Monthly Archives: September 2005

Artificial Intelligence Analyzes DNA

I just started a new job this week, and this whole 8-hours-a-day-stuff is taking quite a lot from me. My posts will probably be a little shorter from now on.

Back on topic:

Artificial Intelligence Analyzes DNA

“We were able to feed the patterns into an artificial intelligence computer program developed in my group,” Frey says. “The computer analysis identified thousands of instructions and changed our view of how genes work.” For example, their analysis showed that a region of the fourth chromosome which was thought to contain four short genes actually contains a single very long gene, which is now thought to be involved in the assembly of large protein molecules in the nucleus. By better understanding this and other genes, researchers hope to learn how these genes malfunction and cause disease.

It’s things like these that make possible a fullblown biotechnology-revolution, which is predicted to be from 2010-2020 (after which we will enter the nanotech-revolution). Things are really speeding up. Just read this next quote:

The program also revealed a startling discovery: there are no new protein-coding genes to be discovered – the genetic instructions that are largely responsible for managing cells, determining everything from eye colour to disease. By analysing the data and inferring the most likely genes based on user-programmed variables, the program matched what research has taken 30 years to discover. “This flies in the face of research that says there are many more protein-coding genes to be discovered,” Hughes says. “We’ve reached a milestone in gene exploration.”

That ’30 year’-comment is a marker for exponential acceleration. I read a lot of news articles that cover breakthroughs in all sorts of areas. And these last few years, it is very common for scientists to say that, something that used to cost a number of years, now only takes a number of months. The DNA chip, for example, allowed scientists to look at the activity of many genes all at once. This allowed them to discover more in the last 3 months, than they had in the last 3 years.

I’d never seen anything, that previously took decades, happen in one run of an AI software program. That’s pretty impressive!

We are now able to develop an understanding of life itself. Next time somebody tells you science won’t decrypt the language that our own genes speak in a hundred years, just send them over to my blog:

“I think that genomics research is one of the most compelling areas of science today,” Frey says. “Many people I talk to, from my seven-year-old son to university students across multiple disciplines, are excited when they find out that we now have the capability to develop an understanding of one of the most fundamental aspects of life.”

This is not the first time that humans are being outperformed by machines in the lab. A robot scientist has already outperformed humans in the lab more than a year and a half ago.

An intelligent robot that could free genomics researchers from routine lab chores has proven as effective as a human scientist. The robot not only performs genetics experiments, it also decides which ones to do, interprets the results and comes up with new hypotheses.

The Future Of Organ And Limb Regeneration

Okay… I was already familiar with the fact that worldwide progress was accelerating exponentially, and that things in the magnificent world of science are moving fast.

And so was everybody who reads this blog. 😉

But this latest breakthrough is just insane!

Get this: Engineered Mice Regenerate Complete Organs.

The obviously very talented Professor Ellen Heber-Katz has managed to engineer mice in such a way that they become super-regenerative. Her mice can regrow organs, and even limbs.

“We have experimented with amputating or damaging several different organs, such as the heart, toes, tail and ears, and just watched them regrow,” she said. “It is quite remarkable. The only organ that did not grow back was the brain.

“When we injected foetal liver cells taken from those animals into ordinary mice, they too gained the power of regeneration. We found this persisted even six months after the injection.”

A good while back, Ellen Heber-Katz was experimenting with mice, and punched holes in their ears in order to tag them. After a while, though, the mice had regenerated the holes in their ears. This accidental find stirred her interest, and she decided to research this tantalizing phenomenon. Only three years later, she makes this major breakthrough.

The implications for human beings are potentially enormous. It is likely that the results can be translated to humans with further research.

Here’s why:

Mice are genetically very much like human beings. They are higher order creatures with vertibrae, just like us. This is one of the reasons why mice are used very often in laboratory environments: they are very much like us, and have short lifespans. Therefore, it is easy to observe what happens to the mouse over his entire lifespan, after a certain genetic modification.

For the very same reason, Aubrey de Grey has come up with the Methuselah Mouse Prize for curing aging. Aubrey de Grey’s SENS is based on the idea that, if aging can be cured in mice, people will have no choice but to take it seriously, because of said reasons. Curing aging in mice will therefore unleash a true war on aging, which means that the needed funds will be readily available.

Back on topic. Here are some of the implications of regenerating organs and limbs in humans:

  • Losing a limb will no longer be a heavy psychological burden. Lifelong traumas beacuse of lost bodyparts will be a thing of the past. All you have to do is wait a few weeks until your body regrows itself.
  • No more sky-rocketing surgery bills. No more hours of time and energy wasted on building you a personalized prosthesis, which wouldn’t be able to hold a candle to an organic bodypart anyway. All the money that your government/healthcare would have spent on all of this, can now be invested in other things such as education, the evironment, or better yet: more research!
  • Better chances of survival rate due to increased regenerative capabilities. Taking a bullet can do a lot of damage. It it does too much damage all at once, it won’t matter if you’ve been modified to be super-regenerative. You’ll still be dead. But in the case where the bullet did a lot of not-directly-vital damage (such as destroying half of an organ), and your chances at life depend on your capability to regenerate… then your odds have suddenly increased by several dozens of percentage points.
  • Super-regeneration is a damn good way around the controversial issue of stem cell technology, in which embryo’s need to be destroyed. Oh sure, scientists have already found ways to reprogram adult cells to revert back to stem cells. And that is also a good work-around. But this new super-regeneration is based on a small amount of genetic modifications. I’d say this is less likely to turn into a controversial subject.

I’m sure there are more. If you can think of more implications, post them. I’ll add them to the list.

Here are two other articles on Ellen Heber-Katz’s magnificent breakthrough:

Miracle Mouse Can Grow Back Lost Limbs

It’s A Miracle: Mice Regrow Hearts

Read them. Then close your eyes for a while, and take your time to reflect on the fact that you are now living in a world that has super-regenerative mice. And all it took was a small number of genetic modifications.

What other feats can be accomplished by simply modifying a few genes?

Isn’t it amazing?

And so short right after a huge breakthrough in nano materials.

Ladies and gentlemen… you are now witnessing the implications of exponential growth with your very own eyes.

[update]

Check out the article Mouse Clues To Human Genetics to get an idea as to how similar mice DNA is to ours.

“We share 99% of our genes with mice, and we even have the genes that could make a tail.”