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  • Writer's pictureDennis Hammett

The future: Designing Genomes!

“John Von Neumann designed and built the first electronic computer that operated with instruction coded into the machine. He invented software. He knew that computers would change the world. But he envisioned them as becoming bigger and more costly. He had no inkling of the real future of computers, becoming small and cheap enough to be used by everyone including children.”

“Besides providing entertainment, the domestication of computers has provided the tools that make small scientific enterprises possible. Amateur astronomers discover earthlike planets thousands of light years away. Chemist working on a tabletop can measure precisely the production of natural gas two hundred kilometers down in mantle of the earth.”

“I recently spent a happy day at the Philadelphia flower show, where flower breeders from all over the world show off the results of their efforts. I have also visited the Reptile Show in San Diego, an equally impressive show displaying the work of another set of breeders. Every orchid or rose or lizard or snake is the work of a dedicated skilled breeder. There are thousands of people, amateurs and professionals, who devote their lives to this business. Now imagine what will happen when the tools of genetic engineering become accessible to these people. There will be do-it-yourself kits for gardeners who will use genetic engineering to breed new varieties of roses and orchids. Also kits for lovers of pigeons and parrots and lizards and snakes to breed new varieties of pets. Breeders of dogs and cats will have their kits too.”

“Domesticated biotechnology, will give us an explosion of diversity of new living creatures rather than the monoculture of crops that big corporations prefer. New lineages will proliferate to replace those that monoculture farming and deforestation have destroyed, Designing genomes will be a personal thing, a new art form as creative as painting or sculpture. Few of the new creations will be masterpieces but all will bring joy to their creators and variety to our fauna and flora. The final step in the domestication of biotechnology will be biotech games, designed like computer games for children down to kindergarten age but played with real eggs and seeds rather than with image on a screen. Playing such games, kids will acquire an intimate feeling for the organisms that they are growing, The winner could be the kid whose seed grows the prickliest cactus or a kid whose egg hatches the cutest dinosaur.”

“The domestication of biotechnology may be helpful in solving practical economic and environmental problems. Once a new generation of children has grown up, as familiar with biotech games as our grandchildren are now with computer games, biotechnology will no longer seen weird and alien. In the era of Open Source biology, the magic of genes will be available to anyone with the skill and imagination to use it.”

Freeman J Dyson, Professor Emeritus of Physics.

The Institute of Advanced Study. Princeton University

From his book, “A Many Colored Glass, Reflections on the Place of Life in the Universe.”

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