Friday, June 17, 2011

Badass Lasers?

Some days it seems like every single Hollywood movie presents magick as a power that first and foremost lets you emit beams of laser light from your fingertips. So far I've never met an occultist who could accomplish that particular feat using spells or any other magical technique. However, two Harvard scientists, Malte Gather and Seok-Hyun Yun, have recently managed to get one step closer to doing it using the power of advanced bioengineering.

For the experiment in question, Gather and Yun engineered cells from a human kidney to produce a molecule called green fluorescent protein. GFP is the compound that allows certain species of jellyfish to naturally glow under water (a process called "bioluminescence"). The Harvard researchers triggered the fluorescent phenomenon in GFP-engineered cells by shooting low-energy pulses of blue light at them. And, by positioning the cells between two microscopic mirrors, they were able to harness the resulting light, "amplifying the emission from the GFP to a coherent green beam." A laser beam.

Beyond the immediate "wow" factor at play, bio-lasers have myriad potential benefits, according to Gather and Yun. For one: Researchers could learn far more about the composition of living cells by lighting them, organically, from the inside out. Additionally, while normal lasers typically degenerate over time, these engineered cells could continually manufacture the GFP molecule, in effect becoming "self-healing lasers." And -- venturing even further into the realm traditionally reserved for science fiction -- bio-lasers could play a major role in allowing people to control electronics with their brains. (Gather calls this a "direct human-to-machine interface.")

Maybe most promising, however: the Harvard physicists say that the technology could be used to help destroy cancer. While lasers are already used in certain treatments to battle malignant tumors, the ability to aggressively and precisely target cancerous cells from deep within the affected body tissue -- using bio-lasers -- would represent a major breakthrough in oncology.

None of this, by the way, means you're any closer to shooting laser beams from your eyes.

The thing is, that last statement is where the article gets it wrong. Now that we know how to engineer kidney cells to produce laser-emitting proteins, there's no reason that we couldn't do the same thing with cells in the eye. And while tiny individual eye cells each producing its own laser light is a far cry from the sort of comic book eye lasers that can be used as effective weapons, you have to admit such weapons are at least not quite as far off as they were before this breakthrough.

Technorati Digg This Stumble Stumble

No comments: