Ricky smiled again, and shrugged. “Hey,” he said. “It gets the job done.” Those kettles in the next room were indeed tanks for controlled microbial growth. But Ricky wasn’t making beer—he was making microbes, and I had no doubt about the reason why. Unable to construct genuine nanoassemblers, Xymos was using bacteria to crank out their molecules. This was genetic engineering, not nanotechnology!
That was an excerpt from Michael Crichton’s Prey, a sci-fi novel, and an excellent read, published in 2002.
That particular quote was in reference to the protagonist discovering that a R&D company was using bacteria (in his case "Theta-d 5972 […] A strain of E. coli.") to grow nanoparticles, which in turn built nanobots. I am a lover of sci-fi novels, the more plausible, the better. Michael Crichton is a physicist, and his novels tend to be incredibly beleivable… Just read on!
Only a week ago on March 19, 2006, according to BBC, researchers from Norwich used a plant virus to create nanotechnology building blocks!
"By linking iron-containing compounds to the virus’s surface, the John Innes Centre team was able to create electronically active nanoparticles. […] ‘We started to think about the virus particles as nano-building blocks,’ explained Dr David Evans, a chemist at the John Innes Centre and the lead author on the Small paper."
I think it is quite an amazing accomplishment, and I would love to hear what the Michael Crichton has to say when he hears it… Patents anyone? :P
You can see a brief synopsis of Crichton’s writing style and technique (no spoilers) at the Wikipedia article here; as always, feel free to add to it.
If you want to purchase (highly recommended!) Prey, you can grab it real cheap off Amazon, or drop by a Barnes and Noble near you.