Science Leapfrogs Fiction Again

Designer DNA is here now.

Rewriting DNA with fewer letters.

I have never been so flabbergasted by an article in Scientific American. In my book Enemy Immortal, I predicted that, since multiple gene sequences are transcribed into the same amino acid, someone could re-sequence all of our DNA to use just one of these gene sequences, then alter the cell’s ribosome to transcribe the unused sequences into something else. In Enemy Immortal, this technology gave Jade Mahelona’s cells the ability to make nanomechanical particles with the special ability to detect electric fields.

My book takes place in 2206. It turns out Nili Ostrov at Harvard is doing this DNA re-sequencing already. She has almost completed re-sequencing E. coli DNA without using a large number of naturally occurring gene sequences. This demonstration project should result in an E. coli that is impervious to all natural viruses. In previous research, she has reprogrammed a ribosome to translate selected DNA sequences differently. The pieces are all there.

I can’t believe I was off by nearly two hundred years. How much longer until we harness dark matter, do you think?

Read the full SciAm article: The Invulnerable Cell

Read Enemy Immortal

Why we know interstellar war is raging in our galaxy right now

If intelligent life is abundant throughout the galaxy, then where are they? — Fermi’s Paradox, Enrico Fermi, 1942.

Since 1942 the paradox has only deepened. Scientists have found many Earth-like planets and shown that creating the amino acid building blocks of life is relatively easy. The standard assumption is that since intelligence is a beneficial survival characteristic, life on nearly every planet will eventually evolve intelligence. Yet scientists have probed the galaxy for the artificial broadcasts of a super-civilization. They have found nothing.

In theory it’s possible that a civilization sufficiently advanced to have space flight would be so beneficent to undeveloped species that they would leave young planets like Earth undisturbed. After all, isn’t that what humanity will do when we reach the stars? I doubt it. And it happens that all of the many civilizations out there are beneficent? The probability becomes minuscule.

No, we don’t see any signs of intelligent life out there because they are hiding. The only question is, what are they hiding from? What could be more fearsome than an advanced interstellar civilization? They must be hiding from each other–because when they are not hiding, they are fighting.

Why haven’t we seen signs of war, you ask? Things like exploding stars (oh, novae) or annihilated spaceships (oh, GRB–Gamma Ray Bursts).

Yes, novae and GRBs can be explained as natural phenomena. But let’s say you are an advanced technological civilization and do not want to draw attention to yourself. Wouldn’t you disguise the blast of your weapons as a natural process?

Seven Waves of Inflation have Rocked our Universe.

OscillatingUniverseThis is huge, pardon the pun, and very much under-reported. We have supplanted the idea that there was a sudden, huge inflation when the universe was born and then a flat, smooth curve with a slight increase in inflation rate recently.

A careful, new study of Type 1a supernova brightness–the universes’s standard candles–give a different picture. Yes, we still have a huge expansion soon after the big bang, but then the evidence is for seven waves of diminishing contraction and expansion thereafter (decreasing in size like the waves around a stone dropped into the water or the ringing of a bell). We are currently on one of the waves of expansion, which will peak and then slow into the next inflationary rate trough. The new model clears up a few anomalies in the old model, like the rate of early galaxy formation. Check it out at  Universe May be Ringing like a Crystal Glass

The diminishing waves of inflation suggest that one big event probably triggered them, with the forces of the universe seeking equilibrium thereafter. Perhaps our universe collided with another baby universe. Maybe it is still recovering from the force required for expulsion from a singularity. My bet is we have the answer soon.

Why doesn’t evolution eliminate mental illness?

I was reminded by a couple recent articles that mental illness, specifically psychosis and depression, must have significant survival value, or surely evolution would have rooted it out long ago. After all, these conditions often lead to risky behavior or suicide. Where’s the value in that?

The value is to the species, not to the individual. Male black widow spiders suffer from evolution’s ruthless disregard for the species at the expense of the individual, as do those who suffer from sickle cell anemia.

The articles that caught my eye were:

Tributes to the “Beautiful Mind” of John Nash,  such as this one by   Rachael Rettner at LiveScience.com  

which reminds us that psychosis, or “thinking outside the box”, has both good and bad sides.

The Nash tributes appears on the heels of a recent study Are Entrepreneurs “Touched by Fire” by Michael A Freedman

which highlights the (to me) more surprising association of depression with successful entrepreneurship. One mechanism that could explain this association is that depression results from or in an increased sensitivity to the needs of others, which entrepreneurs then proceed to do something about.

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