Synthetische Biologie: die vollautomatische Produktion des Lebens

Heute ein weiterer Beitrag zum Ersten Internationalen Strategietreffen „The Future of the Commons“ in Crottdorf. (Teil 7, min 31ff) Dieses Mal zur Debatte über Synthetische Biologie und Geo-engineering (Wie bitte?)

Der Input ist von Pat Mooney, dessen Beitrag zur Nanotech ich bereits dokumentiert habe. Auch heute nur in englischer Sprache. Kurze Reflektion dazu auf deutsch kommt morgen. Los geht’s. Im Wortsinn aufregende Lektüre wünsch ich!

„The next is Synthetic Biology… or Nanobiotechnology, which really works on the same scale. In Synthetic Biology the idea of moving one gene from a species to another is rather absurd, because, over the last decade we’ve learned a lot about DNA and proteins and RNA. Our sense of how things work has changed dramatically. The Human Genome mapping project has been a project that said; there are 3 billion base pairs and there must be at least 150.000 or so genes. While in ’75 we thought, that there was 23.000 or less genes in the human genome, and we thought, that there was chunk DNA, that 90 % of the DNA of any species is not used. Actually, it is not chunk any more. It has a purpose but we don’t quit know what happens. So, our sense of that has changed and with it the idea of moving one gene from one species to another.

What synthetic biology says is: we build it ourselves. We make our own DNA; we construct life from bottom up. And that has been done, quite a time ago in fact, building synthetic chromosomes has been possible for 10 or more years or so. The work, which is most famous, is the work of Craig Venter, (NOTE for german readers: This is a link to a Craig Venters text in German. Don’t miss it! S.H.) which is a sort of the bad boy in science. He was working on mapping the Human Genome, he was the one who worked for the NIH in the United States, who had a primus sector effort to map the human genome.
Venter is now saying that he will make a self replicating synthetic life forms sometimes in the next few month. He has been saying that for two years now, „sometime in the next few month“. He hasn’t done it yet, but he has got the patents to do so. Actually, no one doubts, that he will be able to do make self-replicating lifeforms. That’s not an issue of controversy. It’s not even thought to be hard science. It’s simply thought to be time-consuming and expensive, it’s just complicated.

The interest here, even if I can get very excited about the dangers of this, the point is not that, the point is: the socio-economic implications of that all.

If you look who are the companies in synthetic biology, they are the biggest chemistry companies: BASF, DOW, BAYER, MONSANTO, DSN and so on, are all behind this. They are the most involved together with the big energy companies.

We had a meeting last December with representatives of those companies and the interesting thing for me was, that there are no longer interested in agriculture, per say, or in any specific area of living materials. What was fascinating was why: only 23.8 percent of biomass has been commodified already, that means, that the rest hasn’t been commodified yet. So, this 76,2 % is not considered „useful“ at this stage. So, they want to build synthetic organisms to use that biomass to convert it into „useful“ sugars, into plastics or other materials.

In terms of commons, what they are saying is: A big part of the commons isn’t accessible to industry, they want to make it accessible, they want to commodify that. And they see that is a multitrillion market for producing energy out of biomass, but also a 1,8 trillion Dollar market for plastics and 1.2 trillion Dollar market for other bio-materials. So it’s a pretty much huge market to control. And with that the so called marginalized lands, that are the pharmacies and pastures of the poor can be taken over around the world.

And they recognized that, what they are doing – those synthetic microbes – can enclose systems and turn cellulose fiber into useful materials, and that’s the goal. There are other interests as well, things like health, other possibilities that can be pursued and so on, but really it is biomass, that’s why we call them „biomasters“. The goal is that kind of control.

Of course we also talk about concerns for health and environmental issues, but that’s parts of it.

The wider context – and I am not talking about Neurosciences, there are incredible things going on there and it’s going to be even faster than in SynBio – but in a wider context, our concern is, that they have the perfect environment in which to introduce these technologies: The environment is: the shock of climate change and that government realize that they can no longer get together and have tea. And then combine that to the shock of the food crises, and the shock of the financial crises.

