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Thursday, 7 May 2020

Bats


Dominic Cummings, the Svengali of British government, said on his blog recently that he's looking for "super-talented weirdos":
"We need some true wild cards, artists, people who never went to university and fought their way out of an appalling hell hole, weirdos from William Gibson novels like that girl hired by Bigend as a brand ‘diviner’ who feels sick at the sight of Tommy Hilfiger or that Chinese-Cuban free runner from a crime family hired by the KGB. [...] By definition I don’t really know what I’m looking for but I want people around Number 10 to be on the lookout for such people."
I think I know what he means and blimey, Dom, I can do that. Read a pop science book and draw specious conclusions about entirely unrelated subjects? Child's play. For instance, while pondering the question of exit routes from the coronavirus lockdown, I came up with a humdinger. See what you think...

Obviously a vaccine would be nice. An all-purpose antiviral (such as the Gates Foundation has been funding research into) would be even better, as it would insure against the next (possibly deadlier) virus. But what we really want is a once-and-for-all solution that will stop all viruses dead.

It’s possible to create synthetic nucleotides. Instead of A, C, T, G call them Z, Y, X and W. So far research has concentrated on getting synthetic nucleotides to code for new amino acids so we can build new proteins that don’t normally occur in nature. But how about we instead get them to code for exactly the same amino acids as the existing 64 ACTG-based codons?

Then it becomes possible to rebuild the entire human genome using ZYXW-based codons. There’s a one-to-one correspondence; they build exactly the same amino acids; you still get a human being – but the difference is that the genome of this ZYXW human makes no sense to any existing virus. If a virus enters the cell of a ZYXW human, any instructions it gives the cell to replicate itself will be meaningless. Viruses would literally be speaking an unintelligible language as far as humans are concerned.

You might think we’d have to replicate the whole human microbiome as well as the H.Sap genome, but those gut bacteria (etc) would all function perfectly well in the ZYXW human, because the phenotype is unchanged. It’s only viruses, which work by subverting the cell’s DNA machinery, that would be stymied.

I should get my application off to Whitehall right away, don't you reckon? With a noggin full of notions like this I'd fit right in with Dom's dream team. But enough wild surmise -- tomorrow we're on firm ratiocinative ground with a look at investigative scenarios.

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