Thursday, February 17, 2005

Men: Can't live with 'em, can't screw with their DNA

Dear Howard,

I thought, if it's not too big of an imposition, that you might be able to point me to information on this. I'm writing humor for my column, and I can't bear being scientifically incorrect. I'm thinking of suggesting (tongue in cheek) that somebody shrink themselves down to nano-size and get in with a screwdriver and start tinkering with somebody's DNA. Again, tongue in cheek, but I do want to be correct on nano -- whether it's the right size to shrink to if you were going to tinker with somebody's DNA. Hate to be one of the wrong information propagators. If you don't have the time or inclination to respond, I understand. Best, -Amy Alkon, syndicated columnist

Hi, Amy,

Well, I wouldn't want to anger a goddess, so I'd better respond. I enjoy tongues in cheeks, by the way, especially with the science crowd that reads me. Wakes them up a bit.

So, in answer to your question, a DNA molecule is about 2-and-a-half nanometers wide. To be considered "nano," a technology should generally be smaller than 100 nanometers, so you're definitely in the territory of my prefix. Here's more info than you need: Most animal cells are 10,000 - 20,000 nanometers in diameter, so nanoscale devices are tiny enough to enter cells and analyze DNA and proteins. That's how you can cure cancer or do some malicious tinkering with a screwdriver.

Hope this helps, and please send me a link when it runs. My geek audience will love it.

Oh, and here's an illustration of how big nano is.

And do you mind if I run our little exchange on my blog?


Not at all. ... If you're so inclined, you can link to my blog, where I rail against religion and for science, among other things.

Thanks so much for your response. And thanks, in the face of all this irrational primitivism taking over our country, for being yet another person on the side of science and reason. Best, -Amy


Hmmm. Well, then, I'm hesitant to let you take a look at the link below. ...

NanoKabbalah in Salon on my birthday: Coincidence?


Epiblog: Well, I haven't heard from rational, reasonable Amy since I sent her the NanoKabbalah link. Damn. Why, oh why do I always write inappropriate things! Anyway, here's an excerpt from Amy's column, which it turns out did not incorporate my useful nano facts (I responded too late for her deadline).

    advicegoddessDear Amy: I got irritated reading your advice to "More To Love," the wife who went from size 3 to size 14. Your contention: She needed to lose weight because her husband couldn't change what he was attracted to. My view? Men are shallow because we allow them to be. If her husband is justified in not loving her for better or worse, isn't a woman equally justified when her spouse loses his Wall Street job and she claims she can't "push a button" and be attracted to a high school math teacher? I'm glad we're learning about how we're wired, but the last thing we need are all these reasons why blindly following our instincts is perfectly normal, and why any attempts at improvement are futile. Where, in your model, does rational thought come into play?

    Let's Get Modern

    Dear Modern: What makes more sense for "More To Love" — cutting back on Fritos and joining a gym … or shrinking herself down to nano-size, going in with a tiny screwdriver, and rewiring her husband's DNA? More here


Robert said...

What Amy is proposing, at least the way I'm reading it, is along the lines of "Fantastic Voyage". We had a discussion about this on the GRG mailing list in late Jan./early Feb. which was prompted by my relating to the list that I had explained to several NIH directors at the NIH roadmap meeting on nanotechnology last summer who were using the "Fantastic Voyage" perspective in a rather snide fashion dis'ing nanotech that it isn't impossible it simply requires changing some fundamental ground rules in physics. For example may change Plank's constant and/or the strength of electrical charges and/or change the mass of the electron and/or proton. Unfortunately none of these seem likely to happen unless you are a firm believer in "everything is hard until you know how to do it."

There is however a developing plan for a nanorobot which can do what Amy proposes. It is known as a Chromallocyte and has a concept which has been talked about in Nanomedicine circles for a couple of years. I just received a preliminary outline for a paper on this specific type of nanorobot from Robert Freitas and we are working on the details involved. If we are diligent perhaps the paper will be available in 3-6 months. The basic mechanism is that a nanorobot enters a cell, navigates close to the nucleus, sticks a manipulator arm into the nucleus, hauls out some or all of the old chromosomes (DNA) and inserts replacement chromosomes/DNA into the nucleus. Chromallocytes can essentially augment or replace genomes in most, if not all, of the cells in a human body.

Robert Bradbury (

Robert A. Freitas Jr. said...

I’m pleased that Bradbury has begun discussing my “chromallocyte” nanorobot concept (to perform Chromosome Replacement Therapy) with a broader community, as I’ve been doing in more private circles since about 1996. The “developing plan”, which up to now has been mine alone, will be further elucidated in a scaling study that I’ve been trying to find time to finish since 1999. With Robert’s able assistance, this technical paper may finally reach fruition later this year.

Robert A. Freitas Jr.
Author, Nanomedicine

Anonymous said...

I recently sent a Press Release to Amy Alkon who writes a
syndicated column called "Advice Goddess" and got a
diatribe about our company on her website.

Here are some of her nasty comments. For complete text
see at

The following statements you made about me and our
company, Sew Beautiful, ( on
your Blog are libelous and they are false. You have no
basis for making these remarks.

Amy wrote..

"I especially love your argument that your customers like
it. I'm sure the guy who gets a stolen TV really cheaply
from a fence is thrilled as well.

"DOES Chanel really know what you're doing? I doubt it."
"I'm loath to believe anything you say"

"...there's much you're doing that's illegal"
"Your rationalization of it is absolutely disgusting"
"Clearly, you are utterly unconcerned with much but
making a profit."

"Your business practices make me retch, and your
disrespect for others' creative work and intellectual
property is creepy."

"Hey, there were lots of Nazis in WWII. Doesn't make it
right to murder Jews, homosexuals, and gypsies.
"Everybody's doing it" doesn't make it moral. What's so
disturbing is the energy you put into defending your
taking the work of others and profiting from it. All of the
above knockoff artists sicken me. It's wrong to profit from
work that is not yours -- whether or not there's some hole
in the fence of the law that permits you to sneak through
and do it."