Thursday, July 1, 2010

Well, That's Interesting: Synthetic Signaling Cascades and Living Spaceships

"Living spaceships" is something out of science fiction.

It's also something that's appeared on the horizon of materials technology:
"Synthetic Signals Could Foster Unprecedented Life Forms"
Tech News, Discovery News (July 1, 2010)

"A rush of adrenaline or pain of a burn seem simple enough, but both are the result of complex chemical interactions known as signaling cascades.

"Vital to all life on Earth, scientists are taking the first steps towards a synthetic signaling cascades. The research has powerful implications for how life on Earth could have developed, what life on other planets could look like and lead to stronger materials that can respond to their environmental intelligently.

" 'The machines that we use to travel in space and go to the bottom of the ocean -- to go places where biological organisms can't go -- are complex but also rather simple in that they are dumb pieces of metal stuck together with rivets and glue,' said Jonathan Nitschke, a scientist at the University of Cambridge and the co-author of a recent paper in the journal Nature Chemistry...."

"...The European scientists created a simple mimic of these complex systems with a molecule shaped like DNA. Instead of nucleotides at their center, however, the new molecules had a core made from copper.

"By studying these new, DNA-like molecules, scientists could learn about how life on Earth or other planets might have began or evolved. It could also lead to the creation of new, intelligent materials, which could become stronger or weaker depending on their surroundings with no input from a human controller...."
Don't get too excited about machines adjusting themselves "with no input from a human controller."

Centrifugal governors have managed power output of steam engines since 1788, when James Watt applied a windmill control technology to a steam engine. ("James Watt Biography," World of Physics Biography, via Bookrags) Good thing, too: because human beings aren't particularly good at keeping machines running exactly at a given rate. Centrifugal governors are.

Granted, DNA-like molecules with a copper core instead of nucleotides are a few steps removed from James Watt's day: but the principle of using technology to maintain desired conditions in a system is nothing particularly new.

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