The Bionic Bug (Ch. 6) – Bionic Bug Podcast Episode 006

Hey everyone, welcome back to Bionic Bug podcast! You’re listening to episode 6. This is your host Natasha Bajema, fiction author, futurist, and national security expert.

Before we get started, a quick reminder. The views expressed on this podcast are my own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

Professional and personal updates:

I just got back from traveling to Destin, Florida for work where I had the opportunity to teach special operators about the national security implications at the U.S. Air Force Special Operations School. I was hoping for once that my presentation about what’s coming in the next ten years might not render the students into a state of shock. Turns out they were as concerned about our ability as a government to manage emerging threats as my other audiences. Unlike our agile adversaries, government institutions are burdened by hierarchy and bureaucracy.

This brings me to my next professional update. I just released an article titled “The Future of Defense Innovation: Removing the Silos between the Warfighters and Innovators.” In the article, I explore the challenges of defense innovation under the current defense acquisition system, reviews current transformations underway, and examines the model of SOFWERX as a way to leverage cutting-edge technologies in order to remove the silos between innovators and warfighters.

With $2 million in funding to start-up its operations, SOFWERX was created in September 2015 to address this critical gap in U.S. Special Operation Command’s (SOCOM) ability to leverage cutting-edge technologies. SOFWERX was founded as a public-private organization, its headquarters originally housed in a red brick building, an old cigar factory located in downtown Tampa in the historic Ybor City neighborhood. Run by the Doolittle Institute, also known as DefenseWerx, SOFWERX was created under a Partnership Intermediary Agreement (PIA) and enjoys status as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.I had to the opportunity to visit SOFWERX last March and one of the issues that came up in discussion was their size. The organization has no plans to grow beyond the size of around 25 people to keep the structure agile and flat. Studies show that once an organization exceeds this number, it become hierarchical and bureaucratic, which is the opposite of what you’re going for when you want to stimulate innovation and creativity.

My cover for Genomic Data, Book 3 of the Lara Kingsley Series is finished. As promised, I’m providing a sneak preview here.

Let’s talk tech. Before I talk about the news headlines for the week, I should note that you can follow the headlines that catch my attention in real-time on Twitter. My handle is @wmdgirl.

My first headline for the week is from Wired Magazine on May 3: “Biology will be the Next Great Computing Platform.”

  • What does this mean? We are in the midst of a technological revolution in the life sciences called “synthetic biology”, which involves applying engineering principles to biology to make new living organisms, leverage living organisms to do new things, or create entirely new living organisms. Essentially, scientists are making life from scratch. Marc Goodman, author of the bestselling nonfiction book Future Crimesmodern biology has become a branch of information technology.
  • Dramatic reductions in the cost of computing power and data storage has enabled this revolution. We are now able to cheaply sequence genomes.
  • Sequencing refers to the reading of the DNA code that makes up the genome, or the instructions for a living organism. A DNA sequence is made up of four letters (G’s, C’s, T’s and A’s). A genome consists of a certain number of base pairs that form two long DNA strands, a spiral structure called a double helix.
  • The cost of sequencing the first full human genome was around $3 billion. Now, it costs about $1,000 for a full human genome. There are new sequencers coming online that may push this down to $100. When a genome is sequenced, the DNA code is read and then converted to ones and zeros, digital binary code that can be processed by computers.
  • We are also seeing dramatic decreases in the synthesis of gene sequences, which is the primary focus of synthetic biology. Gene synthesis translates the genes from digital code to DNA sequence to physical DNA material. This means that scientists can build living organisms from a data file stored on a computer.
  • There’s a growing catalog of genetic information on the Internet including information on gene sequences, gene functions, and full genomes of organisms. Researchers no longer need a physical source of DNA to manipulate it or study it. They can find a sequence online and have it chemically synthesized by a growing number of companies. The article discusses the rise of start-up companies who seek to become the Amazon of genome engineering.

In the past few weeks, I’ve talked a great deal about drones. The drones are coming like winter in Game of Thrones. My second headline is from CNN on May 9: “Trump Administration Selects 10 Cities to Test Drones.”

  • The Trump administration launched the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program last year. The Department of Transportation has selected 10 state and local governments to test advanced drone applications to prepare America for the drone economy.
  • The selected cities are San Diego, California; Reno, Nevada; Bismark, North Dakota; Memphis, Tennessee; Durant, Oklahoma; Herndon, Virginia; Topeka, Kansas; Raleigh, North Carolina; Fort Myers, Florida, and Fairbanks, Alaska.
  • These tests will allow drones to fly over people’s heads, at night, and outside the view of the drone’s operator. This will free up drones to do everything from deliver food and medicine to inspect critical infrastructure. One of the most interesting projects involves testing out flying taxis. Here come “The Jetsons”!

If you enjoy the show and would like to support my time and costs of producing in show for only a few dollars a month, please go to www.patreon.com– p a t r e o n / natashabajema.

Last week, we left off with Lara in the safe room. The FBI team has left, and she can now safely exit. She gather up her things and sends off a mysterious text: “I have something you need to see.” Let’s find out what happens next.

Let’s go behind the scenes. In chapter six, Lara and Maggie examine the Bionic Bug. As an Australian, Maggie recognizes the species immediately. It’s the Australian Christmas beetle. I chose this species because I didn’t like looking a pictures of beetles. In my research for the book, I started to have dreams about some of the scariest-looking species. Then I stumbled across the Christmas beetle and became immediately entranced by the beauty of its many species. I decided that if I was going to have to suffer through writing a story about beetles, then the species should fascinate me.In my research, I also found that the Christmas beetle would be interesting for the purpose of the story.

Found only in Australia, the Christmas beetle belongs to the scarab family and is known for its stunning exoskeleton with vibrant hues of metallic gold, green, red and brown. In Australia, the beetles occupy woodland areas with trees and rich soil. Although their life cycle spans 1 to 2 years, their adult lifespan lasts for only a few weeks. The adult beetles emerge from the soil during the Christmas season. Swarms of adult Christmas beetles feed on eucalyptus trees and mate before reaching the end of their lives.

The other reason I chose the Christmas beetle is that I discovered that most species of beetles are harmless and not capable of biting people. There are only a few beetles that cause problems for humans. This implied that I would have to find a way for the beetles to carry a deadly disease. I talked to my scientist friend and asked if it would be possible to genetically modify a beetle to bite humans and carry disease. She said that CRISPR could enable such modifications in the future.CRISPR is an acronym for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat. It refers to a gene editing technique that emerged in 2012 that allows researchers to quickly and cheaply change the DNA of nearly any organism. Under a microscope, Maggie notices that the mouthpiece of the beetle has been altered. Later in the story, we’ll find out how and why.

The views expressed on this podcast are my own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

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