When I was a kid, I was a huge science fiction fan. Robert Heinlein was one of my favorite authors. He seemed a little less technical and a bit more bizarre than the rest of the science fiction writers of the day. Reading the stories, I wondered that if some day, all of the miraculous things that the writers talked about would come to fruition, maybe some of them even in my lifetime.
One concept that I thought novel was the combining of technology with biology. It was and is a common theme of fantasy and science fiction, prevalent from the 1950’s right on up through the Borg on Star Trek and the Six Million Dollar Man on TV.
Throughout this time, there have many stories where an advanced race have figured out how to actually use biology to power a spaceship. The ship is a living thinking being that is part creature and part steel. And the biological entities in it can communicate directly with it.
Well, all this may sound far fetched, but in reality, we may be closer to combining man and machine together ( artificial hearts, kidneys, pancreas) as well as using biology in many unique and unusual ways. Scientists have already developed an artificial kidney that combines mechanic with a “bio chamber” that has some of the patient’s own kidney cells.
According to Medical News Today:
“Genetically modified cells can be made to communicate with each other as if they were electronic circuits. Using yeast cells, a group of researchers at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, has taken a groundbreaking step towards being able to build complex systems in the future where the body’s own cells help to keep us healthy.”
This could work hand in hand with tiny nano-roberts that could circulate in the blood and spot disease and report it back to a central computer. These robots would be small enough to inject into a person’s body just like in one of my favorite movies: “The Incredible Journey” where a tiny spaceship filled with tiny humans circulated throughout the body. Actually, that’s pretty close, isn’t it?
The results of the Swedish study were published recently in the scientific journal “Nature.”
The scientists admit that the cells can’t do the complex tasks of a real computer, but the research paves the way for them to build more and more complex machines out of the cells.
In the future, the cells may be able to detect and treat disease as well as detect changes in a person’s health. They may also be able to detect toxins from the environment that build up in the body.
Synthetic biology is the term that the scientists use when describing their research. It’s not quite the combining of man and machine that is described in the science fiction novels, but we might just be getting pretty close.