Dec 31, 2022

Trillions of tiny, self-replicating satellites could unlock interstellar travel

Posted by in categories: biological, chemistry, genetics, satellites

Alpha Centauri, here we come.

However, while technology has indeed advanced a long way since the 1940s, it still seems like we are still a long way from having a fully functional von Neumann machine. That is unless you turn to biology. Even simple biological systems can perform absolutely mind-blowing feats of chemical synthesis. And there are few people in the world today who know that better than George Church. The geneticist from Harvard has been at the forefront of a revolution in the biological sciences over the last 30 years. Now, he’s published a new paper in Astrobiology musing about how biology could aid in creating a pico-scale system that could potentially explore other star systems at next to no cost.

“Pico-scale” in this context means weighing on the order of one pico-gram. Since the smallest operational satellite ever created so far weighed a mere 33 grams, scaling that down to 10–12 times that size might sound ambitious. But that’s precisely what biological systems could potentially do.

A typical bacteria weighs right around one pico-gram. And with sufficiently advanced genetic modification, bacteria can do anything from processing toxic waste to emitting light. Therefore, Dr. Church thinks they might make an excellent interstellar exploration tool.

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