Not content to "go to college" or "work in a lab" many are turning to their own garages as a practical place to try their hand at genetic engineering. This is big news to TAE; any day now I plan to invent a genetic alteration to give myself psychic and telekenetic powers.
As a way to keep things fresh and appealing here at TAE, I have decided to allow my colleague, Sean, to take point-counterpoint with me on this topic. Sean may contribute more often, if he behaves.
TAE: I am in favor of "garage" genetic engineering. For the sake of our fingers, Sean, let's call it GGE for the rest of this article.
Sean: Okay. And I am against GGE?
TAE: If we had the freedom to cheaply genetically engineer, we could find many new treatments for diseases.
Sean: Or, we could unleash a terrible, untreatable disease on the world.
TAE: Here's a great example of how this could be a good thing: I have always had this idea to create a bacteria that uses sunlight to gather energy, and its metabolic pathway takes Iron (III) Oxide (2 irons and three oxygens), commonly known as rust, and converts it into iron and ozone. A spacecraft could seed this bacteria all over Mars, where it would quickly help develop a thicker atmosphere, while using the plentiful surface iron on the planet. When colonists came to the planet years later, they'd have a huge supply of purified iron to help them build their cities.
Sean: Of course, the astronauts will never make it because the human race will have been wiped out by a super-virus accidentally released from somebody's garage lab.
TAE: That seems a little far fetched to me. Where would someone come up with the components necessary to create a supervirus? It's not like you can just call up the CDC and say "Hey, can I have some free samples of Hanta virus? I'd like to try to combine it with a flesh-eating virus and the common cold." I don't think its practical to believe that deadly bacteria and virii are readily accessible to GGE experimenters.
Sean: Well, a pandemic apocalypse may be far-fetched, I agree. But you can't discount that people who do this won't always do it with the best intentions.
TAE: That's true of all sciences. Nuclear fission can be used for power generation or mass murder, depending on the user's motives. But in this case we're only talking about minor bacterial genome changes. We're not talking about glowing rabbits, or three-headed pet dogs. Those kinds of genetic projects do required a massive lab with multi-million dollar equipment.
Sean: Yeah, well the internet used to be a government pet project, and now look at it. We can use it for free, wirelessly, in many places across the globe. All I'm going to say is that this puts us one step closer to the coming zombie apocalypse.
TAE: I guess I better invest in a chainsaw assault rifle.
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