Post by Henderson
Engineering mixes many disciplines, from mathematics to art to economics, to respond to the needs of growing societies. As populations grow, needs of infrastructures change, and new ideas bring forth new challenges, engineers work in large or small teams to find solutions to these problems.
The idea of human engineering starts with the idea that the body is a machine. A machine that can be understood, repaired, and if need-be, parts replaced. This is not a new idea and has existed in greater or smaller ways since Rene Descartes wrote about the mind-body duality. Separating the body into an automatic as a machine in his description of the human body. But what Descartes contemporaries did not have were the tools needed to understand how the body works.
The human body is an efficient collection of complex systems. As an example, something as simple as taking a walk requires the coordination of, at least, the skeletal, muscular, nervous, and cardiovascular systems.
When something goes awry in those systems, when the body is not responding the way it should given normal conditions, changes can be made to improve the way it works. Sometimes this improvement can be made by physical training or changes to the diet of the individual. But failing these, more invasive methods are employed to correct the problem.
Today’s engineers are faced with more than the idea that the body is a machine. They are faced with a growing body of knowledge that gives them the tools to transplant hearts, implant electrodes into the brain, and even manipulate the genome to create favorable outcomes.
One of the biggest stories to hit the news in the last few years are surprisingly small.
The J. Craig Venter Institute announced last year the creation of a synthetic and self-replicating bacterial cell. The synthetic cell is called Mycoplasma mycoides JCVI-syn1.0 and is the proof of principle that genomes can be designed in the computer, chemically made in the laboratory and transplanted into a recipient cell to produce a new self-replicating cell controlled only by the synthetic genome.
In this example, Venter’s lab has proven that we can mechanize the process of problem-solving on a cellular level. Their work is adding to the public sphere a body of knowledge that will enhance the understanding of basic chemical and biological concepts and be integral to the production of new vaccines and medicines, amongst other things.
If there is a promise that could come from advances such as this, it is that we can treat the body and its most basic properties in a machine-like way. In the end making it possible to provide basic research that enhances the human experience.