Releasing the Gene(ie) – Being Proactive About Bioengineering and Synthetic Biology

Gene In a Bottle

Yeah, I went there. Horrible, shameless pun and all.

People are awesome at proliferating the planet. Either by design, accident, will, or simply by making lots of babies, we’ve made ourselves the dominant critters of Earth.

And since we care for our own survival, we have to accept both the rewards and the responsibilities way up here at the top of the food chain.

To adapt to our ever-changing circumstances and facing our existential threats, research in synthetic biology offers a lot of potential. We tend to see such technologies represented in a negative light (GMO foods, for instance) but our current meddling with a few injected snippets of genetic code is crude to the kind of discoveries that are waiting for us.

As our knowledge grows, so do the imagined possibilities of novel solutions that synthetic biology can bring to some our greatest challenges: world hunger, droughts, disease, aging, energy.

Our children’s children’s children will likely be grazing on nutritious grass, eat meat is cultivated in clean labs instead of butchered in disease-filled wasteful torture-farms, drink water filtered from the ocean through engineered fruits, believe that 120 is the “new middle age”, enjoy plentiful energy from trees as the wind rustles their leaves, and think about diseases like Alzheimers and cancer about as much as we think of the Black Death.

That isn’t to say we won’t create complex new problems for ourselves in the process, because we always do. Progress requires action, and actions always have consequences.

It is wise for us to be proactive in approaching broad new technologies like synthetic biology and artificial intelligence that will do even more than change how we interact with the world: they are transformative. They will change our relationship with it.

I’m a huge fan of humanity at the top of the food chain. We should really think through ways to mitigate risks, apply at least a basic framework to prevent needless suffering, and ensure safety while nurturing the kinds of innovations that are going to solve our current and future challenges. Here are some ideas I’ve had on the subject.

Rights:

Genomic Right – The DNA of the human species belongs to all people, and a person’s unique DNA is the property of that individual.

Nobody can patent you or your children.

Right to Autonomy – All living creatures have the right to an autonomous life so long as they pose no risk or threat to humanity.

Zombies of any kind are simply not acceptable.

No Needless Existential Sacrifice – All species have the right to exist without needless harm or sacrifice so as long as they pose no risk or threat to humanity.

Otherwise, we destroy them.

Natural Privilege – The biologically natural world, including the human genome, is a precious heirloom to be protected for future generations. Established Old Zones are to be respected. Synthetic biology is never produced or released into established Old Zones.

It is a reminder, and the safety net, for the fact that we’re not in charge.

Rules Regarding Synthetic Biology:

Synthetic Biology must never be predatory, carnivorous, or sentient. (Things are pleasant at the top of the food chain. We should plan to keep it that way.)

Synthetic Biology produced for any form of consumption must have optimal nutritional and/or medicinal value for those it is intended for. (We’ve all gotta eat.)

Synthetic Biology must be non-reproductive or wholly dependent on controlled systems. (You never know what comes out.)

Synthetic Biology should be classified and encoded with current standards describing its intended functions, whether for vanity or utility. (What is this thing?)

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