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Current Results of Our Research

These pages, marked with GREEN headings, are published for comment and criticism. These are not our final findings; some of these opinions will probably change.   LOG OF UPDATES 

CRN Research: Overview of Current Findings   

bulletTimeline for Molecular Manufacturing   
bulletProducts of Molecular Manufacturing
bulletBenefits of Molecular Manufacturing
bulletDangers of Molecular Manufacturing  
bulletNo Simple Solutions
bulletAdministration Options
bulletThe Need for Early Development
bulletThe Need for International Development
bulletThirty Essential Nanotechnology Studies
bulletStudy #9     YOU ARE HERE

Thirty Essential Nanotechnology Studies - #9

Overview of all studies: Because of the largely unexpected transformational power of molecular manufacturing, it is urgent to understand the issues raised. To date, there has not been anything approaching an adequate study of these issues. CRN's recommended series of thirty essential studies is organized into five sections, covering fundamental theory, possible technological capabilities, bootstrapping potential, product capabilities, and policy questions. Several preliminary conclusions are stated, and because our understanding points to a crisis, a parallel process of conducting the studies is urged. 

CRN is actively looking for researchers interested in performing or assisting with this work. Please contact CRN Research Director Chris Phoenix if you would like more information or if you have comments on the proposed studies.

Study #9 What will be required to develop biological programmable manufacturing and products?
  This study would explore the various steps involved in harnessing biology to produce engineered products.
[Answers in italics are provided by Robert Bradbury.]
Subquestion How much time and effort would be required to develop the ability to design predictable protein folding, possibly by introducing novel amino acids?
Preliminary answer Unknown, but a novel protein fold has been successfully designed and tested. Increasing computer power will make this rapidly easier.
It would not be difficult to integrate novel amino acids using a standard protein synthesis robot. It is more difficult to integrate to integrate them into bacteria, but it has been done.
Subquestion How difficult would it be to automate all steps of new-protein synthesis? How long would a fully automated system need to produce and characterize a new protein?
Preliminary answer New protein synthesis is already automated (its a volume/cost issue that can be a hang-up -- which is why bacteria are used to produce things like insulin, antibiotics, etc.). The NSF is pushing rapidly on the automation of the characterization problem (everything from X-ray crystallography to computers figuring out the structure). I've read that they are trying to push it to 30,000 structures per year. Though I'm not sure if I can believe that number -- if you look at the growth of the contents of PDB it may be a reality in the near future.
  There are structures that are difficult to characterize -- these are usually proteins that normally reside in cell membranes of one form or another. So it's a limited subset -- perhaps 20-30% of all proteins. Some novel techniques have been reported for dealing with this but this is ultimately just going to require a lot of work and clever ideas.
Subquestion What software support must be developed to allow design and testing of novel protein-based machines?
Preliminary answer Tough question -- we already have the software to design proteins (and the machines to manufacture at least the smaller ones). Testing isn't really a problem. The problem is the creation of a 'novel' machine design.
Subquestion How much time and/or research will be required before we know how cell signaling/differentiation/gene expression works?
Preliminary answer We know how gene expression works reasonably well (something like three classes of transcription factors, the structures of which tend to be very standardized, etc.). We also know a lot about signaling and differentiation. We've got hundreds of extracellular molecules and receptors pinned down at this point. The problem is the molecules involved within the cell from the membrane to the nucleus. These are very complex. There is a company in Germany that has worked out much of this in yeast and the #1 priority on the NIH Nanomedicine goal list is to extend this to determine all of the protein complexes in humans.
Subquestion How can cell toxicity or metabolic interference from novel chemicals be predicted and avoided?
Preliminary answer This is relevant because one method of protein synthesis involves using gene-spliced cells to synthesize the protein. However, there are ways of manufacturing proteins that do not require cells.
The simple answer is knowledge of the structures of most if not all of the enzymes, receptors, etc. in the body, knowledge of the structure of the novel chemicals and a heck of a lot of computer power to see when/how the structures can interfere. A more complex answer would involve actual toxicity tests at a MEMS scale level to determine when chemicals interfere with the functioning of a protein. (This isn't too different from the work that has been done to synthesize large chemical/drug libraries -- but requires that one understand the metabolic pathways involved and devise individual tests to see when there is interference.)
Conclusion This deserves further investigation.
Other studies 1. Is mechanically guided chemistry a viable basis for a manufacturing technology?
2. To what extent is molecular manufacturing counterintuitive and underappreciated in a way that causes underestimation of its importance?
What is the performance and potential of diamondoid machine-phase chemical manufacturing and products?
4. What is the performance and potential of biological programmable manufacturing and products?
5. What is the performance and potential of nucleic acid manufacturing and products?
6. What other chemistries and options should be studied?
What applicable sensing, manipulation, and fabrication tools exist?
8. What will be required to develop diamondoid machine-phase chemical manufacturing and products?
10. What will be required to develop nucleic acid manufacturing and products?
11. How rapidly will the cost of development decrease?
12. How could an effective development program be structured?
What is the probable capability of the manufacturing system?
14. How capable will the products be?
15. What will the products cost?
16. How rapidly could products be designed?
Which of today's products will the system make more accessible or cheaper?
18. What new products will the system make accessible?
19. What impact will the system have on production and distribution?
20. What effect will molecular manufacturing have on military and government capability and planning, considering the implications of arms races and unbalanced development?
21. What effect will this have on macro- and microeconomics?
22. How can proliferation and use of nanofactories and their products be limited?
23. What effect will this have on policing?
24. What beneficial or desirable effects could this have?
25. What effect could this have on civil rights and liberties?
26. What are the disaster/disruption scenarios?
27. What effect could this have on geopolitics?
28. What policies toward development of molecular manufacturing does all this suggest?
29. What policies toward administration of molecular manufacturing does all this suggest?
30. How can appropriate policy be made and implemented?
Studies should begin immediately. The situation is extremely urgent. The stakes are unprecedented, and the world is unprepared. The basic findings of these studies should be verified as rapidly as possible (months, not years). Policy preparation and planning for implementation, likely including a crash development program, should begin immediately.

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