By Daniel Taylor
“Within 50 years we could have more life forms invented in a lab than we have ever identified in nature.” – Fidelity Investments
“This year [Evolva] will release a product that has been created by genetically modified yeast that converts sugars to vanillin. It will be the first major synthetic-biology food additive to hit supermarkets.” – Nature.com
A Switzerland based company called Evolva has developed a synthetic vanilla that is set to be released in 2014. The vanilla is created using a process of genetic engineering called synthetic biology.
Synthetic biology, according to a 2005 European Commission paper is “…the engineering of biology… the synthesis of complex, biologically based (or inspired) systems which display functions that do not exist in nature.” Unlike the older science of splicing genes from different species together, synthetic biology is seeking to create whole new organisms that do not exist on earth.
Evolva’s synthetic vanilla is created by inserting computer coded DNA into yeast. This new method of genetic engineering is called “natural” by Evolva.
Environmental organizations like Friends of the Earth have recognized the potential danger posed by synthetic biology. In its Synthetic Biology Vanillin fact sheet, FoE points out the distinct lack of oversight regarding the health impact of ingesting these engineered ingredients. The organization has launched a campaign called No Synbio Vanilla to tell ice cream makers Haagen Dazs, Dreyers, Baskin Robbins and others not to use synthetic biology vanilla.
Foods that have been genetically modified in the “traditional” method have been linked to sterility in hamsters. The dramatic rise in food allergies has also been speculated to be linked to GMO foods. What health impacts will emerge after eating foods with synthetic DNA that our environment and our bodies have never before encountered?
The Big Picture
Synthetic biology goes well beyond engineering our food. Geneticist Craig Venter is a pioneer in the field of synthetic biology. In 2010 the media hailed his team’s success in creating “the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer.”
Currently, companies cannot patent naturally occuring DNA. Synthetic biology will allow syn-bio companies a loophole through patent laws. “One could theoretically upload a DNA sequence onto a computer, “print out” an exact copy of that DNA sequence, and patent the synthetic DNA sequence as an invention,” Gene Watch reports.
Google founder Larry Page met with Craig Venter in California at the Edge billionaires meeting in 2010. Also present were representatives from the State department, Bill Gates, Anne Wojcicki, Bill Joy and dozens of other tech company CEO’s and scientists.
The Edge Billionaire meetings have discussed the future of genetic engineering, biocomputation and re-designing humanity in a transhumanist era. Physicist Freeman Dyson described the individuals leading this group as having god-like power to create entirely new species on earth in a “New Age of Wonder”. He describes them as:
“…a new generation of artists, writing genomes as fluently as Blake and Byron wrote verses, might create an abundance of new flowers and fruit and trees and birds to enrich the ecology of our planet.”
In the societal divide that will inevitably ensue over the development of these technologies, Fred Charles Ikle, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy under President Reagan, sees a possibility of “Annihilation from Within.” “The prospect is that in the decades ahead, biotechnology – together with other sciences – may fundamentally change the human species and thus pose an elemental threat to democracy, the world order, and indeed to all civilizations,” writes Ikle.
The technological elite are engaged in a mission to attain full spectrum dominance over life and its complex processes, and in the process re-write the genetic code of the planet.