In the latest issue of John Brockman's always-provocative EDGE e-newsletter, he presents a video of MIT researcher Drew Endy, a pioneer in synthetic biology. The idea of synthetic biology is to engineer modular genetic components that can be snapped together into biological systems that don't previously exist in nature. (More about synthetic biology can be found in articles I've written over the years here, here, and here.) From Endy's Edge video:
The big question, to come back to it, is, how do we make biology easy to engineer, and then the parallel question that comes along with that is, what are the consequences of success? If you look around the room that we're in, everything in the room is a synthetic or engineered artifact, right? From this stuff, to the wood itself, the materials here, even the air that we're breathing, has been engineered for temperature and humidity, so that it is easier for us to deal with.
The only thing that hasn't been engineered are the living things, ourselves. Again, what's the consequence of doing that at scale? Biotechnology is 30 years old; , it's a young adult. Most of the work is still to come, but how do we actually do it? Let's not talk about it, let's actually go do it, and then let's deal with the consequences in terms of how this is going to change ourselves, how the biosecurity framework needs to recognize that it's not going to be nation-state driven work necessarily, how an ownership sharing and innovation framework needs to be developed that moves beyond patent-based intellectual property and recognizes that the information defining the genetic material's going to be more important than the stuff itself and so you might transition away from patents to copyright and so on and so forth.