Biology, Engineering, and the Nature of Life

Biology, Engineering, and the Nature of Life

Several days ago, while in the kitchen making something to eat, I had the radio on and caught an interesting show. Here is the link: (So-Called) Life – produced by RadioLab; and this is how describes this particular show: “The uneasy marriage of biology and engineering raises big questions about the nature of life.”

The last ten minutes of the broadcast I found particularly pertinent. It is there that we hear J. Craig Venter being quoted (from a talk he gave at a New York City venue). Venter is quoted as stating “We’re messing our nests, something terrible.” I can’t disagree with that part, at all. But Venter is also quoted as stating that “bioengineering is our last hope.” And, we hear him state that bioengineering is “probably our one major chance of having our species survive on this planet.”

Our last hope? Really? That kind of thinking could also pave the way for it becoming humankind’s greatest nightmare. We’re already on a trajectory where in the rudderless direction in which we are heading, something like CRISPR/Cas9, will, in due time, comparatively speaking, look as primitive as a slingshot. But I would also hasten to add that at some future point, the level of scientific understanding that is today married to the use of such technology, will someday likely be viewed (in hindsight) as being just as primitive.

Reading through some of the posted comments on the RadioLab website that pertain to their “(So-Called) Life” broadcast, I’m somewhat relieved that at least some people really do get it. Like “Patricia Shifrin from New York,” for example, whose comment was posted March 8, 2016: “I can’t believe you ended this program by throwing up your hands and saying ‘oh oh, what to do, what to do?’ while reinforcing the false assumption that ‘we can’t stop science.’ We CAN stop science. We do it often. Science made nuclear bombs but we’ve agreed not to use them. Science made nuclear reactors but we’ve agreed that their operation is risky and have slowed their proliferation. The notion that we can’t control science is absurd. Many bioengineers and geneticists are begging for the development of ethical guidelines to help them move their research into areas that help humanity, rather than endanger it. Do a show about that! …” Indeed.

I have many ideas related to how to go about addressing these concerns; and I crave having the wherewithal someday to finally be able to write about and disseminate some of these ideas. But that’s just one specific objective I have; in terms of what I’m aiming to achieve, overall. That’s not the big picture, by any means; that’s just one small portion of the big picture (in terms of what we need to be doing, if we are ever to get on course towards saving the planet).