Wednesday, 27 February 2019
The Replicants are coming !
One of the most popular ideas seen in science fiction is the idea of man creating replica living organisms.
Exact copies of living or extinct animals and even people.
From the owl seen in blade runner and its human replicants, artificial copies, exact in every detail only given away as being manufactured because of the way the lenses of the eyes reflect light.
An unnatural flash of red all replicants' share, human and animal alike.
These replicants should not be confused with creations that have android bodies seen in film like ‘surrogates’ and the new anime adaptation ‘Alita Battle angel.’
I would say that idea of replacing the body with a mechanical one is a transhumanist dream.
What we are talking about here is life cloned, engineered and grown.
This is no longer only in the realms of fantasy it has become a reality.
Japanese microengineer Ken-Ichiro Kamei has created "bodies on a chip"
Let’s take a look
This invention which has been given the slightly creepy name of “Bodies on a chip” acts as stand in for living beings, created to cease the need to use living animals as test subjects.
It was soon known that this technology could go a lot further inspiring new cures for rare diseases and even providing the means to resuscitate dead species
The chip is a made up of a crystal-clear silicone rubber layer which contains faintly visible troughs and channels.
This biotech is the first step on the path to replicate organs, systems and eventually entire bodies on chips. The chip contains an interconnected system of channels, valves and pumps these allow for complex interactions which are capable of mimicking a living system.
Currently the chips only mimic particular tissues or organs, the end goal is to create a chip or group of chips to replicate whole animals.
If that is not the same technology as seen in Blade runner I don’t what else could be?
The construction of these devices is also eerily similar to what is seen in the movie.
The microfluidic chips constructed in a lab, primarily using a laser cutter and a 3D printer.
So how do these “first steps on the road to replicants” work
Various types of cell tissue are added into the six chambers which are connected to micro-channels, the chip is then connected to a pneumatic micro-pump to create circulation.
Currently the chip is then used to test the effects of drugs on the cells and develop new therapies that lack unwanted side effects.
The technology can also be used to redesign cells. Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells can be created from virtually any other type of cell in the body. Reprogrammed back into an embryonic-like pluripotent state this enables the development of an unlimited source of any type of human cell needed for therapeutic purposes this including sperm cells and eggs for fertility treatments, or any others in the body for pharmaceutical trials.
The "bodies on a chip" will not only be used to improve human medicine; they could also become a tool in animal conservation.
The creation of animal Stem cells used to create endangered species, these used as products to satisfy market demand without capturing or killing real wildlife.
This reminds me of the tigers from Babylon A.D.
These iPS cells may be used to synthesize meat, welcome to a world of lab grown burgers, meat consumption being a hotly debated topic at the moment.
Real money being thrown into the creation on non-animal based meat products this seen as a way to alleviate inhumane treatment of livestock and the environmentally harmful effects of factory farming.
In terms of species conservation and bringing back extinct animals the “Body on a chip” technology has been hailed as miracle. iPS cells open up a seemingly endless array of possibilities for species conservation.
Kazak Scientists are still struggling to understand why 200,000 saiga antelopes , over half of the world’s population, suddenly died from a bacterial infection in 2015, Tasmanian researchers have been working for years to find a treatment for a contagious face cancer that is threatening the survival of Tasmanian devils.
Genetic diversity can be banked and restored by turning cells into animals or by using cellularly-based technologies to restore genetic variation, then there’s less risk of extinction
Gorillas are prone to heart attacks, no one knows why, and no one has been able to provide a fix.
“The chip could replicate a gorilla’s heart helping identify what kinds of drug and treatments will help them. As with many medical advancements the creation of which is seen as advancement and something that will be used for good, they often become twisted and corrupted.
I fear this chip could be the same, why spend time finding cures for these animals when the possibility of using these chips create sperm and egg cells and just replicate them.
The northern white rhino – a subspecies of white rhino that is now reduced to just two living individuals could be the first replicant creature.
Using frozen tissue samples from dead rhino’s iPS cells will be made. The iPS cells would, in turn, be made into egg and sperm cells to create viable, genetically diverse embryos to then be implanted in to surrogate rhino mothers from a less endangered group. Many think that this is the only hope for saving this subspecies from extinction. Regardless of the project’s success, it will likely pave the way for similar species-saving efforts in the future.
Then we have to answer the sticky question, are these replicas living things or products?
A question even more poignant as we are talking about a species that was hunted to the brink of extinction due to the demand for its ivory.
Will we create replica rhino to meet the demands of this market?
This is being developed, laboratory grown ivory blocks that would be easy to manufacture into hankos” – the name seals that account for 80% of ivory use in Japan- presenting an alternative legal source for ivory goods.
We can see the early signs that this is creating a new market, those that hoped this technology would alleviate the suffering of animals will see their creation perverted into a science that has made life a commercial product.
Another worrying idea for the use of this new technology is in the field of behavioral science.
Scientist are interested in using it to study how hormones and neurotransmitters like serotonin affect animal behavior and how gene function underlies behaviors.
This once again may start with animals but could the temptation to modify human behavior be resisted?
This technology has yet more similarities with Blade runner.
The replicant humans in the movie were created to fight off world, to be sent out into space and carry out dangerous tasks and fight on behalf of their human creators.
Ken-Ichiro says that his goals extend even higher – literally beyond the bounds of earthly problems, all the way into space.
In the US, the National Center for Advancing Translational Science and the International Space Station US National Laboratory already created a “Tissue Chips in Space” project to test the effects of space on human cells and organs, and Kamei believes they could be of equal value in ensuring animals can make a smooth transition to a post-Earth future. “Humans won’t be the only ones going into space – pets and livestock will, too,” Kamei says. “While I won’t be going to Mars, it’s my dream to help those who do.”
We are at a real turning point in human history with this new technology, as with all technology it is only a tool there is no inherent evil baked into its design, but the use is down to mankind and history has given us many warning of new technology going awry.
We must be careful that devices like this do not devalue life, a lesson many science fiction books movies and TV shows have tried to warn us about.
What do you think about this technology?
Do think that it is a good thing?
Are you worried it will become corrupted, and see the creation of a second class of lifeform?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below
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