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ETpro's avatar

DARPA Project to create bio-engineered creatures that will live indefinitely -- what could possibly go wrong with a plan like that?

Asked by ETpro (34247 points ) February 9th, 2010

According to Wired.com the Defense Department’s advanced research arm is launching a project to develop a designer organism with cells built to not break down over time. They plan to build in DNA making the organism loyal to us, and preventing an enemy from subverting it to their use. And as a fail-safe, they will include a genetic kill switch—a molecule known only to us that will instantly shut the organism down should it run amok. Given what we know about the predictability of events at the quantum level, what could possibly go wrong with this plan?

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22 Answers

The_Idler's avatar

In the interests of protecting the people of the United States, they take over.

janbb's avatar

Avatar anyone?

phoebusg's avatar

What all the zombie movies warned us about.

Things that can go wrong, it being really successful in the world and replacing other useful micro-organisms we cannot do without. Our bodies depend on dozens of them to function (without which we die).

It really depends how well engineered it is. We’re at a decent level of knowledge about cells. Creating even artificial cells, then throwing in a ribosome (pre-existing) and creating from that anything else required in the cell… then watching it function like any other cell.

Provided enough safeties are put in place, it should be fine. We need more research in those areas, I’m all for it notwithstanding the risks.

CMaz's avatar

Sounds like the rough draft to the movie ” The Matrix”.

ragingloli's avatar

I think the rest of the world needs to put more money into espionage to obtain that killswitch.
A weapon of mass destruction with no means of defence against in the hands of one single nation?
Bad idea.
We should declare war on the US immediately.

TheJoker's avatar

Hehehehe-hahahahaha-hehehe, the time of chaos & destruction is at hand!!!

Steve_A's avatar

“that will live indefinitely”

That, it will destroy the ecosystem.

Trillian's avatar

And what will be the identifying factor for “enemy”?

janbb's avatar

I answered glibly before, but this really sounds crazy to me. I would want to read a lot mroe about it, though before expressing a definitive opinion. I can’t believe scientists would be being that stupid; am I just naive?

Trillian's avatar

May I paraphrase Jeff Goldblum from a movie here? “Yo guys were so worried about if you could, you never stopped to think about if you should.
That, to my mind is always one of the flaws with research results. Once the results are arrived at, they’re taken as lief and someone else wants to take the “next” step. But results can be misleading and should. IMHO, be arrived at independently before another step is taken, simply for the fact that the discipline required should foster the mindset that will properly respect those results and all their implications. This would in turn, temper the following steps taken.
I live in a fools paradise, and am aware that this argument is filled with holes. I just wish that our future were not in the hands of people who simply can’t seem to be able to leave well enough alone.

phoebusg's avatar

The problem is never the research, it is the application. I’m slightly worried DARPA is behind this project. They are usually not looking for the good of their neighbors – but I could be wrong.

Research by itself, is just a pursuit of knowledge. Eventually all research connects to other research and applications – thus becoming useful. Thus, yes, I do believe we should be researching everything. Just because in a short-sighted way it has no direct application, it does not mean it cannot be a pillar upon which we can build another application. Carefully examine the background of every device and invention you are using. Do you think this application fueled the original pursuit?

For this research, it could have great applications in medicine. Engineering active biological healers etc etc.

That said, it would be paramount to keep track of said applications. For example, nuclear power is very useful – for the purpose of energy creation. But bombing two cities to show off power was really not necessary (there was a board that made that decision… to bomb and twice)

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

Sounds like science fiction. That will never be reality.

ragingloli's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh
That is what they said about space travel.

jackm's avatar

@phoebusg I work for DARPA, and I assure you we aren’t all looking for the destruction of our neighbors.

The_Idler's avatar

@jackm Neither was Einstein.

kidkosmik's avatar

Is it solar powered?

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@ragingloli As far as I am aware, the only way to make a cell indestructible is to make it really simple. Maybe time will prove me wrong, but it seems to me like solving the quantum equations for proteins – something that we can hypothesise about and make predictions of the results, but never have the ability to carry out.

Bluefreedom's avatar

I think Michael Crichton already covered this in his book Prey. It wasn’t such a good idea because the nano-robots became lethal and I can envision DARPA’s microscopic guinea pigs doing the same thing.

ETpro's avatar

Interesting discussion. @phoebusg I am glad to see that a few people see the potential up side of greater understanding of the basic workings of life. @jackm Don;t we owe DARPA thanks for this tool we are using to discuss the idea—the Internet?

Dr_Dredd's avatar

@Trillian Was that from “Independence Day”?

Poser's avatar

@Dr_Dredd Jurassic Park!

Seems the general consensus is that by the mere undertaking of this research, the fact that it will get out of control and destroy humanity is a given. Or that it will inevitibly be used for the senseless slaughter of innocents.

I have to question this consensus.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

Ah. Another good movie…

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