ET is dead, GM killed him

I remember looking at Drake’s equation as an undergrad and wondering why, given the 100 Billion galaxies and 100 Billion other solar systems within the universe that nice Mr. Sagan told us about, we hadn’t met any of the other inhabitants. Or at least we weren’t aware of it.

Recently I’ve thought of a simple conjecture that may explain it. The only model of scientific discovery we have is our own, so I can but anthropomorphize, BUT the physics, medicine and chemistry of interstellar travel is arguably much more complicated than genetic engineering. Never mind intergalactic travel. Last I heard, we’re not planning to travel to another solar system but we now have the tools to modify the DNA of us and every other living organism on the planet. Our tools are crude but advancing quickly. Yet the effects of these modifications could be promethean.

We can create a social class system based on genetic improvements promoting health, age, intelligence, beauty etc. We can create super crops that are transgenic with unintended consequences based on the crude copy & paste nature of GM crop engineering.  By copy & paste, I mean taking DNA sequences from one species and adding them to another without absolutely understanding the implications of doing so. Should our tobacco plants glow in the dark courtesy of firefly genes? Are we risking extinction of vital insect species (e.g. honey bees) in an endless battle with nature? Perhaps the road to extinction is paved with scientific revolutions and good intentions.

I wonder whether it’s inevitable and universal that any species that evolves to create “technology” must also face the risk of extinction through genetic experimentation on themselves and their environment. I’m not arguing for ludditism or anything like it but we’re GM gung-ho for reasons of fun and profit. It’s exciting technology and it is massively lucrative.

Sure many people have suggested this before but it’s a sobering thought.