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Personal Entry
In may 2009 Edinburgh University iGEM Team started to look for a project which will be presented in Boston after 5 months. 8 people gathered in a room on the 8th floor of the 8-floored building. 8 people represented 4 different backgrounds and 7 different nationalities. Every single one came to iGEM team with his own goals and ideas. Next 4-5 months will make a team out of those 8 and they will result in one single project. Project, which appears as the whole to the outside world, but at the same time comprises 8 different worlds, 8 different outlooks.

Below is the small extract from my personal blog which I was keeping during the whole project and tiny part of which I decided to publish in the very end of our team WIKI. This text won’t tell you about technical details, it won’t tell you about scientific researches and achievements, but it will tell you how we came to the idea of our project, what global goals are hidden under the numbers and scientific reports. I will try to show you the things which are always hidden behind the numbers, graphs, results and scientific achievements.


Middle of July 2009

Long time ago I read about imaginary world. In this world human beings were the 5th generation of human like creatures living on Earth. Main adjective given to our generation was “highly technocratic”. Long before human beings evolved from monkeys there existed another generation of human like creatures. And even before those strange creatures another generations of even stranger creatures existed. This happened exactly 5 times and now you and me are representatives of the 5th generation of strange creatures.

There was one very important difference between us and them. They had very “creative” way of solving problems. For example, if they needed to move huge stone as big as my house from one place to another, they were just closing their eyes and using their mental power to move this huge stone from one place to another. They were able to do lots of others cool things. Well, from my point of view, this was definitely creative ways of solving problems. Unfortunately, this creative way of solving problems is unavailable for us. We just lost this ability. Of course, moving things is not so important. Those creatures were spiritually rich and they had greater Wisdom then we do have now. That is all the difference between us and them. They could do it in “creative way” but we can’t.

According to this description creatures mental abilities and power was becoming weaker and weaker from generation to generation. More precisely, mental energy and power was transforming into power of physical knowledge what we call now science. Further and further away each generation moved towards physical knowledge, to the knowledge someone might call technocratic. Computational power became main power of our generation opposed to spiritual power of the very first generations. Well, we also can move huge stones as big as our houses, but only if our mental ability will be transformed into huge hoisting crane. Directly our mental power can hardly move ourselves from one place to another especially if things are about fighting with laziness. MATH science became our kingdom. Kingdom of our generation.

Personally, I don’t believe that we lost all of our mental energy. We still can create amazing art pieces and we still feel something, like anger or happiness. But you know what… we are so close to lose even those abilities. Robots are going to become 6th generation of human like living creatures. They will finish transformation of mental energy and mental power into fully computational energy and power. Gap between emotions, emotional experience, and feelings from one side and pure physical knowledge and rational decision making will become infinite. It will happen simply because there will be no place for first 3 things listed.

Robots will be as far from emotions as I am from teleportation. Moreover, they might totally loose our creative abilities. Last achievements in the field of robotics show that vision, orientation, decision making problems are solvable in the nearest future but we still are as far away from giving to the robot creative power as we were 50 years ago. Just imagine, that we will create living robot creature with very basic abilities and suddenly meteorite hits our planet and human beings will disappear. Only our robots will stay alive as they will be the only one capable living in environment with average temperature equal to 200 degrees C. Due to evolution laws we programmed into our robots they will evolve into something which is more capable to live under extreme conditions. Obviously art pieces creation is something absolutely unnecessary under extreme conditions. It means, that journey of mental energy will come to the end, totally substituted by computational power.

Those were the thoughts I came with into iGEM room located in a huge building at the very first time in the end of May. Through iGEM I wanted to prove to myself that scenario described above is just imagination of a sick mind. Usually such type of global thoughts is totally lost during project time, because mind is captured by everyday problems solving. But those thoughts are hugely important. They are important because they are the basis for people to create great things. Those were mine thoughts which pushed me to join iGEM to see the cutting edge applicable researches from the very inside. I am sure every single one from 8 had his own global reasons to join iGEM. Those 8 global reasons ended in the project and results you have just seen on our WIKI.

