By now, everyone is so familiar with genetic engineering that if we read some scientist had crossed an octopus with a watermelon to create a waterpus, we wouldn’t blink. We’d accept it because we’re already familiar with genetically altered tomatoes that look great but tastes like dental floss. But a new era is upon us. Enter the synthetic biologists, people who aren’t satisfied with moving genes around like checkers on a board. These folks want to rewrite DNA to create, not hybrids, but an entirely new life form. I can almost hear some white coated scientists in his lab shouting, “It’s alive! It’s alive!”
Craig Venter, the man who spearheaded efforts to map the human genome, intends to use synthetic biology to create algae that can unlock the energy in carbon dioxide. He hopes to create an endless supply of green of power. (Vanilla Splice, by Tom Philpott, Mother Jones, Sept/Oct, 2014 pg. 76.) The idea sounds wonderful. But can we control what we create? Or will some laboratory disaster become fodder for an endless supply of Japanese horror films: Godzilla versus the giant slime algae; Godzilla versus the Super C02 molecule. Or even, Godzilla versus the waterpus that lives on green slime?
I’m not laughing. Reporter Tom Philpott worries these new synthetics will make it into the food chain without our knowledge. Already, a yeast has been invented that can create high-end food flavorings that taste better than natural ones. (Ibid pg 76) A Swiss company, Evolva, for example, has created an algae with a richer vanilla flavor than the bean. Soon, it will be making its way into our ice cream.
All I can say is we’ve come a long way from Chapman’s, baby. (Blog 9/17/14) My faith in nature is beginning to crack. Scientists may call synthetic biology progress but I say, “It’s a lie. It’s a lie!”paidcontent.org)