Life, Reinvented

If the notion of hacking DNA sounds like genetic engineering, think again. Genetic engineering generally involves moving a preexisting gene from one organism to another, an activity Endy calls DNA bashing. For all its impressive and profitable results, DNA bashing is hardly creative. Proper engineering, by contrast, means designing what you want to make, analyzing the design to be sure it will work, and then building it from the ground up. And that’s what synthetic biology is about: specifying every bit of DNA that goes into an organism to determine its form and function in a controlled, predictable way, like etching a microprocessor or building a bridge. The goal, as Endy puts it, is nothing less than to “reimplement life in a manner of our choosing.” —Oliver MortonLife, Reinvented  (Wired)

This is exactly the premise behind R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), the 1919 Czech play that introduced the word “robot” to languages around the world. The author, Karel Capek, wasn’t interested in the technical details of how his synthetic humans were created — he was more interested in writing about how big business changes the human relationship to work.