Intelligent Design

An Intelligent Designer of Life Discovered!

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Engineering Life: Building a Fab for Biology 
Principles and practices learned from engineering successes can help transform biotechnology from a specialized craft into a mature industry 
By The Bio FAB Group

Although the term “genetic engineering” has been in use for at least three decades, and recombinant DNA methods are now mainstays of modern research, most biotechnologists’ work with living things has little in common with engineering. One reason is that the tools available for building with biological “parts” have yet to reach a level of standardization and utility equal to that in other engineering fields. Another has to do with methods and mind-sets in biology, although these, too, can be powerfully influenced by technology.

Electronic engineering, for example, was transformed beginning in 1957, when Jean Hoerni of Fairchild Semiconductor, a small company in what would later be known as Silicon Valley, invented planar technology. It was a system for layering and etching metals and chemicals within silicon wafers using templates called photomasks. This new approach allowed engineers to produce integrated circuits cleanly and consistently and to create a wide variety of circuit types just by changing the pattern on the photomask. Soon engineers could draw from libraries of simple circuits made by others and combine them in increasingly complex designs with a widening range of applications….continued at Scientific American Digital

You can find the entire article here and in the June ’06 issue of SciAm. (Thanks to PaV for finding a copy of the article at Princeton.) This is great reading.  Bio engineering is proceeding along the same lines as computer engineering.  The state of the art in bio engineering is just about at the point where electronic design was when I was 12 years old (1968) and built my first ham radio from a Heath Kit.  Forest Mims (The Citizen Scientist) might very well have designed that kit.  Anyhow, biological engineering is about to step into the component library stage which the electronics industry entered (my recall) about 1980 or thereabouts if we mark programmable gate arrays as the beginning.  That step in electronic engineering took about 23 years if we start in 1957.  I was in the thick of it by 1980 programming PLAs with happy abandon.  A friend and I used to joke that PLAs (programmable logic arrays) were the best thing to happen since sliced bread.  Deja vu!  Been there, done that!

5 Replies to “An Intelligent Designer of Life Discovered!

  1. 1
    PaV says:

    Here’s a link to a PDF copy. I’m reading it now.

  2. 2
    todd says:

    Uh oh. From the article:

    Once inside the yeast, this pathway can also be modified to operate much more efficiently than it does in the native plant. So far we have been able to redesign key subsets of the genes, known collectively as the mevalonate pathway, to produce an artemisinin precursor called amorphadiene at yields 100,000 times greater than the original pathway produces in bacteria. Increasing yields still further, to the point of making the drug widely available, will require us to reengineer the entire artemisinin pathway in an integrated way.

    Intelligent Design is clearly ruining science in the US!

    How about a new contest? Let us come up with substitute words for ‘design’ and ‘engineer’ so the PZM’s of the world don’t have to fret over the ruination of science…

  3. 3
    David vun Kannon says:

    Todd wrote:
    How about a new contest? Let us come up with substitute words for ‘design’ and ‘engineer’ so the PZM’s of the world don’t have to fret over the ruination of science…

    This same basic story has been picked up by The Economist in the most recent issue (see “Synthetic Biology”). Their version includes some interesting comments on how life seems to be a kludge from the perspective of the engineer being interviewed. Perhaps we will need little translating phrase books when reading about life on different blogs:
    design = nasty hack
    re-engineer = debug

  4. 4
    Michaels7 says:

    Engineering Life – says it all. Nice. I’ll have to read up.

  5. 5
    Hawks says:

    How about another contest. Lets compare a few engineered microbes (that have, for example, had some streteches of DNA inserted) to some microbes that have had genetic material inserted “natuarally”. Let’s see if it can be shown which microbe acquired its new DNA through which method. Could ID-theory be helpful here?

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