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3D printing meets synthetic biology

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In the very near future scientists will be able to design and 3D print synthetic DNA, at least that’s what Craig Venter is forecasting.

Venter has been lauded as one of the most seminal figures in modern biology. He came to fame for being the leader of the first team to sequence the human genome.

Since then Venter has turned his interests towards synthetic biology. Essentially, Venter and his colleagues design and construct biological devices and systems that behave in a pre-programmed manner.

The idea of synthetic biology has been around since 1974, but has only recently started to mature. Venter created the first synthetic organism in 2010. According to Venter, the widespread use of synthetic organisms might be just around the corner. Even more astonishing, he believes extra-terrestrial life could soon be synthesized, and 3D printed by robots like the Curiosity Rover.

“The day is not far off when we will be able to send a robotically controlled genome-sequencing unit in a probe to other planets to read the DNA sequence of any alien microbe life that may be there,” claims Venter.

Although Venter’s claims seem far-fetched, the renowned scientist rarely overstates his case. Venter’s prediction that computer software and 3D bio-printers would be used to sequence and build synthetic organism from the ground up came true. The process gives biologist the advantage of not having to painstakingly insert genetic information into a hollowed out cell. It is the very same process Venter used to create his first synthetic organism.

To bolster this effort Venter and his team are creating a “digital-biological converter.” This process will convert biological information into digital information so it can be manipulated by software, “We found a way we can move proteins, viruses and single human cells at the speed of light” said Venter. “We can digitize biology, send it at the speed of light and reconfigure the biology at the other end.”

If Venter can successfully scale up his digital-biological converter, whole biological systems could theoretically be “scanned” and manipulated to whatever end the designer sees fit. Some may see this technology as dangerous and ethically taboo. On the other hand, Venter believes its development could lead to the creation of drought resistant crops, useful synthetic organisms and the potential to boost human intelligence and longevity. I am just hoping it is the first step to beam me up to the Enterprise.

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