Biotech to the stars

Tom James @ 28-05-2009

dendritesCentauri Dreams discusses a DNA-based self-replicating interstellar probe:

Think of a probe that gets around the payload mass problem by using molecular processes to create cameras and imaging systems not by mechanical nanotech but by inherently biological methods.

A Von Neumann self-replicating probe comes to mind, but we may not have to go to that level in our earliest iterations. The biggest challenge to our interstellar ambitions is propulsion, with the need to push a payload sufficient to conduct a science mission to speeds up to an appreciable percentage of lightspeed. The more we reduce payload size, the more feasible some missions become

This is similar to Robert L. Forward‘s starwisp concept (popularised by Charlie Stross in Accelerando).

I suspect that if and when we do get round to interstellar exploration it will involve sending small-mass packages that are capable of bootstrapping themselves to a broadcast/exploration mode using local materials on arrival in the target system.

It remains to be seen what kind of space-based molecular replicating systems become viable. Will we be able to create space-hardened bioware, or good ol’ fashioned machine phase fullerene nanotech?

[image from neurollero on flickr]

Seed vault for plant preservation

Tom James @ 15-12-2008

An interesting article on the Millennium Seed Bank project here at Physorg. It seems thematically linked to the Long Now Foundation’s Rosetta Disk (intended as a very long term record of current written languages). The Millennium Seed Bank “seeks to develop a global seed conservation network, capable of safeguarding wild plant species:”

The futuristic facility, with its low-slung steel and glass structure over the vaults, is seen by scientists as an insurance policy against nature and human folly. It is a quiet place, where young scientists in white smocks spend hours cleaning seeds by hand, using microscopes, scalpels, forceps, and tiny brushes.

[image from Arria Belli on flickr]