In Howard’s Noodly Image *Updated*

Although there are significantly fewer entries here covering rapid-prototyping and nano-fabrication, that’s no indication I haven’t been watching and reading. The guys over on RepRap have been plugging along. There is occasional news of some new 3D printer coming onto the market… sometimes with a neat feature or greater capacity. We’ve got news of printing human organs. But then every so often the bio-fab segment pops up with something I believe is pretty important. Like now.

Via WorldChanging comes word on their website of an interesting development: a demonstration by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco showing how light can be used to trigger and control bacterial functions. This is significant in that we appear to now have the ability to create biological switches. For example, by directing laser light at a particular bacteria, we could cause it to switch outputs; it could be munching along on toxic styrene waste and leaving Product A in its place, and with a simple trigger activation it could produce Product B. Now assume that Product A is nothing but some other bacteria’s food (and in turn it produces a similarly benign output which is the food for another and so forth and so on, thus keeping a system in equilibrium). Product B however might be something else entirely, including the input to a whole chain of processes resulting in the creation of raw materials suitable for manufacturing.

Biomimicry is already suggesting solutions to nano-scale fabrication (see my earlier post). But why bother with mimicry? I know I tend to segregate biological science from traditional engineering, but there’s absolutely no reason to do so. Further, I suspect I’m not alone in this. Just look at the way we generally regard the integration of biological and metallic components. From Giger’s biomechanical horrors to Tetsuo: The Iron Man, we seem to be predisposed to separating the two (something to do with millenia of using foreign objects to kill each other, perhaps). Time to get past that and realize that our future may not be gleaming cities of steel and glass, but glistening organics.

Maybe the Master Plan is to eventually create a world full of noodly appendages and researchers at UCSF are just serving the Master.

Howard be thy name. Ramen.

{Wired News is carrying an article on it now. Worth reading. Link.}