All this is a perfect opportunity to be pushing these technologies, saying: these are the „solutions, don‘ t worry, we can solve those problems for you!“

If you are worried about peak oil…. „Don’t worry, there will be a second generation of fiber fuels“.

If you are worried about the disappearance of phosphates or titanium or platinum or lithium or something else. „Don’t worry, we will gonna replace this for you with the nanotech.“ If you are worried about climate change, they will say: „Don’t worry, there are new strategies.“

Actually BASF got a patent last year on plants that can absorbe more carbondioxide. The whole idea is to use their pesticides in order to allow to sequester carbondioxide, but this is another question…

There are all these strategies for climate ready crops, that will allow us adapt our ecosystems and our trees and so on to absorbe more carbondioxide and other greenhouse gases.

That area is called geo-engineering.

We think their strategy is the following; since governments will not being able to address the issue of climate change, they will say: „There will be no choice but to accept, that we need to geo-engineer the planet to survive.“

And of course the proof of principle is well established. „We geo-engineered the planet into this mess, in the first place. So we proved, we can geo-engineer the planet.“ That’s not the question. Science is clear. It can be done. The question is only, how can we get out of this?. And the real question is: Who controls the firms, when they do the geo-engineering, who makes that decision?
Two or three years ago, the crazy ideas of the ‚8o and ’90, that we could put up solar screens, that we could
change the surface of the ocean to absorb green house gases, that we could have umbrellas and so on in the sky or blow sulfur (?) into the stratosphere to divert light and so on. All of this ideas – which were recognized to be nuts – are back on the table now, and being considered very seriously by major science bodies and governments.

And we believe that after the failure of Copenhaguen in December 2009, they will say:

Well, we have no choice, folks. That’s all we can do. We have to.“ We have no other choice than try out some of those strategies, we have to invest in those industries, that may make those things possible. And that’s what industry is looking for.

The right wing think thanks in the United States, two years ago didn’t believe that there was such a thing as geo-engineer the planet. They are now the leading advocates for geo-engineering, because they now know, that they can make a profit out of it. Now, they want to convince us, that nanotech and synbio and so on are the tools to allow to do that.
So again, it’s a kind of geopiracy in a sense, of the stratossphere and the ocean surface and so on.

To give another example, as crazy as it sounds, last week the National Science Foundation of the US together with the Royal Foundation of the UK – both have made major studies of geo-engineering, both will come up with the same thing before Copenhague: They will basically say: „This is really scary but we have no choice, but to take it seriously and to invest in it, as the only way out of the situation we are in.“ And they will surrender to industry.

In all these cases the thing that scares me the most is the corporatism of it all. That industry is going out to say, we need – all those protections that I already mentioned for biotech – we need them again in order to save ourselves from climate change and food crises and so on. „Give us the tools we need!“ And the governments will give it to them. The especially attractive thing of geoengineering, in relation to nanotechnology, syn-biotech or anything else is, that it’s relatively cheap.

It’s really cheap. And anyone of the 45 different billionaires out there, they can do it themselves.

And the scary thing is that, one government can do it alone. The US government can walk away from the table in Copenhaguen, or Germany can walk away from the table, and say: „We have our own thing: We will do that.“ It doesn’t require the consensus of countries to geoengineer the planet.

So for me the threat to the commons, they are really under pressure now, are:

  1. the threat on biodiversity and life by synthetic biology

  2. the threat to the Period of tables, which is being attacked by nanotechnology

  3. and the earth, which is being attacked by geo-engineering“

(Alle Hervorhebungen von mir.)

Foto: Synthetic Biology Research at NASA Ames, by Lizenz: CC BY

4 Gedanken zu „Synthetische Biologie: die vollautomatische Produktion des Lebens

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  2. Pingback: Sammelsurium am 18. August 2009 « Text | Design | Code

  3. Pingback: Alternativer Nobelpreisträger Pat Mooney warnt vor Geoengineering zur Lösung der Weltprobleme | Gemeingüter

  4. Pingback: Synthetische Biologie: die vollautomatische Produktion des Lebens « CommonsBlog | Claudia Troßmann | Fundgrube

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