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An acquaintance of mine called Robert Freitas, well known in nanotechnology circles as the author of Nanomedicine, has been writing about the ultimate antibiotic. Called a “microbivore”, his device follows the usual concept of his creations — do what the human body does, but do it better. In this case, it tracks down bacteria and other nasties that are invading its human host, and minces them to make an easily digested soup for the body to absorb at its leisure.
The outside of the microbivore is covered with patches that can be programmed to behave in the same way as our antibodies, so that they stick to any unwanted bacteria, viruses, parasites like malaria, or even fungi. Once one of these is detected, several of 277 arms each less than 1/4,000 mm long telescope out from the body, grab the bug and wave it towards the “mouth”. The artist’s impression above shows all arms extended which they normally would not be, making it look a lot like a puffer fish. Apologies from the artist.
Once a bug is in the mouth, an iris closes and it is moved into a “morcellation chamber” where it is cut up with nanoscale knives, squirted into a digestion chamber and turned into aforementioned nutritious broth by artificial enzymes so you don’t get a nasty reaction to any bits or toxins in the bug. This is pretty much what the human white blood cell does, except it’s not equipped with little arms and knives. There are little creatures that do sweep food along their bodies with tiny hairs in a similar way, like “sea gooseberries” and other small strange sea creatures that make a living out of eating plankton.
But this little microbivore when we can build it can be programmed to destroy just about any nasty bug, has no side-effects, and does the job more efficiently than an antibiotic or our own body’s defenses.
©Copyright 2001 by Vik Olliver. For reprint permission, please contact Vik Olliver at [email protected]. The Microbivore was conceived and designed by Robert A. Freitas Jr., whose permission is also required.
Vik Olliver, “SmallTalk,” The Roundabout (Laingholm, Waitakere, New Zealand), May 2001, p. 4.
“Smalltalk” by Vik Olliver, April 2001 edition; located at http://olliver.family.gen.nz/launchpad/small_apr01.htm