Scientists Create the First Automated 'Biological Teleporter' and Use It to Fax Viruses
At this moment, in the Synthetic Genomics, Inc. lab (SGI) in San Diego, California, the first-ever biological teleportation device sits. The device, made up of a number of different robots and machines, is capable of using transmitted digital files to print viruses. Yes, you read that right. After processing files containing a DNA sequence, the machine can create a "fully functioning" bacteriophage without human aid, as well as the flu virus. While it is not yet teleporting humans, this machine is the first ever capable of using DNA sequences to assemble viruses without human interaction.
It's exciting as it is terrifying, because this is how a sci-fi disaster movie starts.
This ability to take digital information and use it to remotely configure biological compounds is a step toward 3-D printing bio-fuels, or, looking toward the stars, spreading human genetic material to the furthest reaches of space. Alternatively, it might be the conduit to recreate extraterrestrial life found on exoplanets in Earth's labs—meaning that we can prevent a situation like Life. A more practical use, however, is using this technology to deal with pandemics here on Earth: upon collecting a sample of a given virus, its genetic code can be beamed around the world to immediately start development on a vaccine. There is one hurdle: the machine has a bad habit of allowing mutation errors to occur in the final product. According to David Evans, one of the scientists working on the project:
A machine that has the potential to create vaccines for dangerous diseases, but has a tendency to create unpredictable mutations in the viruses it creates...where have we heard this before? This is the setup for the movie adaptation of I Am Legend!
Apocalyptic biological warfare scenarios aside (the potential to mass-produce viruses and spread them is there), the technology to automatically "fax life" across great distances could be a fantastic step forward for planetary colonization, as even the simplest biological compounds can help lay the groundwork for farming, hydroponics, atmosphere experiments, and the whole process of small-scale terraforming. Being able to transmit DNA and build it from the ground up isn't the kind of teleportation we wished for (Star Trek style), but it's definitely awesome in its own unexpected ways. We just hope they stop printing viruses and find a way to print something nicer, like a bird.