I am an astrobiologist, sci-fi geek, and professor of everything groovy. I write about science, culture, math, history, space, and science fiction. Perhaps like you, I'm seeking a greater understanding of the nature of life and asking myself why all of this really matters. Come with me, and we'll ask some questions together.
Genetics-based medicines, immediate identity determination, field-portable gene sequencers for use in medical work in foreign countries or for analyzing individual/community makeup of microorganisms in extreme environments, a way to determine what our children's genotype will be... Well, maybe not that last one just yet, but that's probably not too far off. A company in England, Oxford Nanopore, has claimed that they will have a disposable, direct-reading gene sequencer which can be plugged into the USB drive of a computer for immediate analysis! Behold, the future is ever upon us! The potential for molecular biological processing hardware such as this is wide reaching. I have been wondering for some time when we would get around to full genotype sequencing in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee. This technology sounds promising. It will use a method of direct-reading of gene sequences through electrochemical methods as the sequences pass through a nanopore. I'm very curious to see when the company can get the product to the market, how much it will cost (I saw an estimate of $900 a shot, but I imagine it's going to be a bit more than that right out of the gate), and, most importantly, I wonder what the fidelity of the reads will be like with these mini gene sequencers.
Here's where I first heard about Oxford Nanopore's claimed technology:
My friend and I went out last night to watch the new 3D release of Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. The 3D effects were somewhat pronounced in landscape scenes and space battles, but otherwise didn't really give much to the film and seemed somewhat unnecessary. However, I did catch something that I'd never really put much thought into before.
When Qui Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) is speaking with Anakin's mother about her son and questions Anakin's paternal history, Anakin's mother responds with, "There was no father. I carried him. I gave him birth. I can't explain what happened."
I don't know how I had missed that previously when watching this film. The writers turned back into some of the older human mythologies and gave Anakin Skywalker a virgin birth. Unlike mythological people from various ancient religions, where a god or some other mythical creature impregnates a human, they wrote this history for Anakin to be one where he may (they don't make it certain) have been sired by the midi-chlorians (the fictional sub-cellular organisms which inhabit the cells of all life in the Star Wars Universe and who are the supposed source of The Force; their name seems to come from mitochonria and chloroplasts, our endosymbiotic subcellular organelles). I think it's interesting that they decided to go this route with the character. Giving him a virgin birth story makes his character seem more superhuman that simply "in tune" with his universe, like most Jedi are.
I find it interesting that the prophesy that Qui Gon thinks Anakin is to fill, being The One who will bring a balance to the force, ends up being one who pretty much destroys everyone who has great understanding of the force. Outside of the ideas of good and evil, light and dark, and such that permeate the story of Anakin Skywalker, perhaps his virgin birth could be taken to be something deeper in the story of this prophesy. This is all just food for thought, but I leave it here with a quote from George Lucas on the subject:
there's a hint in the movie that there was a Sith Lord who had the power to
create life. But it's left unsaid: Is Anakin a product of a super-Sith who
influenced the midi-chlorians to create him, or is he simply created by the
midi-chlorians to bring forth a prophecy, or was he created by the Force
through the midi-chlorians? It's left up to the audience to decide. How he was
born ultimately has no effect on the way he dies, because in the end the
prophecy is true: Balance comes back to the force." - George Lucas,
Rolling Stone, June 2005