Nanotechnology And Gene Engineering

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A new science has been born which may solve this problem, as well as many other problems previously regarded as unsolvable. That science is called molecular nanotechnology, defined as thorough, inexpensive control of the structure of matter based on molecule-by-molecule control of products and by products; the products and processes of molecular manufacturing. (Drexler, 1991, p. 19) Nano means one-billionth, as in one-billionth of a second (nanosecond) or one-billionth of a meter (nanometer). In the world of molecular manufacturing, we will think in terms of nanomachines and nanomotors, and in the world of its products we will speak of nanocomputers and nanomedicine. The challenge of research in nanotechnology will not be how to make things smaller, the top-down method, but how to make molecules and collections of molecules larger, a bottom-up approach. Human beings have always tried to control the environment (i. e., matter) around them, but until recently have only been able to do so in a crude and visible fashion. It is a bit staggering to think of being able to control and manipulate matter at the molecular level, but in fact scientists have doing just that for a number of years. Chemists have been able to build larger molecules, and biotechnologists have been able to manipulate genes and proteins (hence genetic engineering and protein engineering). Molecular modeling through the use of computers is already firmly established, and more recently the techniques of virtual reality have enabled researchers to don gloves and goggles and actually walk around the image of a molecule and to maneuver two molecules together (molecular docking). (Rheingold, p. 14-15) Nanomachines that are used for molecular manufacturing can already be found in nature, most prominently RNA and DNA, as well as enzymes which contribute to cell repair and reproduction and to the fabrication of proteins. And we already have man-made molecular machines such as artificial antibiotics which are programmed to seek out specific disease organisms and destroy them. The next step will be accomplished when scientists can manipulate the same molecules in different ways by changing inputs or stored instructions. Custom-built molecules which can process information and fabricate or manipulate other molecules can be used to assemble other molecular machines and could replicate themselves, just as in nature. Primitive nanoassemblers could build better assemblers, which could build even better assemblers, which could build a wide variety of products and accomplish a wide variety of tasks, which could alter the way that we live! The idea of molecular entities both reproducing themselves and also behaving as building blocks not only has models in nature but also in computer science. Many of us by now have had some experience with computer viruses which are usually premised on some form of self-replication. Researchers already write computer programs that have only the purpose of ...

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