The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA_ is looking to fund the development of scalable bio-factories where cells or materials normally found in cells will make assorted products.
A recent call for research by the Pentagon’s mad science agency proposes a new program called “Living Foundries.” The idea is to use biology as a manufacturing platform to “enable on-demand production of new and high-value materials, devices and capabilities.”
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Looks like we will get biological factories long before Eric Drexler's nanoassemblers. What I wonder: Do we need specialized lab artificial intelligences to do sufficiently rapid scientific experiments on nanoassemblers to search the potential solution space to find ways to make nanoassemblers workable? Read the Controversy section of that Wikipedia page for a sense of the debate about the practicality of nanoassemblers.
The best known ways we reduce the amount of work humans do is by developing equipment that automates a task. That approach tends be much more visible than other methods for eliminating human work because we can see the automated equipment at work in factories and other work settings. But a far more powerful and less appreciated way to raise living standards is to reduce or even entirely eliminate the need to perform a task in the first place.
While some argue about the difficulty of developing totally automated lawn mowers a better way to eliminate the need for human labor in lawn mowing is to genetically engineer lawn grass to grow to a fixed lower maximum height. Recent discoveries about the brassinosteroids in plants point the way toward lawn grass that doesn't grow as tall and does not have to be mowed.
For anyone tethered to a lawnmower, the Holy Grail of horticultural accomplishment would be grass that never grows but is always green.
Now, that vision of suburban bliss—and more—seems plausible as scientists have mapped a critical hormone signaling pathway that regulates the stature of plants. In addition to lawns that rarely require mowing, the finding could also enable the development of sturdier, more fruitful crop plants such as rice, wheat, soybeans, and corn.
In a paper published in the May 4, 2006, issue of the journal Nature, Howard Hughes Medical Institute scientists report they have deciphered the signaling pathway for a key class of steroid hormones that regulates growth and development in plants.
"By manipulating the steroid pathway…we think we can regulate plant stature and yield," said Joanne Chory, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and the senior author of the new report.
Manipulation of plant stature has been a longstanding goal in horticulture, agronomy, and forestry. The ability to precisely control plant size would have broad implications for everything from urban forestry to crop and garden plant development. Beyond perpetually short grass, trees could be made more compact for better growth in crowded cities, and berry bushes could be made taller for ease of harvesting.
Imagine future spray-on gene therapy treatments where once you get your hedges shaped just like you want it you spray the hedges once and they cease to extend new branches for a couple of years. No more need for hedge pruning.
Genetic engineering of regulatory regions in the brassinosteroid pathway might be the ticket for producing mow-free lawn grasses.
"We might be able to dwarf grass and keep it green by limiting brassinosteroids or increase the yield of rice by having more brassinosteroids in seeds," Chory said.
Biotechnological advances will provide ways to grow food in backyard gardens with less labor while also cutting back on yard labor.
What is the best way to reduce the labor for ironing clothes? Make automated ironing machines? Of course not. Make clothes that do not need ironing. What is the best way to reduce the labor needed for home repair? Develop robots? Again, of course not. Make building materials that last decades longer. What is the best way to keep cars clean? Develop automated cleaning machines? No, make surfaces with nanomaterials that dirt can't stick to or surfaces that can clean themselves. Advances in nanotechnologies and biotechnologies will provide us with lower maintenance textiles, cars, houses, lawns, and other items we use in our daily lives.