Immortal Synthetic Organisms
DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has invested $6 million into a project called BioDesign, which aims to eliminate “the randomness of natural evolutionary advancement” and build living, breathing, synthetic organisms programmed to live indefinitely. The organisms will be fortified with molecules that help cells resist death—but in order to combat possible disaster, the organisms will be trackable using a kind of “serial number”, their DNA will be encoded with loyalty using genetically programmed locks to create “tamper proof cells”, and they will also have a genetically-coded kill-switch. First, though, DARPA might want to recap basic biology—NYU biology professor David Fitch comments that “evolution by selection is not a random process at all, and is actually a hugely efficient design algorithm.” But even if DARPA overcomes the hurdle of evolutionary science, they’re going to collide with ethics on the other side. These synthetic organisms will be created with specific functions and will obey their master’s bidding, which brings up ethical questions about our place in the natural world and how much we should tamper with. These organisms will inevitably interact with the environment, and there’s every possibility that they could mutate or replicate incorrectly, or even share genetic material with other organisms. This will be very difficult to predict, and if the kill-switch was flicked, the organisms’ new environments could be damaged. The idea of these organisms is awesome, but they’re a little bit terrifying and highly creepy.