There’s much talk of the “new science” of synthetic biology circulating at present. There was even a report which had me check my calendar that it wasn’t April Fool’s Day – a group of friends gathered in a box room or garage in Manchester, unpacking their “Clone at Home” kit, designed for the amateur with a yen to bend evolution. “Wow” they shouted “Where does this bit go?”
Thing is, folk is tired of being patient. Evolution, it just don’t work fast enough. Haven’t you ever said “It’s a shame I haven’t got the capacity to do that .” or” Why can’t we find an organism that can carry out that function.” In the old days we just imported slaves, but they’re so costly nowadays as you must house them and let them take holidays in exotic locations. So everyone wishes to design their own super creature, to meet all their needs.
Historically, back in the Garden of Eden, we found a plump seeded grass, saved those seeds and learned breeding. Over millenia, centuries and then decades we coaxed all manner of plant and some animal species to overdevelop certain features, such that they could never survive outside our husbandry. But that didn’t matter because we also invented farmers, to be custodians for us, and make sure these far from natural cultivars prospered.
More recently, and very controversially, have arisen gene splicing techniques whereby genetic material can be transferred between species, endowing the recipient with previously unobtainable characteristics and potentially seriously polluting the natural ecosystem with uncontrollable and invasive genetic material.
We already had the more natural examples of bacterial antibiotic resistance plasmids (so MRSA and the like) and AIDS as a possible laboratory escapee. Such micro-organisms are alarmingly bohemian and promiscuous with their genetic material, with exchanges in seconds from chance encounters.
Undoubtedly there has been transfer of modified genotypes in agricultural species to recipient weed species so greatly weakening the effectiveness of GM, genetically modified, cultivars.
But the sin, now, is to go to the laboratory armed only with your computer designed genotype. Frankenstein got nothing on this! “Eye of toad and tail of newt” takes on a whole new meaning in the synthetic biologist’s work. And he then adds chameleon pigmentation and sticks it all into a runner bean plant. “The World’s your oyster, man, just get out there and make it fly.” Mental note – beware shellfish cruising at eye level.
Word is, and there’s always “Word”, word is that they’re big on new species bringing energy creation with them. So Shell, Exon and BP love the concept. When they’ve plundered all the oil and gas they can squeeze out of the Earth’s mantle, they want to develop some wonderspecies who will synthetic-biologically meet the carbon deficit they then find. The fact that they could even now be using green algae in exactly this manner seems irrelevant to these future dreamers, but this is essentially what they’re looking to.
Then that tried and trusted “gift to mankind” and a sure thing to get Super-Nerd Gates on board – “Synthetic organism-thingy to make vaccines”. Hooray, hooray, hooray another vaccine bandwaggon. Yes we can construct a super-new-organism-thingy to spew out vaccines for any new wonder illness we can find or manufacture. Now there’s a business model. It’s a dream. Create the illness then manufacture the cure.
What? They’re doing it already. Never. Surely not. That could not be possible. We’re all human, after all. Who could possibly treat us with such contempt? WHO could possibly……..? WHO indeed….