Researchers build a fax machine to print microorganisms

Date:3 August 2017 Tags:, , , ,

This fax-like machine can print microorganisms like viruses from nothing more than raw materials and emailed instructions.

By Avery Thompson

Remember fax machines, the pinnacle of 1980s technology? They worked great, until email was invented a few years later and the whole apparatus became obsolete… and yet still manages to linger on in the offices of the world.

Now, a group of scientists at Synthetic Genomics has decided to bring back the fax machine, but with a twist. Instead of printing paper, their fax machine can print microorganisms.

Specifically, the team built a machine that could create a functional flu virus from nothing more than raw materials and a set of instructions. The team sent the instructions from a building away and the machine assembled the virus entirely on its own.

Building viruses from raw materials isn’t new, but normally a human is involved somewhere. This is the first instance of a machine building a living organism autonomously. To do this, the researchers combined a number of smaller machines and lab robots into a single unit.

For now, the machine can only build viruses, but it’s only a small step to building bacteria or even larger organisms. In the near future, scientists may be able to fax any biological tissue anywhere on the planet. This would come in handy during infectious outbreaks, where doctors and scientists on the ground can send samples to research labs for analysis. The researchers even hope that a biofax machine could send organisms to other planets. This could be helpful for colonisation, spreading Earth life around the cosmos.

Let’s just hope their device doesn’t share the same fate as the original fax machine.

Source: MIT Technology Review





This article was originally written for and published by Popular Mechanics USA.

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