By Jeremy Hsu for PopSci:
Death-resistant synthetic beings? Don’t worry, there’s a genetically encoded kill-switch
It’s been a long time since a Pentagon project from the DARPA labs truly evoked a “WTF DARPA?!” response, but our collective jaw dropped when we saw the details on a project known as BioDesign. DARPA hopes to dispense with evolutionary randomness and assemble biological creatures, genetically programmed to live indefinitely and presumably do whatever their human masters want. And, Wired’s Danger Room reports, when there’s the inevitable problem of said creatures going haywire or realizing that they’re intelligent and have feelings, there’s a planned self-destruct genetic code that could be triggered.
Unsurprisingly, molecular biologists have weighed in with huge caveats and raised fingers of objection. First, they say that DARPA has the wrong idea about hoping to overcome evolution’s supposed randomness, and that evolution really represents a super-efficient design algorithm. Then there’s the problem of guaranteeing immortal life for any biological creature in the first place — just look here and here at some really smart people who have yet to find that fountain of youth.
DARPA has also committed just a piddling $6 million out of next year’s budget toward BioDesign. But it will also put $20 million toward a new synthetic biology program and give $7.5 million for speeding up the analysis and editing of cellular genomes. We’re pretty sure that means the Pentagon agency hasn’t considered a future where police “blade runners” help violently “retire” escaped lab replicants of humans…
[continues at PopSci]