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Intel, Microsoft, Autodesk dip in microbial programming pool

26 Jan 2015  | R. Colin Johnson

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Intel, Microsoft and Autodesk have embarked on a quiet quest in "programming" living organisms, potentially merging biology with electronics. However, all three companies are playing catch-up to Microbial Robotics LLC (Cincinnati, Ohio), which has already perfected its ViruBots and BactoBots.

The ViruBots and BactoBots are based on programming living organisms (viruses and bacteria) to perform humanitarian tasks for which they were not evolved to do such as clean toxins from waste water, hunting down and killing (only) cancer cells, produce non-polluting fuels and developing new hybrid living/electronic materials. Microbial Robotics has already spun-off eight companies to market these solutions to particular environmental and medical tasks, but Intel, Microsoft and Autodesk are joining the fray because of the ever slimming margins in electronics and end-of-the-road for semiconductors coming into sight circa 2028, according to Jason Barkeloo, Microbial Robotics' CEO.

Programming microbes for medical apps

Microbial Robotics also programs living viruses to seek-and-destroy tumours or to perform many other therapeutic or diagnostic tasks. (Source: Microbial Robotics)

"Manipulating nucleic base pairs (A,T,C,G) on DNA strands is comparable to binary programming," said Barkeloo. "Bacteria and viruses are the hardware, DNA is the operating system and genes are the application software."

One unique addition that Microbial Robotics adds is a living form of digital rights management (DRM) called Gene Rights Management. GeRM works by adding a required consumable commodity, a trade secret "key" molecule, to BactoBots and ViruBots feed. If the key is absent, the Bots cease growing and reproducing, and eventually die.

Using the principles of synthetic biology, which were only discovered in the 20th century, Microbial Robotics enables engineers to mimic natural selection, programming living organisms in a matter of months that takes eons to do in nature. Eventually, it will enable engineers to create living organisms from scratch, simple organic chemicals, but for now Microbial Robotics uses existing bacteria and viruses, then inserts their own DNA so that they perform new tasks including clean water, reduce disease, produce non-polluting fuels, create therapeutics and develop new materials.

Not only that, for a price they will sell any company the technology and training they need to create their own ViruBots and BactoBots, with several customers already under their belt worldwide. As long as these customers adhere to the GeRM system, their BactoBots and ViruBots are protected from theft (cloning), but unfortunately it is also possible for companies purchasing Microbial Robotics' intellectual property (IP) to leave out the GeRM system. It is also possible to use the system to make organisms from scratch and to produce genetic modified organism (GMO) crops.

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