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back to article Comp-sci boffin aims to REPROGRAM LIFE ITSELF

International boffins, led by a computer scientist based in Nottingham, intend to produce what they describe as "a cell’s equivalent to a computer operating system", which would deliver living organisms that could be "reprogrammed" to produce almost anything biological - fresh human organs for transplant, amazing new food …

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Terminator

Hmm code..

Brings new meaning to LINQ to Entities

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Gender alignment...?

The article refers to Natalio repeatedly as "she"/"her", but he is, in fact, a bloke, as can be seen in his staff mug shot here: http://www.cs.nott.ac.uk/~nxk/

As a rule, if a European or Arabic name ends with an O, it's probably a man's name, and if it ends in -A it's a woman's name.

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Ru
Mushroom

Krasnogor has an awesome supervillian ring to it

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Joke

Professor Krasnogor

I suppose that with a name like that, creating evil mutant monsters to destroy the world is the only career option open really......

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Anonymous Coward

Just think of the possibilites , I suppose they could make :-

A politiician that tells the truth

A white van / BMW driver who doesn't tailgate you on the motorway

An Actor who isn't a narcissist

A banker who realises that making money isn't actually making anything truly useful to humanity.

and most of all :-

An engineer / scientist who realises that they could unleash a whole lot of shit on the world, as well as possible good.

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Anonymous Coward

Yep definitely a man

It's a nice try, but millions of euros and hundreds of people are trying to work out the function of even simple organs (e.g. virtual liver network: http://www.virtual-liver.de/), so I wouldn't hold my breath...

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Stop

BSOD

I wonder if the BSOD will take a new, more literal, meaning in the future.

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So instead of becoming Grey Goo due to nanites...

...the whole of the UK will be transformed into a large steak.

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Alert

Dangerous?

This sounds horribly dangerous.

I don't know enough about biology to comment on any proposed safeguards, but I do know about computing and human nature. If it can run code, it can run viruses. If it's there to be cracked, someone will try to crack it. And if it's a microbe, there's a chance it'll get out of the lab and start thriving in the wild. And then start expressing those viruses and their o/s in the wild, and mixing and merging with other wild microbes.

What after that, I'll leave to the SF writers. Greg Egan wrote a short story with a set-up something like this - a self-mutating plague that escaped. Fortunately, it mutated randomly and away from its original deadly form, so it only wiped out the population of Arizona, created a global panic, and left in its wake uncountable millions of new diseases.

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Anonymous Coward

"I don't know enough about biology to comment on any proposed safeguards".

Well STFU then.

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re: Dangerous?

"This sounds horribly dangerous. I don't know enough about biology..."

Good man, don't let lack of knowledge or understanding get in the way of a good fear-mongering response. I admire your determination and know a website that will welcome you with open arms. You'll find it by pointing your browser to dailymail.co.uk

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Re: Dangerous?

Normal everyday living cells can *already* run viruses. Viruses *already* reproduce and mutate out of control. This has been going on since the dawn of life. Not much changes there.

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@Filippo

"Normal everyday living cells can *already* run viruses"

Blindingly good point there, worth remembering where the word "virus" originates!

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Meta-viruses, not viruses.

OK, perhaps I should have made that clearer. Yes, of course I know that life has co-evolved with natural viruses, and that these days it's possible to genetically modify viruses. Some day a bad one will escape, by malign intent or accident, and the world will be faced with a new plague. ONE new plague. Nature does the same thing all by herself on occasion.

What is being proposed seems to be an analogue of inserting an interpreter for something else into life's operating system. And you know the trouble we have in IT with programmable entities that are supposed to be confined to a sandbox, escaping from it when the bad guys provide the input?

The thought of someone genetically engineering one killer plague is scary enough. The thought of someone engineering a generator that iterates through all the permutations of nastinesses is far scarier. Which is precisely what might happen, if this idea is put into practice and if it then escapes from the labs. Would we long survive as a species, if someone created a mutation-and-permutation generator for (say) new flu virus variants?

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Devil

Which Daily Mail-esque comment to make

Should I go with "It's a bio-weapon factory, there[sic] all terroroists!!!one!!!" or "If they can program the cells to make organs the evil hackers will be able to re-program our organs!!eleven!!!"

Or should I skip all that and go with "That's some impressive science he's trying for. Succeed or fail, he'll be adding to the sum of human knowledge"

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Boffin

Explains the Fermi Paradox!

Finally, we begin to understand why the value of L has to be very low in the Drake Equation, and that explains the fermi paradox.

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Makes sense

After all, what is DNA but a base-4 equivalent to binary that runs on organic machines, and what in RNA but an organic processor?

And yes, I'm quite aware that is an massive oversimplification.

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Anonymous Coward

higher base

The DNA is processed in 3 * (G|A|T|C) chunks, so that's base 64.

Most of those 64 codes are redundant, with some amino acids generated from 1 to 6 codes.

There's 20 amino acids, plus stop and start.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DNA_codon_table

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Boffin

All your base are belong to us

@higher base -- well, most modern computers do their processing in 32-bit or 64-bit chunks, but we don't generally call them base 4,294,967,296 or base 18,446,744,073,709,551,616. They commonly have a character width of one byte, but we don't call them base 256.

Think of it this way:

nucleotide = digit (CS equiv = bit)

codon = character (CS equiv = byte)

So base-4 with a 3-digit default character width would be a better *ahem* characterization.

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Anonymous Coward

Woof

Can we have a dog that buries its faeces, please?

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Boffin

Ventner?

No comparison of this approach as compared to that of th'esteemed Dr. Ventner?

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