DNA: The next big hacking frontier

But it’s not all sugar and spice, either:

DNA: The next big hacking frontier – The Washington Post:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-innovations/dna-the-next-big-hacking-frontier/2011/12/07/gIQAmd2KdO_story.html?tid=pm_national_pop

Imagine computer-designed viruses that cure disease, new bacteria capable of synthesizing an unlimited fuel supply, new organisms that wipe out entire populations and bio-toxins that target world leaders. They sound like devices restricted to feature-film script writers, but it is possible to create all of these today, using the latest advances in synthetic biology.

Just as the personal computer revolution brought information technology from corporate data centers to the masses, the biology revolution is personalizing science.

In 2000, scientists at a private company called Celera announced that the company had raced ahead of the U.S. government-led international effort decoding the DNA of a human being. Using the latest sequencing technology, plus the data available from the Human Genome project, Celera scientists had created a working draft of the genome. These efforts cost over $1 billion, combined.

But hold on, the rest of it gets downright scary, because you can employ a number of DNA “print providers” who will charge you for assembling DNA, like DNA2.0 and GeneArt. They charge by base pairs.

They tell us that it will become possible eventually to create a virus to carry a cure or an antidote to an epidemic but they report also warnings that this will open up a big Pandora’s box of biological weapons and mayhem.

Being a developer I can tell you also that there’s a parallel can of worms, and it’s the fact that all such “programming” in the digital world is vulnerable to bugs and glitches.

Hopefully, though, the bugs that come up in synthetic DNA programming will be of the same kind as most of the natural bugs, mutations, because most mutations are harmful to the carrier organism itself and not so much to others.

There is also another implication of course not mentioned. DNA involves a completely programmable code, just like a computer coded language, and it’s more like an interpreted language because the actual machinery is everything that is done in a cell, while the instructions are contained in a language of 4-base “bits” of base pairs, organized into “bytes”, “Sentences” and so on. The instructions are interpreted by messenger RNA, which performs a role like PHP in web programming.

The best brains on the planet are still trying to figure out how the symbolic coding language in DNA does its job. The best intelligent designers of the most sophisticated computer code on the planet have a very long way before they can catch up.

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