4913 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh has an unusual decor. The Center for PostNatural History is a small museum with a diverse and bizarre mix of specimens: You will find a ribless mouse embryo, a sterile male screwworm, a copy of E. coli x1776 (a specimen that is harmless and outside the lab) and a transgenic BioSteel goat named Freckles, genetically engineered to produce spider silk proteins in its milk.
The theme of the museum, post-naturalism, is the study of the origins, habitats, and evolution of organisms intentionally and genetically modified by genetic engineering, as well as the impact of human culture and biotechnology on evolution. The slogan: "That was then. This is now, "adds his logo, an evolutionary tree with an arrow connecting two separate branches. Visitors are encouraged to consider that each specimen has a natural evolutionary history as well as a postnatural cultural history.
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As long as humans exist, we have influenced the flora and fauna of our planet. So, if humanity flourishes far into the future, how will nature change? And how could this genetic manipulation affect our own biology and evolutionary evolution? The short answer: It will be strange, potentially beautiful and like nothing we are used to.
Romantically, we may still consider everything that has not been selectively bred, industrialized, or intentionally genetically modified as natural and "original." , However, there is very little nature left that does not somehow carry the sticky fingerprints of humanity. Since our ancestors spread out of Africa about 50 to 70,000 years ago, while they refreshed the megafauna and thereby radically changed the landscape, our species has shaped and changed nature.
Over Millennia Our influence on many taxonomic groups has been profound. Our nutritional needs mean that 70% of all birds that currently live are chickens and other poultry, enough to build their own geological strata. Human hunting, competition, and habitat destruction have destroyed so many large animal species that the average size of mammals has dropped, according to paleo-biologist Felisa Smith of the University of New Mexico. There is already an irreversible loss of biodiversity and species.
However, our previous influence on nature may only be the beginning. New genetic tools promise a step in the ability to manipulate organisms. We move into the future, where the selection of positive traits in crops or animals, which are still tedious and time-consuming due to natural variation, is no longer necessary. With more and more accurate editing methods for genomes, such as Crispr-Cas9, we can shift genes between genes, propel certain genes through natural populations, and even produce fully synthetic organisms. Bioengineering thus represents a new form of transmission, generation and inheritance of genetic information.
The modification of organisms also extends to the irrevocable eradication of certain species. Although humans have been at war with Anopheles mosquitoes for centuries by chemical, mechanical and other means, they remain one of the greatest natural enemies of humanity. Biotechnology has enabled the creation and release of hordes of sterile males that cause the number of populations to collapse when mating with wild females, and now mosquitoes that contain "gene drives" have passed on one sterility mutation to the next Generation accelerate developed.
With the onset of climate change, scientists and policymakers have begun to give priority to human-related ecosystem services, such as pollination and replenishment of fish stocks, and to consider how biotechnologically-engineered organisms or mechanical agents could be released into the wild ,
For example, as the corals in the Great Barrier Reef are at the final stage, research is currently underway to discover how heat-stable zooxanthella, the photosynthesizing symbiote of coral polyps, is released into the ocean. Walmart has patented mechanical pollinator drones that seem to be looking for future-proof operation. Recently, the US Advanced Defense Research Projects Agency (Darpa) has also awarded grants for the development of genetically engineered insects that carry viruses for gene manipulation of plants, purportedly for crop modification, but such technologies could be extended to ecosystems become.
If we focus on the distant future, how do these technologies change our relationship to the rest of life on Earth? Different tracks lie before us, from the holistic to the really foreign.
First, it is possible for us to choose to reduce our manipulation of nature and wildlife. After all, there are concerns very early about what might go wrong: For example, off-site genetic damage, in which the molecular "scissors" used to cut and insert DNA pieces have unintended effects, or become the recipient's ecosystems unstable in other, unpredictable situations
In this potential future trajectory, people could jointly decide to reforest nature and give space to non-humans to exist on a well-functioning planet, recognizing that the biosphere ( although already heavily influenced by humans). still represents a relatively whole and billions of years of strenuous form of adaptive complexity.
Mankind's powers and curiosity to manipulate the resources of life are seductive and steadily increasing
This would probably be the most effective way of protecting ecosystems and ensuring human survival on Earth in the long run. We could "turn around" a significant portion of the earth and focus food production on multi-story downtown locations. I would argue that this is an act that respects all forms – deer, wolves, bluebells, giraffes, and even humans – that needs life right now in the awareness that things will develop slowly and change without explicit interference ,
As much as I wish, I'm not sure the future trajectory is very likely. There is likely to be a national and market arms race to develop and implement technologies that continue to change in nature, not least to protect or patent important ecosystem services in the Anthropocene or Defense, or since the powers Humanity and the curiosity to manipulate the resources of life is seductive and constantly increasing. At the same time we are getting further and further separated from other organisms and ecosystems. In such a severed state, it is easier to think of radically altering the fabric of nature to fully support human interests.
Artists have speculated on what this might look like, such as Vincent Fournier, who introduced some of the chimeric organisms that we have. Maybe they do: some are supposed to stimulate rain, others react to environmental pollution.
