Re: GENE/SOC: Playing Devil's Advocate

Date: Sun Apr 30 2000 - 11:38:49 MDT

In a message dated 4/30/00 9:19:48 AM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:

> 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.

Actually I'm primarily thinking in terms of getting rid
of the millions, perhaps billions, of microbial species
already about on this planet. We have tried to introduce
microbial species, and so far they consistently get wiped
out by the current residents.

>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.

Real interesting to see your take on this. I'm in an
ecologically oriented biology department, and they say
the same thing about diversity - but they like
biodiversity and don't worry much about plagues,
so they see it as good!

>> 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.

We can stop current organisms just fine with current technology. (although
it would be pretty expensive!) Both autoclaves and 0.22 micron filters
stop anything cellular. Naturally there will be some leakage, due
to Murphy's law and incompetence. However, we don't have to stop
*everything*, we just need to get transmission and spread rates of a
novel airborne pathogen down to the point where we can take countermeasures.

>> 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.

Current biowarfare wouldn't even come close to obliterating us. Nukes
obliterate us, although they might get society. In either case, though, they
don't get used.

>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.

So far, that's been the hardest part. The problem is a) every subtle
environmental change alters what's most efficient and b) there are
so many things out there with so many highly evolved and efficient
techniques. We can't yet even match 2-protein transposable elements.
Just yesterday I heard one of the botanists say the world expert on
tomato transposons is having to use chemicals for his mutagenesis
because he can't make a competent transposon. (For those not in
the know, transposons are much preferred for mutatgenesis as you
can use the transposon to locate the desired mutation. With chemicals
or radiation, you have an enormous mapping and sequencing job to
find the change that does what you want.)

>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.

It's the prospect of some Deep Green, terrorist, hacker, or government
installing a back door that gives me the willies. Eventually, somebody
can design a "people-killer" in a skunkworks with the knowledge of
super-ribosomes (or whatever), ecological design, and such that a
"world clean-up" program would require. Such a day will come, I know,
but I'd prefer to delay it as much as possible to maximize defense
opportunities such as redesign/diversification of humans/transhumans,
uploading, space colonization, and the kinds of hygenic measures I

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