(Re)-engineering life

  • Philine Warnke profile
    Philine Warnke
    23 May 2016 - updated 3 years ago
    Total votes: 1

This topic emerged through a screening of emerging issues in science, technology and society in the context of the FET CSA OBSERVE.



The big picture

The following findings of the OBSERVE screening can be grouped under this heading as these approaches are actively attempting to push current boundaries of synthetically modifying or even creating life or else reflecting on the societal implications of such activities.

Emerging research front: CRISPR/CAS Genome-editing technology

The CRISPR/CAS Genome-editing technology is considered to have great potential due to its many advantages to previous methods. It has been successfully applied to many studies of plant and animal behaviour. Since 2013 this field has become ex-tremely active very fast. Source: Thomson Reuters Research Fronts 2014;

Synthetic DNA

After decades of research, organic chemists succeeded in synthesizing artificially enhanced DNA with two synthetic nucleotides called P and Z. The new nucleotides even outperform their natural counterparts. When challenged to evolve a segment that selectively binds to cancer cells, sequences using P and Z did better than those without. Biotechnology company Synthorx has taken the next step towards creating truly synthetic life. A team of scientists successfully incorporated two synthetic nucleotide bases into the DNA sequence of a strain of E.coli bacteria.Source: Wired;

Bio patent conflicts - who owns your body?

A conflict between bio-engineering patent holders and the growing community of inde-pendent bio-hackers on "who owns your body" is emerging. Source: The Awl;

Artificial brain

The webmining revealed two breakthrough moments in artificial brain development. Japanese researchers have formed a celebrum like structure from embrionic stem cells. Researchers at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology (IMBA) in Vienna created brain organoids from adult skin cells. Both groups hope for insights in brain behaviour and especially mental diseases. Source: MIT Technology Review;

Brain cell transplantation

Lorenz Studer, Director of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center’s Center for Stem Cell Biology and new MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant recipient is exploring trans-plantation of cells generated from embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells to heal e.g. Parkinson’s disease. Source: Washington Post;

Technological Singularity

The technological singularity is a hypothetical event in which artificial general intelligence would be capable of recursive self-improvement and thereby ultimately surpass human control or understanding. This expectation has long been voiced in Science Fiction but is also expected and discussed by several researchers. More and more such as physicist Stephen Hawking warn that the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. FET proposals point out that groundwork in fields like ontologies, knowledge representation, computational linguistics and cognitive systems is still necessary. Source: Aggregation of several;

Robot reasoning

A new generation of robots with cognitive planning and reasoning capabilities is being developed. They can handle uncertainty, act in messy unpredictable situations and carry out creative tasks like participating in a cartoon contest. Furthermore some re-searchers focus on a kind of artificial consciousness and self awareness - a concept that is highly contested by some philosophers. Source: Aggregation of several;