Not if certain biologists have their way.
Synthetic biologists use chemically synthesized DNA to create organisms. It's potentially a transformative technology. In theory, with synthetic biology scientists may one day "raise from the dead" species that have long been extinct. But more proximately, synthetic biology holds the potential to address human needs like toxic waste clean-up and enhanced fuel production.
At the same time, the prospect of new species for which native species and natural ecosystems are unprepared raises pressing ethical and safety questions.
In "Synthetic Biology and Conservation of Nature: Wicked Problems and Wicked Solution," a new paper in PLOS Biology, a group of scientists argue that synthetic biology is useful enough to warrant an urgent dialogue about what we mean by "natural," how governments and scientists can weigh private and public benefits with private and public risks, and how the world can best anticipate what will happen when newly created synthetic life forms ... evolve.
If the current controversy about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the food chain is any indicator, it promises to be a conversation fraught with suspicion.
Lead author Kent Redford of the Wildlife Conservation Society, the science-based conservation organization that manages the Bronx Zoo, the New York Aquarium, the Central Park Zoo, the Prospect Park Zoo, and the Queens Zoo, acknowledges that "synthetic biology and conservation communities are largely strangers to one another, even though they both share many of the same concerns and goals. An open discussion between the two communities is needed to help identify areas of collaboration on a topic that will likely change the relationship of humans with the natural world.”
+ + +
Redford KH, Adams W, Mace GM (2013) Synthetic Biology and Conservation of Nature: Wicked Problems and Wicked Solutions. PLoS Biol 11(4): e1001530. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001530