Life or something like it

As a fan of science fiction, and more accurately now, science fact, my RSS feeds and inboxes are often inundated with technology stories I can barely wrap my brain around. From quantum physics and computing, to teleportation of sub-atomic particles to nano-technology, the blur of updates provides entertaining and amazing reading which leaves me wondering what’s next on the spectrum of faster-than-light-travel to an end-of-the-world scenario where tiny robots self-replicate into an unstoppable mass. It was the latter that caught my attention this week, as the phone buzzed with the latest such story while in between patterns at my fly vise.

Apparently, scientists have created tiny DNA-based nanorobots which, given the same materials they are made of, can replicate themselves with a bit of UV light. The process holds the promise whereby the DNA scaffolds created by the nanobots could be used to produce enzymes, modify malfunctioning cells, and ultimately help people with chemical deficiencies and other maladies find better health and longer life. The bots, made of four strands of DNA, can’t replicate without the right conditions and a shot of specialized light, so their plans for world domination (or accidental attempts) aren’t likely to happen anytime soon. However, they do resemble life in some form, and the fact that they can procreate is an amazing facet of the emerging technology.

Whether it’s the science behind nanobots, or stem cells, or bringing creatures like the woolly mammoth back through the veil of extinction via DNA preserved in the thawing permafrost, creating life or at least imitating it is a mission shared by both scientist and sportsman. Looking at my attempt to imitate life on the vise — a simple pheasant tail nymph with copper wrap and buggy thorax made with glistening green peacock herl — I figured while I likely would never splice a double helix of DNA together to create my own horde of mini-monsters, I could still get something close enough to make a bluegill bite or get a trout to take my creation. Like the lab-created bio-robots which hold so much promise, the same stemmed from the patterns coming together in bulk for this spring’s fishing outings.

Sure, the PTN with the thread hanging down from it awaiting a whip finish and a drop of head cement didn’t look exactly like a mayfly nymph, but the 20 years of casting them out from the dock, or off the bow of the boat, or from a streamside spot has taught me that they were close enough to lifelike to make a fish take a look. Just like the four-strand DNA folding creatures in the petri dish doused in lab lights, the fly was real enough to at least make something notice its presence. And that, like the goal of finding a way to better humanity through cutting edge technology by scientists, is the goal of each angler with the approach of a new fishing season just a calendar page away.

When the fly hits the water, I know that beyond the way it looks, I’ll have the opportunity to control it. Through furtive darts, slight twitches, and other movements I’ll make it look a little more alive. So while I know the secret, that it is merely an imitation of life and a recreation and combination of the profiles of several dozen different edible insects under the surface, the nymph likely won’t be spurned by a hungry fish looking for a quick meal. Ultimately, like the self-replicating DNA assemblers, that is close enough to lifelike for me and from experience, the fish as well … in our outdoors.


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