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Biology via design, and print via 3-D

In nano on October 21, 2006 at 10:43 pm

Biology via design, and print via 3-D
By Conrad de Aenlle International Herald Tribune

Published: October 20, 2006
The marvels of the information age exist mainly in two dimensions on a computer disk or monitor. In the post-information age, they are expected to be more tangible and substantial, occupying the same three-dimensional space we do.

One of the most intriguing developments anticipated by Marina Gorbis, executive director of the Institute of the Future, is “intentional biology,” or genetic, pharmaceutical or mechanical biological alteration. “We’re going to be able to design and manipulate our bodies more and more and hack into them in various ways,” she predicted.

Three pioneers in this field – Synthetic Genomics, founded by Craig Venter, a leading figure in mapping the human genome; Codon Devices; and Amyris Biotechnologies – are hacking into lower forms of life, for now, including organisms invented in their labs.

Two companies Gorbis mentioned that work on the human nervous system were Cyberkinetics, which makes neural stimulation devices, and the drug maker Memory Pharmaceuticals.

Another nascent development expected to flourish in coming decades is a three-dimensional printer that would use nanotechnology to make physical objects by dispersing molecules according to programmed patterns, much as a conventional printer sprays ink to form words and images on a page.

“You put in a formula and design for something, and the printer will etch, layer by layer, the actual three-dimensional object,” Gorbis said. She emphasized that the results would not be holographic images or other facsimiles, but actual objects, including functional electronic equipment.

She expects 3-D printers to be a fact of commercial life “definitely in the next 20 to 30 years,” but some companies, notably Z Corp. and Stratasys, are getting a head start. They make prototypical printers used in industrial design.

The big promise of 3-D printers is that they will usher in a new era of home-based manufacturing and unprecedented choice, Gorbis said. She foresees an intermediate stage in which makers of, say, cellphones invite customers to a store to create the handset of their choice on the spot. After that, she said, they may become fairly ordinary pieces of household equipment.

“This changes the way we think about materials,” she said. “You just get the chemical package and assemble it. This allows us to create light products that are highly flexible and personal.”

The marvels of the information age exist mainly in two dimensions on a computer disk or monitor. In the post-information age, they are expected to be more tangible and substantial, occupying the same three-dimensional space we do.

One of the most intriguing developments anticipated by Marina Gorbis, executive director of the Institute of the Future, is “intentional biology,” or genetic, pharmaceutical or mechanical biological alteration. “We’re going to be able to design and manipulate our bodies more and more and hack into them in various ways,” she predicted.

Three pioneers in this field – Synthetic Genomics, founded by Craig Venter, a leading figure in mapping the human genome; Codon Devices; and Amyris Biotechnologies – are hacking into lower forms of life, for now, including organisms invented in their labs.

Two companies Gorbis mentioned that work on the human nervous system were Cyberkinetics, which makes neural stimulation devices, and the drug maker Memory Pharmaceuticals.

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