THE ENVIRONMENT IS NOW THE LABORATORY
M.W. spotted this one, and it's one of those whopper doozies that sent a shiver down my back:
The second link here is what we'll be concentrating on, for it aptly summarizes the contents of the actual paper, which is linked in the first link above. The summary in the second article says it all:
Third World Network has published a new Biosafety Briefing, “Transferring the laboratory to the wild: An emerging era of environmental genetic engineering”.
It spotlights new genetic engineering techniques such as genome editing and new delivery techniques that have facilitated an emerging trend to genetically engineer organisms in the wild. This moves the engineering process to agroecosystems and beyond, essentially converting the environment into the laboratory.
The briefing presents examples of research and applications, including the development of gene drive organisms (GDOs), horizontal environmental genetic alteration agents (HEGAAs) that deliver viruses carrying genome editing machinery directly to crop fields, the delivery of genome editing machinery to crops via pollen-mediated transfer, the application of RNA interference products directly to crops and farmed animals, and developments in "penetration" techniques to deliver genetic engineering tools to organisms. (All emphases added)
What caught my eye here was not simply the techniques for "genetic editing in the field" and its potential for real-time genetic editing in the field in response to any perceived emerging "threat" to the environment, but the apt phrase that the new genetic editing technologies have essentially converted the entire environment into the laboratory. That's a convenient, though still frightening, way of saying that genetic engineering can now be done on a genuinely global and planetary scale, in a kind of biological "Class One" type of civilization on the Kardashev scale. Indeed, if we're talking about "the delivery of genome editing machinery to crops via pollen-mediated transfer", the possibilities for weaponization of the entire environment becomes a possibility.
What emerges from this scenario is a rather frightening high octane speculation, namely, that of using technologies in combinations with each other. What do I mean by this? Very simply this: already there is a vast literature on the techniques and technologies of weather modification and manipulation, which is itself a form of "converting the environment into the laboratory." Imagine the ability to steer weather systems, prevailing winds, storms, and so on, in conjunction with the such means of genetic editing? Say you edit spores and so on, with mechanisms of pollen mediated delivery once a plant is mature, and "plant" those spores in a certain region via manipulation of weather systems. In other words, one need not be present in a region to affect a significant modification of that regions eco-micro-systems.
In other words, it's not merely the frightening aspects of these new genetic editing technologies in and of themselves, but their even more frightening potential to be used in combination with other technologies such as weather modification.
That consideration brings me back to Kardashev's Civilizations Scale, and to what I've called the "Farrell Corollaries." Kardashev invented his scale to classify potential extraterrestrial civilizations by means of their technological prowess and its corresponding energy requirements. A Type I civilization was so advanced and sophisticated that it required the mass-energy conversion of an entire planet to sustain itself. A Type II being even more advanced, required the mass-energy conversion of an entire star, and at the top of his scale, a Type III required the energy of an entire galaxy. From this, I proposed the "Farrell Corollaries": one need not necessarily have to have the energy requirements of systems of planetary, stellar, or galactic scales, but rather be able to demonstrate the capability of engineering systems on those scales; one could, so to speak, leverage one's way to Class I or II or even III status. Accordingly, I've argued that humanity, on the corollary scale, is already a Class I and may be on the cusp of a Class II type.
But obviously, the scale and my corollaries were developed in terms of a physics context. But one might extend the "Farrell Corollaries" to the biophysical and environmental: a "Class I" would be the ability to engineer the ecosphere of an entire planet, requiring a commensurate biological and environmental science, a Class II that of an entire solar system (consider for example the oft-commented on phenomenon that Earth, and perhaps once Mars, are perfectly positioned within the celestial mechanics of the solar system, to sustain life. And that's a complex geometry requiring the Moon and Venus, for example, to be in certain positions as well), and a Class III that of an entire galaxy. Civilizations of these types would be able to engineer bio-systems (and the accompanying physics) on those levels, implying a certain corollary to the idea of "panspermia" models of the origins of life: assuming that hypothesis to be true, and assuming that life was deliberately seeded here, then what type of civilization was behind it? A Class I, minimally.
So back to M.W.'s articles: with this context in mind, then when these articles are also suggesting is that in terms of the "Farrell Corollaries" we are at the cusp of a Class I type.
And that may be the biggest "Corollary" of all: Whether or not we make it to Class II or III depends on our wising-up, and not turning the whole environment into a laboratory.
See you on the flip side...
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