Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Hacking Biology

I always get this fuzzy feeling while doing molecular biology... especially when doing new DNA constructions. When you get to make a cell (or a bacteria, or a virus) express a protein of your choice, it's special. But when you get to really modify an organism in order to make things works the way you intended, it's really nice. I think it's the best aspect of working in molecular biology related fields; you get to experiment with nature itself, discover things that no one has seen before, and if you're lucky enough, help people live a better life with your findings. Could we ask more?

Doing bioinformatics is nifty in this context, because you get to draw parallels between biology and informatics. The best part comes when I begin to think of biology in a programming kind of way, or the opposite. "reprogramming" a cell is akin to hacking Nature's (or God, or whoever) work. A cell is a cryptic system we don't know much about. Tools that we can use to interact with it are often indirect, because of the microscopic aspect of life; think of it as a black box. You input something, you analyze the output, but you don`t really get to see what's really happening; deduction and logic are your friends.

The funny part is that we are made of the system we are analyzing. Imagine if computers would become sentient, and get to analyze themselves (now what would they think when of of their kind would lose power? Get to CPU heaven? Philosophical question, too late to answer).

And all this is in the best interest of Mankind. At least, when greed doesn`t come in the way (Monsanto anyone? I`m totally FOR GM crops... but these guys should burn in Hell. Seriously.)



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