Sunday, July 22, 2012


They call it a modern version of alchemy – at the Imperial College in London, the Centre for Synthetic Biology - the design and creation of forms of life that have never existed in nature. If God wasn’t dead before he sure is dead now because what our scientists are doing is playing at being God or endeavouring to. On this over-crowded planet where each day mankind encroaches more and more on the natural habitat, destroying it and its wildlife as he goes, we have artificial insemination, cloning, GM crops and now this; the creation of new forms of life. A report for the Royal Academy of Engineering concludes that this new science is of "critical importance to building a nation's wealth". Here we go again; in the end it always seems to come down to money. ‘Imagine bacteria,’ it goes, ‘fitted with artificial DNA, harnessed to churn out an anti-malaria vaccine.’ – That evidently is already happening in California. Is California swarming with malaria carrying mosquitoes? First I’ve heard of it, but then I am a bit of an ignoramus on the subject of California.
‘Or imagine bacteria with synthetic genes that make them light up when parasites are detected in drinking water - that has been proven to work at Imperial. Or imagine organisms transformed into factories to make us fuel or materials, or engineered to gobble up oil spills and industrial pollution, or crafted to provide the power and wiring for the next generation of computers.’ When a leading scientist was asked where this could lead, he replied impatiently: "That's like wondering back in the 1960s what a computer could do - who can tell?" Who can tell indeed? Remember Frankenstein my friends, remember thalidomide and wonder just what you are going to unleash on an unsuspecting world. Actually it could, on the other hand, be the saving of the planet as it wipes us all out and everything has to start all over again. Instead of another ice-age we will have a microbe age. Brave new world. Is it at all possible for nature ever to be controlled or will nature eventually enact its revenge? In a musical I wrote many years ago based on the Cupid and Psyche legend (just another one never performed alas) a line in a lyric reads, ‘chase out nature and she comes back at the double.’ Maybe instead of ‘chase’ it should read ‘change.’

One comment on the article reads – I am trying to imagine the possibilities but unfortunately my imagination stops at the four legged chicken. Many a true word as the old saying goes. Wow! Imagine it! Four drumsticks! Now that is progress.

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