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The Biotech Century
Playing Ecological Roulette with Mother Nature's Designs
We are in the midst of a great historic transition into the Biotech Age. The ability to isolate, identify and recombine
genes is making the gene pool available, for the first time, as the primary raw resource for future economic activity
on Earth. After thousands of years of fusing, melting, soldering, forging and burning inanimate matter to create useful
things, we are now splicing, recombining, inserting and stitching living material for our own economic interests. Lord
Ritchie-Calder, the British science writer, cast the biological revolution in the proper historical perspective when he
observed that "just as we have manipulated plastics and metals, we are now manufacturing living materials."
The Nobel Prize-winning chemist Robert F. Curl of Rice University spoke for many of his colleagues in science when
he proclaimed that the 20th century was "the century of physics and chemistry. But it is clear that the next century
will be the century of biology."
Global "life-science" companies promise an economic renaissance in the coming Biotech Century--they offer a door
to a new era of history where the genetic blueprints of evolution itself become subject to human authorship. Critics
worry that the re-seeding of the Earth with a laboratory-conceived second Genesis could lead to a far different
future--a biological Tower of Babel and the spread of chaos throughout the biological world, drowning out the ancient
language of creation.
A Second Genesis
Human beings have been remaking the Earth for as long as we have had a history. Up to now, however, our ability
to create our own second Genesis has been tempered by the restraints imposed by species boundaries. We have
been forced to work narrowly, continually crossing close relatives in the plant or animal kingdoms to create new
varieties, strains and breeds. Through a long, historical process of tinkering and trial and error, we have redrawn the
biological map, creating new agricultural products, new sources of energy, more durable building materials, and
life-saving pharmaceuticals. Still, in all this time, nature dictated the terms of engagement.
But the new technologies of the Genetic Age allow scientists, corporations and governments to manipulate the
natural world at the most fundamental level--the genetic one. Imagine the wholesale transfer of genes between
totally unrelated species and across all biological boundaries--plant, animal and human--creating thousands of novel
life forms in a brief moment of evolutionary time. Then, with clonal propagation, mass-producing countless replicas of
these new creations, releasing them into the biosphere to propagate, mutate, proliferate and migrate. This is, in fact,
the radical scientific and commercial experiment now underway.
Global Powers at Play