made-to-order cells

Lyle Burkhead (
Fri, 11 Oct 1996 19:06:32 -0500 (EST)

A decade or two from now, cytoplasmic technology will reach the point
where we can design made-to-order cells.

We will be able to design a very small "monitor cell" whose job it is
to insinuate itself into the brain, and, in conjunction with millions of
other such cells, keep track of everything that goes on in there.
(By "very small" I mean smaller than a nerve cell; small enough to fit
between nerve cells without taking up too much space and without
disrupting the activities of the nerve cells.)

If we are going to have a very fine-grained model of the brain,
something like this will have to happen. We have to have sensors
in there, picking up real-time information about how the neurons work,
and this has to happen while the brain is "on," so to speak. When we
send the first monitor cells into the brain, this will be like sending
space probes to Venus, Mars, Jupiter, etc. We will learn a lot about the
brain that couldn't be learned any other way.

Now, once the monitor system is in place, since we are assuming
a high level of expertise in cellular engineering, it will be possible to
identify defective nerve cells and replace them. It will also be
possible to improve the healthy cells to make them work even better,
and to enhance their communication with each other. Entirely new
kinds of nerve cells can be introduced, with new capabilities.

We will also be able to design and make cells that can (1) remove toxins
(lead, aluminum, etc.), and (2) identify and repair gross problems,
such as calcification of tissue, plugged arteries, hormonal imbalance,
and irregular electrical rhythms. These cells can be incorporated into
the immune system, so our bodies will be self-repairing. (Of course
our bodies are already self-repairing to a great extent, but there is plenty
of room for improvement.)

Cellular engineering also has many industrial uses, such as extracting
fresh water from sea water, extracting metals from ores -- I could go on
and on. I'm not saying cellular engineering will create a cornucopia,
but it will allow us to do a lot of things that we can't do now.

Best of all, it doesn't depend on Genies or any kind of hocus-pocus.
It's a very straightforward development of the cell biology of today.