Crowdfunded US biohackers are set to make world’s first deliberate environmental release of a ‘synthetic biology’ organism
Who wouldn’t want a flower that can glow in the dark? And what if it were pitched as the coming wave of a sustainable future, in which luminous plants and trees supplant light bulbs and street-lamps? You might even be tempted to buy one, right?
At first glance, it’s hard not to be seduced by a new crowd-funded Kickstarter.com project to engineer and circulate glow-in-the-dark plants. Especially when the US company behind it invokes the possibility of turning your living room into the glowing Pandora landscape of the Avatar movie.
Except this project is anything but a benign science trick. These plants are being re-engineered using a highly controversial new technique by a biotech company that could side-step the possibility of regulation – and build public acceptance of a wider corporate-backed quest to manipulate nature and profit off of it.
If you think twice before buying GM foods, welcome to the risky world of synthetic biology. Instead of shifting existing genes from one species to another, this extreme form of genetic engineering allows practitioners to write entirely new genetic codes on computers and then insert them into living organisms – or to create new life-forms from nothing but a few bottles of chemicals. It’s a field quickly moving from lab to commercial production. As of this moment it hasn’t yet stepped into the great outdoors – but this Kickstarter project may be about to break that barrier.