In the film "Blade Runner," the screenwriters portrayed a world of manufactured humanoids and animals belonging to the corporations that created them. This dystopian future may have some truths, as even today's organisms, such as the BioSteel Goat, which is being exhibited in the PostNatural History Center, stand above the intellectual property rights of their extensions. It is conceivable that whole ecosystem services – such as pollination – belong to certain companies.
These biotechnologically-engineered agents are likely to be "fit" than their predecessors and become competitors as they are purposefully developed for satisfying purposes, human endeavors (and thus, preferably, our protection) or survival in an anthropically-altered world. As such, modified organisms are likely to either replace nature, or they will attempt to completely eliminate, either openly or covertly, relatively unreliable biological entities and populate them with synthesized drugs. It is a future that is likely to be fragile and fraught with complications and also lacking biophilia.
If you want to take a very far-sighted path, a biotechnology-engineered path for nature could even change our sense of what it means to be human. 19659002] In recent decades, many have speculated about how we could merge with silicon technology. This technophile, transhumanist view suggests that we may integrate with artificial intelligence to improve human sensory or intellectual abilities, or go to a digital realm after death to achieve some kind of immortality.
But what if our path merged with nature instead? Consider ecofeminist literature of the late twentieth century, as in the writings of Donna Haraway, who argued for a "green" transhumanism in which man associates himself with the animal and the vegetable in such a way that it is itself transformed. Perhaps the real benefit of artificial intelligence is in helping us transform genes and organisms into "sympoiesis" – a mutually beneficial hybridization with humans.
This post-natural future is far from the comfort zones of many people. It was explored in Jeff VanderMeer's novel Annihilation (part of the Brave New Weird genre), which became a Netflix movie starring Natalie Portman. In the story, a mysterious, shimmering zone opens in the rural USA where DNA is broken and spliced between the organisms, including soldiers and scientists being investigated. Although elements of the novel and film deal with concepts of dedication and acceptance for this basic fusion and participation in other life forms, the destruction and multiplication of genetic material is often portrayed as physical horror and motivation for volunteers. The Zone is declared self-destructive , The radical change in genomes goes hand in hand with the notion that human identity is completely lost, even though the results in the plants and animals in the zone are sometimes undeniably irritating.
In the distant future, consenting adults would welcome a symbiosis with useful extensions B. photosynthesizing organisms that could be stored in our skin in a similar way to the lichens rather than splicing the information from such organisms into our own genome. Or we go all the way and eternally put the genetic information of certain endangered animals in our line to become their advocates and information carriers into the future, as an intimate and protective act.
All this Potential Genetic manipulation may seem uncomfortable and alien to many people today. However, the philosophers have proposed two reflections on the transfer of information that would encompass these future paths, which I believe will become more important in the post-natural age.
The philosopher Timothy Morton of Rice University believes that we should do so not only face the beauty, but also the darkness and craziness of nature – an approach he calls "dark ecology". He is against the separation from nature by making them happy, and therefore makes us a foreign, alienated and increasingly corrupt influence. From this point of view, ecosystems are in constant flux, and climate change is seen as a kind of "global weirding" that alters and disturbs nature. Dark Ecology is a method of exploring and accepting the beauty and horror of mankind's manipulation of nature, much as VanderMeer has portrayed in Annihilation.
Similarly, "process philosophy" means that there are no real boundaries between them. Man and the environment, no individual and all things, including the flows into the future and their ways, are in constant flux. For example, the cells of our own bodies are the result of a symbiosis of two separate microbial lines in the past – a major evolutionary transition discovered by evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis. In addition, our genome is littered with the genetic and extracellular traces of viruses and other parasites, and in adulthood we have more cells in our body that belong to other (mainly bacterial) species than our own. The process philosophy indicates that we are inextricably linked to everything and a constant exchange of material and information.
In a broad future in which biotechnologies have matured and restrictions on gene transfer have been eliminated, we might be able to see radically changing evolutionary processes from the point of view of process philosophy or dark ecology. Put simply, a new form of genetic information transfer will have evolved, similar to the great evolutionary transitions of the past.
The transformation, which seems unlikely at present, remains the safest and most moral way for the future. However, assuming that biotechnology becomes more ubiquitous, it is unclear how exactly we will exist in the post-natural period. Much will depend on how we deal with the evolving climate change threat, but if humanity continues to affect nature, the future is likely to be a foreign land.
The constructed mouse embryos, BioSteel goat and fluorescent fish in the center of the PostNatural History can only be the beginning. As Gail Davies, an interdisciplinary researcher at Exeter University, has pointed out, this museum of strange creatures "does not celebrate this technological use of the immanence of life and is not a simple rejection. Instead, it's a careful study of how life could be lived together.
This article is part of a BBC Future series on the Foresight of Humanity which wishes to backtrack from the daily news cycle and broaden the lens of our current location in a timely manner. The modern society suffers from " temporal exhaustion ", said the sociologist Elise Boulding once. "If you are out of breath from dealing with the present all the time, there is no energy left to imagine the future," she wrote.
That's why the Deep Civilization season will explore what's really important in the wider arc of Human History and what it means to us and our descendants.
Lauren Holt is a researcher at the Existential Risk Research Center at the University of Cambridge. It examines the impact of humanity on biological complexity and the impact of technology on ecosystems.
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