DARPA Wants to Override Evolution to Make Immortal Synthetic Organisms

Death-resistant synthetic beings? Don't worry, there's a genetically encoded kill-switch

It’s been a long time since a Pentagon project from the DARPA labs truly evoked a “WTF DARPA?!” response, but our collective jaw dropped when we saw the details on a project known as BioDesign. DARPA hopes to dispense with evolutionary randomness and assemble biological creatures, genetically programmed to live indefinitely and presumably do whatever their human masters want. And, Wired’s Danger Room reports, when there’s the inevitable problem of said creatures going haywire or realizing that they’re intelligent and have feelings, there’s a planned self-destruct genetic code that could be triggered.

Unsurprisingly, molecular biologists have weighed in with huge caveats and raised fingers of objection. First, they say that DARPA has the wrong idea about hoping to overcome evolution’s supposed randomness, and that evolution really represents a super-efficient design algorithm. Then there’s the problem of guaranteeing immortal life for any biological creature in the first place — just look here and here at some really smart people who have yet to find that fountain of youth.

DARPA has committed just a piddling $6 million out of next year’s budget toward BioDesign. But it will also put $20 million toward a new synthetic biology program and give $7.5 million for speeding up the analysis and editing of cellular genomes. We’re pretty sure that means the Pentagon agency hasn’t considered a future where police “blade runners” help violently “retire” escaped lab replicants of humans.

“It’s too bad she won’t live! But then again, who does?” said Edward Olmos to Harrison Ford in Blade Runner, long before the actor morphed into the gruff but lovable admiral of Battlestar Galactica. Never mind even the experts, let’s trust Olmos. He’s helped hunt down replicants and save humanity from genocidal Cylon robots of our own making. Are you listening, DARPA?

Go wild with the robotic submarine stalkers, the lightning harnessing, and the cyborg insect spies. Just … give this BioDesign thing a bit more thought.

[via Wired’s Danger Room]