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1028Re: [nanotech] Re: Bill Joy (Japanese)

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  • Christopher J. Phoenix
    Aug 10, 2000
      At 08:09 AM 8/10/00 EDT, DonSaxman@... wrote:
      >In a message dated 08/09/2000 7:46:04 PM Central Daylight Time,
      >cphoenix@... writes:
      >> 3) Consequence to others. If there were a risk of creating a new infectious
      >> disease by fiddling with human DNA, we'd have to analyze that risk. I've
      >> never heard this suggested. I don't see offhand how it could happen unless
      >> it were done deliberately (there's a _lot_ of genetic information even in a
      >> virus). And I don't see any other mechanism for genetic change to affect
      >> people whose genes were not directly changed.
      >Thanks for the lengthy post in reponse to my concerns. I'm not a Luddite by
      >any means, but the highlighed "consequence" is the one that concerns me.
      >THat we could inadventantly make a new, breeding organism that turns out to
      >have undeirable properties. I'm not so worried about a new strain of
      >bulletproof armadillos as I am new viruses or bacteria. In fact, the most
      >dangerous "undeirable property" might just be a tendency to mutate
      >differently or more frequently.

      One of the main problems with AIDS is that it mutates so often... one day's
      production of HIV in one human will typically contain *every* single-base

      >For instance, something that would mutate ebola into a strain that infects
      >humans, is deadly, *and* is spread through the air (so far, we've had
      >variuous combinations of two out of three). If the people "responding" to
      >these kinds of threats are, say, the Army doofusses described in "The Hot
      >Zone," we could be in trouble.

      New diseases are certainly a major concern. To my mind, that's one argument
      *for* nanotech: "labs on a chip" may not be enough to let us isolate,
      characterize, treat, and distribute a solution to a new virulent fatal
      disease within a few days. But one billion automated mm^3 labs in a cubic
      meter might be enough.

      >There is also a lot of potential for ptoducing microorganisms that produce
      >toxic byproducts. (in fact, some of them will probably be designed
      >specifically to metabolize and store or excrete toxic stuff. I've written a
      >couple books on bioremediation, and have met a number of people in the field,
      >and their techniques are not even close to controlled. In fact, one of the
      >most popular techniques, called bioaugmentation, is to just feed the existing
      >suite of microorgamisms (mollasses and oxygen are popular) and hope for the
      >best. If this happens to start working, you culture the resulting soup,
      >sometimes dump in some new "secret" yeast nutrients, and then reintroduce the
      >culture to the waste pit).

      Yes, but producing microorganisms is an almost completely different process
      from modifying the human genome. Some genome-modification schemes use virus
      capsules, but the viruses aren't supposed to be infectious. I haven't heard
      of any genome-modification scheme that uses bacteria.

      Bioaugmentation is effectively controlled breeding, not germ line
      modification. Microbes are bred under a wide range of conditions in nature.
      We should be a little bit careful about encouraging them to, for example,
      eat plastic. But we already have a bacterium that lives on a mixture of
      aviation fuel and aluminum(!) that evolved without our help. I'm not sure
      that anything we do will have much effect one way or the other.

      >Another for instance. If germ level genetic engineering really takes off, we
      >could have zillions of trans-genetic strains knocking around the environment.
      > Let's say for the sake of arguement that each has been carefully tested and
      >assessed and each is determined to be benign. How can we possibly test for
      >interactions between two new strains? Maybe one strain of oil-slick-eater is
      >benign unless it gets the chance to metabolize selenium. But there isn't
      >much selenium in either oceans or oil, so it is pretty safe. But say,
      >meanwhile, another geneticist has a strain of seawater-mining microorganism
      >that concentrates uranium, gold, and trace selenium from seawater. A tanker
      >hits one of the water-mining buoys, and during the resulting cleanup effort,
      >"stuff that isn't supposed to mix" does mix. Then maybe you get a
      >microorgamism that eats any plastic. This is a pretty fanciful, just-made-up
      >example, but my concern is more generic. There are all kinds of synergistic
      >opportunities out there.

      Gee, let's get really wild. Maybe bacteria and algae could team up, figure
      out how to build a structure that would support them in air, and form a
      synergy that would eat rock. :-) (For those who don't know, I'm talking
      about lichens.) So a Ringworld scenario is possible, where a microorganism
      evolves that eats some material that's crucial to our lifestyle.

      Again, I don't see how this is related to human genome modification. Our
      cells have nuclei--I don't know if it's even possible for bacteria to lift
      our DNA. In any case, the amount of DNA we're talking about introducing to
      fix diseases is trivially small compared with the DNA that's already in our

      >The only reason I feel comfortable posting this line of reason on a nanotech
      >board is thatthe same kinds of problems exist for nanotech. What happens
      >when you inadvetantly combine lawn care nano with acne fighting nano? (you
      >got chocolate in my peanutbutter -- no, you got peanut butter in my
      >chocolate). Probably nothing. Probably. The answer is, "nobody knows."

      That begs the question of how they could possibly combine. Answer: they
      couldn't unless they were designed to evolve, and that would be criminally

      Hmmm... I realize that I've been assuming Drextech. If you consider
      tailored microorganisms to be part of nanotech, then you certainly have more
      reason to worry. A lawn care microorganism could secrete pesticides; if the
      pesticide gene got into tooth-decay-fighting microorganisms that were
      designed to outcompete everything else in your mouth, that could be bad. (I
      heard such tooth organisms suggested ten years ago, and immediately realized
      that this would present very high risk.)

      But Drextech consumer goods would probably never be self-replicating.
      There's no need to take that risk or to include the extra complexity. Even
      at the production points (e.g. home-appliance factories), there would be
      careful designs to *prevent* the introduction of random or hostile programs.
      Certainly there would be nothing analogous to the gene-sharing of bacteria!


      Chris Phoenix cphoenix@... http://www.best.com/~cphoenix
      Work (Reading Research Council): http://www.dyslexia.com
      Is your paradigm shift automatic or stick?
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