.

Synethetic biology could provide protection from viruses, TB, rabies, prions, skin cancer from UV rays, and protection from Van Allen Belt radiation in future space flights through reprogramming DNA. How the cellular machinery that reads and expresses the viral genome in hosts could be changed.

In contrast to cells which share a core set of genes, viruses share very little, except for their dependence on those cellular core factors. These factors represent the nearly universal genetic code for translating mRNAs into proteins. We take advantage of the “redundancy” of this code (i.e. 64 codons for 20 amino acids) to change the host genome without changing its proteome at all. This requires so many accommodations (via computer) that no virus could mutate all at once sufficiently to accommodate the new code rules. Huge progress has already been made already in the key industrial microbe, E.coli.

Enable human and non-human genetics to help all people

MAGE (Multiplex automated genomic engineering) technology enables mass changes in DNA

If we could edit human DNA at will then we could introduce changes that people already have.

* Rare double mutants in the myostatin gene have more lean muscle and less body fat
* those with the LRP5 gene have extra strong bones (like the real version of the Bruce Willis movie Unbreakable character
* Those with the PCSK5 gene have 88 percent lower coronary disease
* Those with double CCR5 genes are HIV resistant
* Those with double FUT2 are resistant to stomach flu

For the developed world would be lowering coronary disease by 88%. In the USA about 20-30% of deaths are heart or cardiovascular related. PCSK5 gene could lower coronary deaths to 4-5%. The genetics of centenarians and supercentenarians could be introduced widely. There would be problems getting FDA approvals for any successfully developed genetic treatments in any 20 year timeframe. This would likely require medical tourism, where people travel to other countries.

George Church has ideas he has for achieving physical immortality (indeterminant lifespans) via Synthetic biology. George’s idea is to bring in sections of DNA from exotic organisms or genes that are rare for humans to enable all people to have desired genetic capabilities.

Nextbigfuture had a 2010 interview with synthetic biologist Andrew Hessel about his view of synthetic biology in 2020.


Some recent developments with DNA Nanotechnology

1. The time it takes to make a batch of complex DNA-based objects can be cut from a week to a matter of minutes, and that the yield can be nearly 100%.

2. Researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University have created more than 100 three-dimensional (3D) nanostructures using DNA building blocks that function like Lego® bricks — a major advance from the two-dimensional (2D) structures the same team built a few months ago.

The nanofabrication technique, called “DNA-brick self-assembly,” uses short, synthetic strands of DNA that work like interlocking Lego® bricks

Computer-generated 3D models (left) and corresponding 2D projection microscopy images (right) of nanostructures self-assembled from synthetic DNA strands called DNA bricks. A master DNA brick collection defines a 25-nanometer cubic “molecular canvas” with 1000 voxels. By selecting subsets of bricks from this canvas, Ke et al. constructed a panel of 102 distinct shapes exhibiting sophisticated surface features as well as intricate interior cavities and tunnels. These nanostructures may enable diverse applications ranging from medicine to nanobiotechnology and electronics. [Image Credit: Yonggang Ke, Wyss Institute, Harvard University.]

3. Scientists at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University have turned to a promising field called DNA nanotechnology to make an entirely new class of synthetic vaccines. They developed the first vaccine complex that could be delivered safely and effectively by piggybacking onto self-assembled, three-dimensional DNA nanostructures. They developed an immune response in mice that was robust immune response up to 9-fold higher than with antigen and adjuvant alone.

DNA Nanotechnology and Synthetic Biology will be a part of big medical and commercial successes within 20 years.

* Universal flu vaccine
* 90% fewer flu deaths worldwide (from 250,000 to 500,000 per year to 25,000 to 50,000)
* Major reduction in HIV deaths
* Preventing the transmission of HIV
* Improving cardiovascular health
* Early detection and prevention of most cancers
* Success against TB, Malaria, diabetes

I think molecular nanotechnology (diamondoid) will be achieved and the creation of nanofactories. I think there is a 65% chance that this will happen by 2032. Deployment, rollout, adoption and commercial success will be very good for a commercial company but it will not be a hard takeoff.

I think life expectancy will go up by 10 years worldwide by 2032. A lot will come from success against dirty water, diseases of those 5 and under and almost eliminating extreme poverty (China, India, South Asia etc… continue pretty good economic success).

Full on rejuvenation and various SENS treatments will be getting a lot of lab success and some clinical trials for partial treatments.

I think stem cell treatments for treating aspects of aging and for some level of rejuvenation and life extension will be achieved. Again medical tourism will be needed to get the treatments. I think the treatments will be controversial and in scientific dispute (in regards to how effective they are).

There will be more easy treatments for obesity. There are diets that work now. There will be more medications that safely enhance exercise, desire to exercise and to boost the effectiveness of dieting. How would certain effective treatments become widely adopted ? The medical system and psychology of people who are obese and whether the people who needed treatment and help would actually get it and have it up to 90% adoption ?

If the nanofactory – diamondoid success is achieved or very advanced synthetic biology and DNA/protein/RNA nanotechnology then powerful nanomedicine could result which could combine with SENS, stem cells and medical rejuvenation. I would be more confident in predicting major success and substantial (100 million people) deployment by 2052.

If you liked this article, please give it a quick review on ycombinator or StumbleUpon. Thanks