Oh, I also had local reasons… My mom didn’t want me to join iGEM because she needed me to work in her garden. Well, she calls it “family garden” but then I am definitely not part of the family. So, I thought that is much better to solve world scientific problems rather then working in my mom’s “family garden” : )

Around first weeks of June

8 different heads resulted in several project ideas. Main “brainstormers” were definitely Vas and our supervisor Chris.

My personal biology knowledge ends exactly after high school. Moreover, biology was first lesson each Monday, so my memories from those lessons are very vague. It was hard to suggest something with such a lack of biology knowledge. I will never forget eyes of our biologists when I suggested to make bacteria which will guard something, for example, doors to my room, so that stranger won’t be able to get in. Of course, everybody was from his own background so his bacteria definitely had to be background specific. For example, I as being representative of Artificial Intelligence degree definitely wanted my bacteria to be very technical and cool. Light bulb on top if it was absolute must have and absolutely no doubts about at least dozens of control buttons.

Some members of our team, for example wanted bacteria to be useful. For example, dish washing is very useful according to their opinion. Well, I personally never wash my dishes (somebody from flat mates does), that is why personally I found this idea very boring. Somebody wanted to dominate the world. Somebody wanted to build “robobacteria”. Days were passing and everyday we were moving from dishwashing to “robobacteria” and back. Sometimes Chris French was joining us and tried to explain to especially active representatives of Artificial Intelligence that “… you should first of all consider what bacteria can and can’t do. Main point is that bacteria are very small. Much smaller than any smallest laptop button created by human mind.” But what is more important I had the feeling that project should bring something else then just bright biological/technical solution.

My friend has very old radio. It is unbelievably old. And he always listens to it. There is only one radio station which this old radio is able to broadcast. I was asking him for a very long time why is he listening to this radio station which is absolutely uninteresting to any adequate 16 years old guy. “You know when I turn all those old handles I have a feeling that this radio has love inside… Somebody was keeping it for another 60 years and now I keep it… When I listen to it I have a feeling that things I am listening to are very important…”

This radio station was private radios station of one old guy who lived in the house opposite of my friend’s house. He broadcasted few hours each day and was telling stories from past. Close distance to the broadcasting source was the only reason why old radio was able to play this radio station…

Yeah… Something like this. Love… There was a feeling that our project needs something more than just a bright technical solution.

I actually had to go back to Estonia for few weeks to help my mom in the “family garden”, so I totally fell out from the project choice marathon. But when I came back… Well it happened something close to this:

Team: «Emm… Well, we will use two [unreadable biological stuff] to detect nitrate/nitrites presence in the soil. We already have [unreadable biological stuff] and in next few weeks we will make [unreadable biological stuff] and [unreadable biological stuff] and [unreadable biological stuff]. Then if our plan is right we will have [unreadable biological stuff] which will lead us to [unreadable biological stuff]. This will allow us to detect TNT presence in the soil, but we might encounter some problems with [unreadable biological stuff] and [unreadable biological stuff].”

Me: “o_O”

Team: “Well, it is not so complicated as it sounds. Of course, our [unreadable biological stuff] and [unreadable biological stuff] will result in the coolest BioBricks iGEM competition has ever seen, but it only sounds so complicated…”

Me: ”o_O… What about something useful our bacteria will be able to do?”

Team: “Ah, yeah… Our bacteria will detect landmines and might save people lives”.

That is how I become part of the team which will end up with something what might save people lives.

7 October 2009

Just 3 weeks left until Jamboree. I am actively working on our team’s WIKI. I don’t have too much time to write my thoughts on the paper and I think no need to do this right now. Our Biologists did everything they planned to do. Their result is impressive: several new working and characterized BioBricks for iGEM Registry. Our Engineers resulted in great Gene Regulatory Network and have done first modeling of possible real life application of our project. From my side I also achieved things I wanted.

I dealt quite a lot with the landmine problem in the world during our project. This problem is really huge and very sad.

I really hope that our project has something more then just a bright technical solution. I really hope that our radio after many years will tell to people not about the fact that 8 people created something very smart and technically complicated but that those 8 guys made something that could help people.
Edinburgh University iGEM Team 2009