More than ever, the systemic and slowly unfolding problems in our world today will define my generation. From petroleum-based production to antibiotic resistance to the need to feed 9 billion people by 2050, we are converging upon our day of reckoning.
Unlike steam, coal, or electricity, I see the power of synthetic biology in the fact that people and our planet are biological.
In healthcare, a better understanding of biology will herald new drug discovery, living medicines, personalized healthcare, and gene therapy. We could combat climate change by engineering photosynthesis to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it to biofuel or animal feed. And if we leave Earth, engineering biology will enable us to bring life to barren planets.
There is a deep-seated and somewhat existential fear that opening Pandora’s box to solve one problem will lead to greater tragedies. Even if they may not be a direct result of my actions, I know I will share the responsibility. With the increasingly complex ethical implications of engineering life, it is clear that innovation in synthetic biology must be matched by equally fundamental changes in the structure and discourse of society.
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