made-to-order cells

Lyle Burkhead (
Mon, 14 Oct 1996 15:43:22 -0500 (EST)

I described a few things that can be done with made-to-order cells,
to which Howard Julien responded,

> In what way does this differ from nanotech, I don't see the
> seperation of mechanics and biology as being meaningful
> on this level.

The word "nanotechnology" can be taken in a generic sense, or a
narrow Drexlerian sense.

In the generic sense, nanotechnology just means doing things with
replicating atomic-level machinery. Cells and Drexlerian replicators
both fit this definition. But they work on different principles.
Eric Drexler envisions little assembler arms picking atoms up and
putting them in place, one by one. In cells, atoms are guided into place
by their three-dimensional environment. If an individual atom needs to
be moved from place to place, specialized molecules perform this task.
(For example, an oxygen atom would be carried by a hemoglobin

It is possible to do the same thing with cellular machinery that Edison
and others did with electrical machinery a hundred years ago. We can
invent new kinds of microtubules and membranes. We can introduce
entirely new structures into cells. We can make trees that grow wood
with graphite composite fibers (or whatever kind of fibers we want),
and these trees can grow to maturity much faster than today's trees.

We could start with organisms that already make some kind of three-
dimensional lattice structure (such as corals, sponges, diatoms... ) and
evolve them in the direction we want to go, so they build the structure
we specify.

When you start making made-to-order cells, the possibilities are
endless. I went through all the fantasies about honeycombing the earth
(and much else) back in 1987, but I wasn't thinking about Drexlerian
assemblers, I was thinking about what could be done with modified

The cell is the ideal development environment for the nano-engineer or
nano-programmer. Most of the tools you need are already there.
Drexlerian nanotechnologists are going to have to reinvent the wheel,
indeed many wheels.

In the secret underground labs of the Evil Twin Cult, we don't waste
our time on "positional chemical synthesis." We study the nanoscale
mechanisms that are already there in cells, and then invent variations
on them, and improvements.