The First Synthetic Organism: Our Victor Frankenstein moment?

Remember where you were when you heard or read about this. It’s important. 

In a breakthrough effort for computational biology, the world’s first complete computer model of an organism has been completed, Stanford researchers reported last week in the journal Cell. A team used data from more than 900 scientific papers to account for every molecular interaction that takes place in the life cycle of Mycoplasma genitalium, the world’s smallest free-living bacterium.

Why is this a whole lot more than your run of the mill bioscience breakthrough?  Until now, knowing the ways and means of a bazillion sub-reactions and gears and wheels did not combine into a clear model of a whole organism. This is a true Frankenstein moment… in the best meaning of the term!  In that before, all we had were countless non-living pieces on the work bench.

Now… we know how to put them together.  Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha.

No, seriously.  Bwa-haha.

In related news: Caltech researchers have created an artificial jellyfish from rat cells and sheets of silicone polymer. It can mimic the swimming motion of natural jellyfish via electrical stimulation which causes rapid contraction of the rat heart muscle cells.

“A powerful demonstration of engineering chimaeric systems of living and non-living components,” says Joseph Vacanti of Massachusetts General Hospital. The team hopes to reverse-engineer other marine lifeforms.

==Science forges on! (Now to get politics to come along)==

Do you wish it were possible to transform American politics enough to calm down the “war on science” and transform it – instead – into a debate about science?

That’s one goal of the good folks at Science Debate, who urge that matters of science and technology and the future be put on the agenda of candidates for high office, especially during the looming presidential debates. If we could get just one evening when the focus would be on the very forces — from energy to innovation, climate change to the internet —  that drive change and propel so many challenges? Front and center? Exposing the intelligent cogency – or lack – in the men seeking to guide us into uncharted waters?  Please visit the site. Even better, sign the petition and viral it.

Barring that brilliant – but alas, unlikely, event – the folks at have polled dozens of top scientific groups to come up with The Top American Science Questions in 2012 — the most important science policy issues facing the United States.  Whatever your affiliation, this year do spend the time to look them over and then do send them on to your local candidates for Congress and assembly and so on.

Try it.  Then note who actually bothers to answer.

==On the Transparency Front==

BikeCams: Cyclists have long had a rocky coexistence with motorists and pedestrians.  Now some cyclists are wearing helmet-mounted cameras to record their encounters, exactly as portrayed in The Transparent Society.

From baby monitors to closed circuit television, 2.4 GHz video transmitters are in many consumer products these days. And yet, most owners of these video devices don’t realize they’re transmitting an unencrypted video signal that can be picked up by anyone.

See how one activist is offering these feeds on lamp post boxes to increase public awareness… in stunning correlation with scenes in my new novel EXISTENCE.  In a project, From Surveillance to Broadcast, Benjamin Gaulon has posted boxes on street corners, recording video feed that can be accessed, to increase public awareness of the capabilities of this technology.

No more hiding behind anonymity? YouTube is fighting against idiotic and often nasty/racist/sexist commenters by calling for full names when you upload or comment on videos.  We seem to be caught between a rock and a hard place.  Anonymity protects free speech… and unleashes the most vicious instincts from truly awful people.  Is there any way we could get to hold onto some accountability and feedback loops that encourage maturity and decency… while still keeping the most important benefits of anonymity?

=== A Miscellany of Science News ===

Two shock waves in space, intersecting, might create a “regularity singularity” – interesting general relativity.

The National Ignition Facility completed a 500 terrawatt laser fusion shot. Wow.

Move to Kansas City right now!  Google announced plans to build the gigabit network back in February of 2010 and thousands of municipalities competed to be the future home of the planned network. In March, it selected Kansas City as the first  test of a network running fiber-optic cables directly to homes, and delivering Internet speeds roughly 100 times faster than the national broadband average. Watch for details next week.  (In Existence I briefly describe a completely unused, potentially fecund “right of way” into nearly every home!)

Watch an impressive and inspiring film about cetaceans and research into whales – with unbelievable photography – by Fabrice Schnoller and a team of French researchers.

Yes… science marches on.  Let’s stay worthy of it.



Filed under science, technology, transparency

30 responses to “The First Synthetic Organism: Our Victor Frankenstein moment?

