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Synthetic biology, a green option


          Biology of the future.

With the explosion of green living in the twentieth century, scientists have directed their attention toward the future of our planet. Global warming has transitioned from pure myth to fact in this decade, and with predictions growing more terrifying every year, finding answers to these questions has become a global effort.

While the United States has significantly reduced its contribution to world pollution over the past few years, other leading industrial countries have not. According to the World Health Organization, approximately two million deaths around the globe are caused by air pollution alone. Less than one percent of the population in China takes in air that is considered safe to breathe. The factories producing this pollution are the descendants of the same resource-burning ancestors that we originally vowed to get rid of as a planet upon the discovery of more sustainable energy. Scientists have noted our lack of progress, and are beginning to fight back by means of their own.

      Saving the planet one day at a time.

Toying with genes has always been hesitantly welcomed in both the world of health and science, and the real world. Everything from stem cell research to DNA testing has faced questioning for years before making it on to the big stage where it can change our way of life. Now, scientists are beginning to dabble in altering genes for a bigger cause: saving our planet. And if they succeed, it may be an offer we can’t afford to refuse.

In last week’s issue of The New Yorker, writer Michael Specter made head way in his own exploration of what it means for scientists to be able to play with DNA in all sorts of ways, including life changing ones. In his article, “A Life of Its Own,” Specter speaks to Drew Endy, a former assistant professor of biological engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Endy hints that with enough money and material, we may be able to create new sources of energy by the means of synthetic biology. This means no more burning coal, and no more harm to the environment. However, scientists are just beginning to scratch the surface of this possibility.

“The benefits in relation to the risks of using this new technology would be unquestioned,” Endy said in his interview with Specter for The New Yorker. “But I don’t know what the number will be, and I don’t think anybody can know at this point. At a minimum, then, we ought to acknowledge that we are in the process of figuring that out and the answers wont be easy to provide.”

With the constant questioning of altering genes in everything from plants to humans, there’s no telling whether the idea will be expanded upon, and whether or not it will come in time to save the planet. Ironically enough, the progress being made is almost on par with the progress the world is making as a whole toward reversing the damage we’ve caused to the environment. In the end, everything is dependant on how we evolve as a society, and what we find as an acceptable way to save our future.

For more info: Visit the New Yorker site for the full article by Michael Specter.