I was reading my daily Science articles and came across a very interesting article titled,An ‘Operating System’ That Runs on Cells Could Create Whole New Life Forms. It is about how scientists are working to develop reprogrammable cells. These cells could then be programmed to do a whole bunch of useful tasks. There goal is to get a working programmable cell so that the field of synthetic biology can take off as a larger field of science. If the field takes off then scientists will be able to get to work on cells that can “clean up unwanted carbon from the air, pull pollutants from drinking water, attack pathogens inside the human body, and protect food sources from agricultural pests.” My thought is this, though. Would it be possible to design a programmable virus that is immune to vaccines and that can be controlled in how it spreads. People could use this technology for bad and spread an evil ultimate that is unstoppable. I know the chances are slim but it could happen. What are your thoughts on how this technology could be applied? Is there any sort of downsides that you guys could see to a technology like this?
This month in science brings not one, but two major headlines in disease research.
Scientists have successfully created an effective malaria vaccine after 24 years of intensive research. The vaccine is reported to be safe, effective, and cheap, and will be available for regular distribution by 2015.
Currently, almost 10% of the world’s population is affected by this dangerous disease, and many millions have died to date in the absence of a vaccine to prevent infection. Although this vaccine does not necessarily mark the end of the disease, it is a momentous step towards the eradication of the deadly parasite.
Because this disease is so widespread, there is growing concern over making the vaccine cost-efficient enough to provide the cure for all those who are in danger of being infected. This is especially an issue for malaria because the disease afflicts many poorer regions of the globe.
There are a number of antimalarial medicines available for those traveling into malaria-ridden areas, but they only provide protection from the parasites so long as the medication is active, making it unfeasible to use as a worldwide cure.
The concern at this point is for the vaccine to be shown to be effective in humans at a high rate, and with a long (preferably lifetime) period of immunity. The drug advances now to the third stage of trials where it is being tested on an afflicted population.
The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center also recently unveiled a new generation of prosthetics able to be controlled by the brain. Neuroscientists are working on perfecting a system to allow robotic prosthetics to be controlled strictly through intention by means of intercepting brain waves.
These programs are in their nascent stages, but immediately are yielding promising results. Robotics engineers and neuroscientists are teaming up to allow more precise control as well as a more intuitive design. Footage shows a man paralyzed in a motorcycle accident reaching out for the first time in 7 years, this time with a robotic arm that is detached from his body.
What are the implications of machines that can be operated with the mind? Are true ‘cyborgs’ in the foreseeable future?