Day 3 – The Juan Enriquez Magic Show

I can’t recall how long ago it was (7-8 yrs?) that I read Juan Enriquez’s brief but provocative book “As the Future Catches You” about how biotechnology was going to change everything.  I do recall it served it’s purpose in making me think, but I was quite ready for today when the future actually caught me.

TED asked Juan to be the “curator” for this afternoon’s session.  As in a museum, the curator goes out and finds, and then on stage introduces the material to the audience.  Juan is a quiet, unassuming guy, but if anything, he undersold the material both then and now.  All the talks were good, but three really stand out big time….

Fiorenzo Omenetto – Having reverse engineered the cocoon, he’s now making synthetic silk.  Of course it has the properties and applications I expected, but so many more, too: Solid optical fiber for communications, sensors – including bio-implantable electronics, and biodegradable drinking cups.  Seems like endless possibilities for this very interesting material.

Ed Boyden – This guy guy blew my mind so far away I still haven’t retrieved that part to digest what he said! Ed leads the “Synthetic Neurobiology Group” at the MIT Media Lab.  Ed has essentially linked directly binary computer technology, neurology and behavioral psychology to train mouse brains to respond to internal light impulses (i.e. a laser implant).  But implications seem profound – e.g. basis for complete integration of computing technology and your brain (can you say “human memory upgrades” or “SAT AP Math module, please”).  I just don’t know what to say – both exciting and scary.  To keep an eye on it, click on their group website here.

Anthony Atala – Regenerative medicine isn’t a dream, it’s a reality.  Not just growing bone on scaffolding (which I knew of), but now making kidney’s on 3D printers from a patient’s own cells (running live on stage while we watched).  Brought out a young man who 10 yrs ago had a synthetically grown bladder put in at age 10 – now a sophomore in college.  Showed us video of functioning heart valve.  Organ replacement is now clearly a matter of scale up.

This is the session that should have been labeled mindblowing.  This stuff is much more mature than I realized.  They’re going to have to think up some new science fiction – ’cause the old stuff is already here.  Juan, consider me “caught!”

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