Synthetic Biology, deep-learning, and a new mind ; Is future inviting us?

Synthetic Biology, deep-learning, and a new mind ; Is future inviting us?

Abed Chaudhury: Synthetic biology combines principles of biology and engineering to construct novel biological devices and organisms. Contrary to conventional genetic engineering that only alters an naturally existing DNA sequence, synthetic biology attempts to construct  DNA sequences de novo  and put them to work in cells as a single gene, multiple gene cassette or indeed in the form of a completely new organism, as shown by Craig Ventor. This audacious approach would allow us to go beyond what exists in nature and create  biological devices  and organisms that does not and  exist in nature. We have technically entered the era of such de novo construction of new life forms but have not yet realised the true potential yet of this new era because old habits are still lingering and perhaps regulatory framework still is not allowing us to create novel constructs and organisms.

The IT  revolution has created a semblance of “life”” on the screen via pixels of programmed artificial intelligence created by clever coding leading to an era of Machine Learning.  But the true program of real life is encoded not in the binary of 0 and 1 but in the chemistry of A, T, G and C molecules.  Thus true novel construction of new living functionality of life must involve  tinkering with the biology of this eternal chemical code.  Perhaps in future synthetic biology and natural intelligence will be bolstered by its   synergy with artificial intelligence that will take us to newer heights of achievements.

At the moment we are living in a world that has been fashioned by the technology of last century.  Mechanization and the amplified high volume agriculture has brought environment to its knees so much that we are living in an area of climate havoc.  And yet our redemption from this peril cannot be a retreat to an arcadia of “no-technology”but has to be an era of fixing the trouble with a new “green” technology. 

A complete understanding of the biological process followed by a new intelligent tinkering will have to be the way forward.  New research is suggestive of a clearer path for the future.  Massive accumulation of data, facilitated by internet –derived platforms are indicating novel solutions triggered by big data and their analyses.  More than ever before we can see the state of our planet and know the status of her true malaise, literally inch by inch.  More than ever before we know of our body; via a complete revealation of the genome, epigenome, metabolome and indeed the state of every bacterium that we carry in our body.  Even our mind, once thought to exist beyond material understanding, has been pinned down as an ensemble of hundreds of billions of neurons; still unfathomable, but perhaps fathomable by futures quantum computer.  Can one day, even if it is a century later synthetic biology recreate this immense machine de novo, not bit by bit, but base by base, as we are expected to say in biology.

While todays biology already promises such a lofty possibility, we remain as a species hopelessly tangled by problems created by our lower level selves; war, poverty, degradation and fouling of the atmosphere; diseases that we have  not yet conquered or the  longevity of life that eludes us.  We remain anguished;  alone, tormented,  incapable of relating to the higher purpose that we clearly have been ordained by Nature.

As a practising Scientist I always thought that understanding of Nature would one day redeem us; that knowledge alone can be the antidote to the nihilism of death and extinction.  Daily discoveries in the lab with ones own hands create a magical world of feel-good illusion, a false omnipotence that makes everything seem possible.

Synthetic Biology again creates that rosy optimism.  Perhaps our destiny as a species is to create newer organisms; ones that would perhaps through  associations and synergies create “meta-organisms”much bigger than us.  Such hybrid meta-entities would be better custodians than us of this fragile material universe.  Such a meta-entity would fix all the problems and right all the wrongs.

In a deep enduring way we have to construct such a, audacious scheme in our mind the guise of a new paradigm of hope.  To protect us against the collapse of the current narrative of fake hope and its manifest collapse and the certain oblivion that the view of future  seem to show to our younger generations. 

We will construct that future with many more giant conceptual leaps that will soon replace the older inadequacies of thinking.  A complete understanding of human attributes in its entirety is now combined with a complete understanding of the biosphere; from the tiny microbe to the largest vista of the cosmos.  Such mega-knowledge will surely create a new reality that will make us understand things more  than ever before and usher in a new era of cognistion.

That would be an era of true deep learning.

Abed Chaudhury

Abed Chaudhury

আবেদ চৌধুরী একজন আন্তর্জাতিক খ্যাতিসম্পন্ন বাঙালি জিনবিজ্ঞানী, বিজ্ঞান লেখক এবং কবি। তিনি ক্যানবেরা শহরে বসবাস করেন। আবেদ চৌধুরী আধুনিক জীববিজ্ঞানের প্রথম সারির গবেষকদের একজন। তিনি পড়াশোনা করেছেন ঢাকা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের রসায়ন বিভাগে, যুক্তরাষ্ট্রের অরেগন স্টেট ইনস্টিটিউট অব মলিক্যুলার বায়োলজি এবং ওয়াশিংটনের ফ্রেড হাচিনসন ক্যানসার রিসার্চ ইনস্টিটিউটে। ১৯৮৩ সালে পিএইচডি গবেষণাকালে তিনি রেকডি নামক জেনেটিক রিকম্বিনেশনের একটি নতুন জিন আবিষ্কার করেন, যা নিয়ে সে সময় আমেরিকা ও ইউরোপে ব্যাপক গবেষণা হয়। তিনি অযৌন বীজ উৎপাদন-সংক্রান্ত (এফআইএস) তিনটি নতুন জিন আবিষ্কার করেন, যার মাধ্যমে এই জিনবিশিষ্ট মিউটেন্ট নিষেক ছাড়াই আংশিক বীজ উৎপাদনে সক্ষম হয়। তাঁর এই আবিষ্কার অ্যাপোমিক্সিসের সূচনা করেছে, যার মাধ্যমে পিতৃবিহীন বীজ উৎপাদন সম্ভব হয়। ১৯৯১ সালে তিনি শৈবাল ও অন্তরীক্ষ নামে কবিতার বই লেখেন।

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