Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Star Trek Theme Week: TNG Genesis

The events of 47653.2 should be an example to those of us in the Synthetic Biology community. For our (presumably few) readers unfamiliar with stardates, I am referring to the tragedy that befell the Enterprise D in 2370 as she tracked a stray torpedo through the Typhon Expanse.

The story is painful to recall, even hundreds of years before it will happen. Lieutenant Barclay gets the Urodelan flu, so Dr. Crusher activates his dormant genes with a synthetic T-cell for treatment. But Dr. Crusher, getting sloppy, misinterprets her agarose gels and fucks up the T-cell transfections. So naturally the cells run amok on the Enterprise, activating the crew's secret introns and causing them to devolve into whatever weirdo animals their species evolved from. Long story short, Barclay devolves into a spider, Dr. Crusher gets sprayed with venom, Data's cat turns into an iguana for some reason, and Ensign Dern is gored by a space-crab.

Ensign Dern: Another victim of Synthetic T Cells.

So what lessons can scientists draw from this? The first lesson is obviously to avoid over-medication. As is well known, the Urodelan flu is generally mild. Even in the 24th century, fluids and bed rest are the best medicine.

Second lesson: All engineered organisms eventually escape and run amok. So what are you going to do about it when it happens? Lysine contingency? Suicide gene? Release a new organism, deadlier still, to hunt and kill the first thing? I don't have all the answers, so I'm happy to leave this thorny question to the appallingly uninformed voters.

Thirdly, what is all this iguana and spider DNA doing in the human genome? Do you want monkeys in your introns? Gross! I propose that we use Synthetic Genomics, sister-discipline of Synthetic Biology, to rewrite the human genome and eliminate all non-human DNA. This kind of thing is already working for viruses, therefore humans are the next logical step. If we can get it done by 47653.2, we may be in time to save Ensign Dern.

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