Cambrian Genetics Says 'Print Your Own Genetically Unique Creature'

Austen Heinz, founder of Cambrian Genomics, has attracted the attention of investors and bioethicists with his plan to let everyone design new creatures and then print out their DNA quickly and cheaply.

(Rose bioengineered to glow)

“Anyone in the world that has a few dollars can make a creature, and that changes the game,” Heinz said. “And that creates a whole new world.”

The 31-year-old CEO has a deadpan demeanor that can be hard to read, but he is not kidding. In a makeshift laboratory in San Francisco, his synthetic biology company uses lasers to create custom DNA for major pharmaceutical companies. Its mission, to “democratize creation” with minimal to no regulation, frightens bioethicists as deeply as it thrills Silicon Valley venture capitalists.

With the latest technology and generous funding, a growing number of startups are taking science and medicine to the edge of science fiction. In the works or on the market are color-changing flowers, cow-free milk, animal-free meat, tests that detect diseases from one drop of blood and pills that tell doctors whether you have taken your medicine.

But few founders are pushing the technical and ethical boundaries of science as far as Heinz, who told the Wall Street Journal, “I can’t believe that after 10 or 20 years people will not design their children digitally.” At a recent conference in Vienna, he said, “We want to make totally new organisms that have never existed.”

SF fans know that a very early version of this idea appeared in HG Wells' 1896 blockbuster The Island of Dr. Moreau:

It is not simply the outward form of an animal which I can change. The physiology, the chemical rhythm of the creature, may also be made to undergo an enduring modification... You begin to see that it is a possible thing ... to change it in its most intimate structure.

At another point, Wells makes this remark about the ethics of Dr. Moreau:

The thing before you is no longer an animal, a fellow-creature, but a problem! Sympathetic pain,--all I know of it I remember as a thing I used to suffer from years ago. I wanted--it was the one thing I wanted--to find out the extreme limit of plasticity in a living shape."

"But," said I, "the thing is an abomination--"

"To this day I have never troubled about the ethics of the matter," he continued. "The study of Nature makes a man at last as remorseless as Nature.

Via SF Gate.

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