Last week in a blog I said that humanity probably owes a debt of gratitude to the lowly laboratory mouse and rat for services rendered, and soon another pest may be added to the list, the lowly(and resilient) cockroach. In this case, our friends at phys.org have reported on a team of scientists in Israel that have injected a cockroach with a deliberately engineered bit of DNA to demonstrate that a simple machine could be constructed, programmed to perform certain tasks, injected into an organism(in this case, the cockroach), and observed to perform its function:
There's two things going on here (or rather, one set of things going on, with the implications that another set of things might be in the background, being studied covertly):
"DNA strands can be programmed because of their natural tendency to react to different proteins. In this new effort, the team unwound DNA strands and then tied them together in an origami type box structure. The box was then "filled" with a single chemical molecule. Next, other such objects were created for the purpose of interacting with both the box structure and certain proteins found inside of the cockroach. The whole point was to create multiple scenarios in which the box would open automatically upon colliding with certain proteins. Adding multiple nanostructures allows for increasing the number of possibilities. For example, if the box structure will only open if it encounters three kinds of proteins, one made naturally by the cockroach, and two others carried by two different DNA origami structures. By mixing the combinations, it's possible to cause the box to open using logic operations such as AND, OR, NOT (where the box will not open if a certain protein is present) etc., and that of course means that computational operations can be carried out—all inside of a living organism."
Now, at one level, one can imagine (as was seen from an earlier blog this week) the creation of "synthetic" biological structures, including nanobots, that do not occur in nature, to perform certain tasks. In itself, this is a merger of all four GRIN technologies, and in the context of GMOs, one can gain an appreciation of what might be accomplished with GMOs with nanobots as the means and mechanism of anti-pest engineering. In fact, given that it is now being suggested in some literature that "some unknown mechanism" can transmit genetic modifications of a GMO across ingesting species (see DNA Transference from GMOs to Humans?), one can envision a GMO crop with specific covert modifications to target a certain population eating them in a certain set of specific fashions by such nanobots, a possibility that would seem to raise the stakes on the possibility of a "GMO test ban treaty" even higher.
In the background, I suspect that this was a covert agenda behind GMOs from the beginning, and that it probably remains such. There is, however, perhaps another, and here, again, permit me to indulge in some high octane speculation: such tiny information-processing DNA nanobots might also prove to be the perfect vehicle by which to gingerly probe the functions and capabilities of so-called "junk DNA" in order to determine what, precisely, it is doing there, and why there appears to be so much of it in human DNA, including whether that "junk DNA" may be there, containing information, a vast storehouse of it, waiting to be decrypted. SETI might have to expand its toolbox, from radio telescopes( a kind of silly approach, in my opinion), to include biological "information probes."
See you on the flip side.