The essay below is the third in a series by our English correspondent Seneca III. Previously: Part 1., Part 2.
So Here There Be Dragons!
by Seneca III
Part IIIA — Synthetic evolution?
Introduction: This monograph and the one that follows look at recent and potential developments in the sphere of the hard sciences. There are six sections, Medicine, genetic & bio-molecular engineering, Quantum physics and electro-neural prosthesis [Part IIIA], and Artificial intelligence, Power generation and transmission and Astronautics and spaceflight technology [Part IIIB]. Whether these developments, individually or collectively, can be defined as synthetic or just accelerated natural progression I leave to the reader to decide.
The full history of medicine is a long, fascinating and far too large subject to do justice to here. It has been a slow haul until recently, but now appears to be accelerating, so I will leave it to individual readers to pursue the past if they wish. Instead, I will bring into quick focus relatively recent developments.
- 1954. First successful kidney transplant performed.
- 1966. First simultaneous kidney/pancreas transplant performed.
- 1967. First successful human heart transplant and the first successful liver transplant performed.
- 1968. First successful isolated pancreas transplant performed.
- 1981. First successful heart-lung transplant performed…
- …and so on until…
- 1998. First successful adult-to-adult living donor liver transplant performed.
Physicians, surgeons, microbiologists, biochemists and pharmacologists, to mention but a few, have continued to progress our knowledge and skills during and since that era and these include drugs, vaccines, bone marrow replacement (from a closely related donor), microsurgery, laser surgery & precise neurosurgery and many others. They have together extended average human life expectancy, and researchers are now on the threshold of extending that expectancy even further.
A medical researcher at Harvard Medical School, David Sinclair, has been looking deep into cellular structure and trying to determine if the biological clocks in cells can be turned back and reset, and his recent experiments on the eyes of mice suggest it might be possible to reverse aging. Follow the link for the full 6-minute video listed in the notes..
If this does prove possible in humans it would not necessarily be restricted to post-natal onset blindness occurring through either natural degradation as a result of aging or by physical damage. If this process turns out to be viable it could be further extended such that it might also be possible to use this technique to initiate the regrowth/repair of diseased or malfunctioning human organs and damaged/missing extremities such as fingers, hands, arms and legs.
2. Genetic and bio-molecular engineering
The potential for both of these practices, nuclear (RNA & DNA manipulation) and, say, in proteins and their constituent amino acids, is enormous. Serious advances in genetic engineering have already been made in the case of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) and GMMOs (Genetically Modified Micro Organisms) in both the animal and plant kingdoms.
Ribonucleic acid (RNA) is a polymeric molecule essential in various biological roles in coding, decoding, regulation and expression of genes. RNA and DNA are nucleic acids.
Ribonucleic acid (RNA) is a linear molecule composed of four types of smaller molecules called ribonucleotide bases: adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), and uracil (U). DNA is made of chemical building blocks called nucleotides. These building blocks are made of three parts: a phosphate group, a sugar group and one of four types of nitrogen bases. To form a strand of DNA, nucleotides are linked into chains, with the phosphate and sugar groups alternating.
Proteins are macromolecules formed by amino acids, and are polymers of structural units. They are large, complex molecules that play many critical roles in the body. They do most of the work in cells and are required for the structure, function, and regulation of the body’s tissues and organs.
This is a ferritin, an iron storage protein that makes iron available for critical cellular processes while protecting lipids, DNA, and other proteins from the potentially toxic effects of iron…
…and this is a piezo protein that cells use to sense touch.
Amino acids are small organic molecules that consist of an alpha (central) carbon atom linked to an amino group, a carboxyl group, a hydrogen atom, and a variable component called a side chain, A total of 20 different amino acids exist in proteins and hundreds to thousands of these amino acids are attached to each other in long chains to form a protein.
Furthermore, we are now able to observe atoms within molecules within cells, including in human cells. Writing in Nature, Yip and Nakane report the sharpest images yet obtained by using a method termed single-particle cryo-EM (sub-zero Electron Microscopy), enabling the location of individual atoms in a protein to be determined for the first time. Breakthroughs reported by other groups have also produced notable improvements in the resolution of cryo-EM images. Ultimately, these developments will help researchers gain a better understanding, at unprecedented resolution, of how proteins work in health and disease, with the potential to aid the design of better therapeutics and perhaps even humans.