Re: GENE/SOC: Playing Devil's Advocate

From: Robert J. Bradbury (
Date: Sun Apr 30 2000 - 10:19:08 MDT

> On 4/29/00 1:33:34 PM PDT, I asked the trillion dollar question:
> > Should we create a long term goal the neutering of all rapidly
> > replicating biomass species, especially bacteria, and modify
> > them so they cannot support rapidly mutating viruses, so as to
> > reduce our long term risks of extinction?

On Sat, 29 Apr 2000 wrote:
> I don't think that would be a reasonable option. The amount of work is
> at least as staggering as the ongoing "green goo" experiment is.

Well the "green goo" doesn't view it as work, it views it as "survival"...
Also, I think you are significantly overestimating what it would take
to recreate a few dozen bacteria in various environmental niches to
accomplish the chemistry required in those niches. The "work" is
in the evolution of the tools (enzymes). Once we have those catalogued
and understand the function, cutting & pasting them into new genomes
is not terribly difficult. There is already one biotech firm that
claims to be able to do "switches-by-design" (i.e. the human design
of the molecules that turn on/off genes in genomes). There are others
that have been doing design of catalytic enzymes & ribozymes for
several years as well. So even now we seem to have the knowledge
required to synthesize new functions as necessary.

Part of the threat of the system is its complexity. Every time an
organism mutates so as to occupy a niche, it may create several more
niches between itself and its former competitors that may be occupied
by future organisms. As Susan Powters(sp?) says at some point we have
to "Stop the Madness", because the ever increasing complexity is what
may guarantee that something will figure out how to eat us for lunch.

> A much more realistic option would be basic hygenic measures,
> essentially each person ultrafiltering everything they contact.

Not a bad approach. Ideally you would want to retrofit it so its
a permanent add-on. I have my doubts as to whether that could be
done with biotech. It might require hard nanotech.

> Further, the kinds of techniques that could obliterate environmental
> organisms are necessarily related to the techniques that could obliterate
> us, and I'd very much rather such techniques weren't used on a wide scale.

But we already have methods to obliterate us. The Russians, for example
have recently asked for a treaty allowed delay in disposing of something
like 40,000 tons worth. You actually may not need to develop machines
that have to run around killing other organisms, you simply have to
retrofit the genomes so they are slightly more efficient, then they
will outcompete the existing organisms. You could also program them
with suicide switches in case they (by some much less than likely to
occur with current organisms chance) became pathogenic.


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