Friday, June 21, 2013

#172 / That Golden Glow

The techniques of "synthetic biology" are being mobilized to create a plant that will glow in the dark. The Glowing Plant Project, which has mounted a campaign through the crowd funding website Kickstarter, seeks to engineer the thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) to emit weak, green-blue light by endowing it with genetic circuitry from fireflies. If the non-commercial project succeeds, thousands of Kickstarter supporters will receive seeds to plant wherever they wish. At least, that is what Ewen Callaway is reporting, in the online journal Nature.

Not everyone thinks that this Glowing Plant Project is a brilliant idea. The Avaaz Community Petitions website tried (apparently unsuccessfully) to mobilize public opinion against the idea, and to persuade Kickstarter not to disburse the money they have been collecting for the project. Ecofarm, the Ecological Farming Association, also urged members of the public to try to persuade Kickstarter not to provide funding.

As far as I can tell, Kickstarter was not impressed. Kickstarter reports that 8,433 backers have pledged $484,013 to the project (far surpassing the $65,000 goal).

The invention and dispersion of synthetic chemicals and synthetic materials into the natural environment has not proven to be benign. How much more perilous when our synthetic creations are "alive." I continue to believe that human beings are putting the World of Nature in great peril when we presume to be able to reengineer nature to human specifications. Insofar as we are, ourselves,  dependent on the World of Nature, we are endangering our own lives, and all our works, when we attempt to configure nature to our whims. 

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