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Craig Venter, the über-DNA jockey who quietly sequenced the human genome using his own DNA, then made "synthetic life" by outfitting a gutted bacterium with homemade genes, says his next trick will be emailing biological molecules, using 3D biological printers. The move could revolutionise healthcare - and biological warfare. Venter discussed the idea at last week's Wired Health Conference in New York - although it was somewhat overshadowed by his audacious plan to sequence Martian DNA and beam the results back to Earth. Long before that sci-fi can be realised, though, bio-printers could more plausibly be used to shuttle vaccines around our planet.
This makes lots of sense. If you can email troops the 3D instructions for printing a replacement gun part , then you can email macromolecules - as long as you have a printer that can deposit a repertoire of nucleotides, sugars and/or amino acids where they belong, and link them up chemically. You'll need a lot of different toner cartridges to recreate the full range of biological widgets, of course. But you may not need that many for modern vaccines, made not of dead germs but of their key molecules. In fact, for DNA vaccines - which often work well in experiments but have never been commercialised, because of safety concerns - you could do it now with a machine that synthesises DNA to an emailed sequence. Proteins wouldn't be much harder. As long as you also had the vials of sterile saline plus immunity-boosting additives to mix with the DNA or protein, and make it a vaccine.
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