Every orchid or rose or lizard or snake is the work of a dedicated and skilled breeder. There are thousands of people, amateurs and professionals, who devote their lives to this business. Now imagine what will happen when the tools of genetic engineering become accessible to these people. There will be do-it-yourself kits for gardeners who will use genetic engineering to breed new varieties of roses and orchids. Also kits for lovers of pigeons and parrots and lizards and snakes to breed new varieties of pets. Breeders of dogs and cats will have their kits too.OK, ignoring the fact that he seems to be equating "housewives" with "children" (won't men and women who work outside the home be part of the revolution?), it is an interesting idea that hobbyists will be the future creators of biodiversity and will help usher in a new age of "green technology."
Domesticated biotechnology, once it gets into the hands of housewives and children, will give us an explosion of diversity of new living creatures, rather than the monoculture crops that the big corporations prefer. New lineages will proliferate to replace those that monoculture farming and deforestation have destroyed. Designing genomes will be a personal thing, a new art form as creative as painting or sculpture.
I guess I'm more of a pessimist than Dyson. While there is great promise in future genetic engineering, I think there is also danger. There will always be a risk when new plants and animals (and microbes) are introduced into Earth's ecosystem.
Once a new generation of children has grown up, as familiar with biotech games as our grandchildren are now with computer games, biotechnology will no longer seem weird and alien. In the era of Open Source biology, the magic of genes will be available to anyone with the skill and imagination to use it.Now think of curious but still-a-bit-clueless teens playing with their excellent genetic engineering skillz. (It may be the sound of illegal fireworks exploding in my bone-dry neighborhood that's adding to my pessimism.) As goatchurch at Mundane-SF put it:
It does seem believable that millions of high school kids are likely to contain more stupidity and greater capability to get up to some serious mischief than any band of terrorists. It's like Vonnegut's Ice-9 in Cat's Cradle. Someone young without any sense of mortality will make something awful. And the reason they had the capability was that we were trying to educate them.Now I don't believe that restricting the information is the solution - and it wouldn't work anyway. But I do think we should be considering the potential hazards before we start giving kids the EZ-Bake Genetic Engineering Lab.
Dyson has also proposed that biotechnology will help man in space. His engineered "Dyson trees" would grow on comets, living on solar energy and cometary material. In turn the massive trees would produce oxygen and provide living space as a self-contained environment for humans. That idea has been used in a number of science fiction novels including Rachel Pollack's Tree House in the anthology Habitats (1984), Michael Swanwick's Vacuum Flowers (1987), Dan Simmon's Endymion (1996), and Stephen Baxter's Manifold: Space (Manifold) (2001).
Tags:genetic engineering, biotechnology, Freeman Dyson (via Eye on DNA)