Of all the sci-fi sounding prototypes in recent years, Craig Venter’s Digital-to-Biologic Converter (DBC) is one that sounds like it came straight from a Star Trek script or a Michael Crichton novel. And before you think we’re off our rockers–Craig Venter has a track record of bringing sci-fi concepts to life, literally.
In 2016, Venter and his team were the first to create synthetic life that also touts the smallest genome of any other known life–473 genes– dubbed, fittingly, “Minimal.”
Through his extensive experimentation with life itself for the purpose of using it in industry, Venter and his team have created a working prototype that, by his own admittance, would make it practically feasible to “teleport” life from extraterrestrial planets back to Earth in much the same way we today can send an email.
However, it does not work in the same way as the transporters of Star Trek, although perhaps it could be a precursor to such technology.
Instead, the scientists working with the DBC transmit the code for life itself–that is to say, DNA–to the device which is then able to use pools of chemicals to reassemble life in the same structure. The pools of chemicals it uses to for all intents and purposes print the downloaded lifeforms include adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine–the same components of DNA.
In a paper recently published in Nature Biotechnology titled, “Digital-to-biological converter for on-demand production of biologics”, the team explains the basic overview of the DBC.
Although the prototype itself is still somewhat modest in that it is both large and wasteful, future iterations of the invention could affect everythign from space travel to healthcare.
For example, the device could be used to create customized healthcare plans based specifically on the bacteria present or even in users homes--something that could be highly beneficial in preventing or ending epidemic outbreaks because users would not need to leave quarantine in order to receive treatment, thus leaving the public uninfected.
Venter has also reportedly been in contact with Elon Musk to discuss how this “teleportation” of life via sending genetic codes for reassembly could play a role in the colonization of Mars by humans. The need for vaccines in space without having to wait for a rocket to travel from Earth will be an important step towards true inhabitation.
Another idea is that life could be enhanced or created synthetically to pump out oxygen on Mars itself to slowly make it more habitable to humans.
Beyond that, this means that scientists could, potentially, send back to the codes for alien life for recreation back on Earth, which sounds even more feasible now that NASA is using AEGIS to give space robots artificial intelligence to explore interesting things of their own accord. Perhaps that AI robot will beam the code back to us so we can grow our very own alien.
Although we are still a way off from such disruptive changes, the fact that the DBC is now in existence and in the hands of a proven team and renowned genomic entrepreneur (and that he may be in cahoots with Musk) means that we could be seeing big changes sooner than most of us expected.