  1. Staying worthy of it is the key point. With each new discovery, we manage not to fall into disaster, nor to rise to brilliance, but to muddle on ahead in a fair to middlin’ fashion. The trouble is that the power of each discovery gets larger each time–the increase seems exponential, these days. We need to find a way for our wisdom to lead our technology.

  2. Regarding the importance of anonymity:

    “”Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority.”
    ~ Justice John Paul Stevens
    So very true.

  3. Time will tale if new inventions do serve the humankind.Wishing you success. Jalal Michael

  4. To expand on the topic of new science, I want to invite you to visit, there are many product reviews on less lethal technology ranging from ECDs to less lethal impact munitions. This article on a new prototype defensive device may be of interest;

  5. WOW—excellent film on “The Encounter”.

  6. rob s

    So we have artificial jelly to go with the virtual genitalium, That’s the spawning of the truly weird bio-engineered world just around the corner.

  7. Very interesting and thought provoking!
    Congrats on being Fresh Pressed

  8. Interesting post, and congrats on being freshly pressed.

  9. Time will tale if new inventions do serve the humankind.Wishing you success.

  10. Pingback: David Brian « :: rasenix ::

  11. Fascinating stuff, all, with much to digest. Thanks for the link to Science Debate.

    I run a project that brings together amateur and professional paleontologists and geologists, as well as history and art as related to the topic, and issues of scientific literacy are part of our reason for being. We take science into nonscientific venues where people can enjoy it without worrying they’ll have to pass a test or pay an entry fee.

    Contrats on being FP. I’ll keep an eye on this site.

  12. Jose M. López

    Science freshly pressed. Good article, problably more relevant than we think for future.

  13. Reblogged this on life through my eyes, dreams and regrets. and commented:
    Please do not miss one of the most interesting articles of the year.

  14. Wow, this is so very fascinating and creepy at the same time. I would just like to know if there will EVER be a cure for cancer, AIDS or any other incurable diseases millions of people suffer with every day. Seems after all the time and money that has been spent on finding cures for (pick your disease) we aren’t much closer to finding a cure. Yet so many amazing things are being accomplished. How about all theses scientists get together in one room and put all their resources and energies together and focus on curing kidney disease (to pick a random disease that doesn’t get much media attention) – They could have a cure in just a few short days.
    But really it all comes back to politics doesn’t it?

    Well, great post. Thank you.

    • Bioprocess identification — Yes. Continued Manipulation of life forms across species — NO, and NOT the proper purpose of bio-modeling. These are big mistakes and ‘Worthiness’ has othing to do with it at this point. In regard to anonymity, the majority (or self-appointed Ashkenaz minority) has violated this as well — to the nth degree. Items to reverse and with prosecutorial alacrity… Pollster@Significata

  15. wow, that certainly is great news for science and humanity. Thanks for sharing I enjoyed reading

  16. AMAZING. Thank you for sharing. On a side note, I really like that bike project…

  17. I was listening to this story on NPR a few days ago. They had one of the scientists leading the team on their. He stressed that this was not an organism. As far as I can tell the only reason for that is the fact that it can not reproduce. I can’t wait til the day where they achieve their ultimate goal of reproducing a heart from a few heart cells. This is truly remarkable.

    Maybe he could partner with Dr. Craig Venter to make a truly synthetic organism

  18. I appreciate how you have communicated your subject simply and broken it up for wonderful readability. Thanks for filling me in! 🙂

  19. My only fear about science is that they suddenly have an, what have we done, moment that can’t be controlled. Freshly Pressed! Great job!

  20. Congrats on freshly pressed. 🙂 Thank you for making me feel more intelligent today, and most importantly for including a ” Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha”. That’s a really difficult exclamation to read aloud without laughing, and I needed it. 🙂

  21. Food Stories

    Enjoying your site so I’m nominating you for my Illuminating Blogger Award for informative, illuminating blog content. I know not everyone participates in blog awards but I hope you’ll at least check it out because it’s a great way to discover new blogs and meet new web friends. If you’re interested in participating, you can check out the details at my site … foodstoriesblog dot com & then click on “Illuminating Blogger Award Site” in the upper right-hand corner … Either way, hope you’re having a great day 🙂

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  24. mythicflux

    Fascinating stuff! Your enthusiasm for the material really comes across and makes it interesting (although I guess it’d be hard for someone to make the “we genetically engineered a jellyfish” news NOT interesting xD).

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