``Directed evolution'' in biochemistry

03 Oct 1994 12:00

Take a large number --- ``billions and billions,'' in the words of Uncle Carl --- of slightly different compounds. Have them perform some chemical task, e.g., catalysis of a reaction. Skim off the ones which do it best and make noisy copies of them. (The first experiments used RNA and the polymerase chain reaction for this ``amplification'' stage.) Repeat, generation after generation.

How is it being used? Could it become a ``runaway technology of the recent future''? Connections to evolutionary computation and artificial life. Could it be used as a scaffolding towards nanotechnology?

See Gerald Joyce, ``Directed Molecular Evolution,'' Scientific American Dec. 1992. According to a Discover article, Joyce was inspired by Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow: which goes to show that no work of human hands is completely worthless.

This notebook needs lots of work.