The Biotech Century: Harnessing The Gene And Remaking The World By

964 words - 4 pages

We are in the midst of a great historic transition into the Biotech Age. The ability to isolate, identify and recombine genes is making the gene pool available, for the first time, as the primary raw resource for future economic activity on Earth. After thousands of years of fusing, melting, soldering, forging and burning inanimate matter to create useful things, we are now splicing, recombining, inserting and stitching living material for our own economic interests. Lord Ritchie-Calder, the British science writer, cast the biological revolution in the proper historical perspective when he observed that "just as we have manipulated plastics and metals, we are now manufacturing living materials."The Nobel Prize-winning chemist Robert F. Curl of Rice University spoke for many of his colleagues in science when he proclaimed that the 20th century was "the century of physics and chemistry. But it is clear that the next century will be the century of biology."Global "life-science" companies promise an economic renaissance in the coming Biotech Century--they offer a door to a new era of history where the genetic blueprints of evolution itself become subject to human authorship. Critics worry that the re-seeding of the Earth with a laboratory-conceived second Genesis could lead to a far different future--a biological Tower of Babel and the spread of chaos throughout the biological world, drowning out the ancient language of creation.A Second Genesis.Human beings have been remaking the Earth for as long as we have had a history. Up to now, however, our ability to create our own second Genesis has been tempered by the restraints imposed by species boundaries. We have been forced to work narrowly, continually crossing close relatives in the plant or animal kingdoms to create new varieties, strains and breeds. Through a long, historical process of tinkering and trial and error, we have redrawn the biological map, creating new agricultural products, new sources of energy, more durable building materials, and life-saving pharmaceuticals. Still, in all this time, nature dictated the terms of engagement.But the new technologies of the Genetic Age allow scientists, corporations and governments to manipulate the natural world at the most fundamental level--the genetic one. Imagine the wholesale transfer of genes between totally unrelated species and across all biological boundaries--plant, animal and human--creating thousands of novel life forms in a brief moment of evolutionary time. Then, with clonal propagation, mass-producing countless replicas of these new creations, releasing them into the biosphere to propagate, mutate, proliferate and migrate. This is, in fact, the radical scientific and commercial experiment now underway.Global Powers at Play.Typical of new biotech trends is the bold decision by the Monsanto Corporation, long a world leader in chemical products, to sell off its entire chemical division in 1997 and anchor its research, development and...

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