Gloriously batty

piece by Freeman Dyson, which I found when catching up with the NYRB: he foresees personal biotech kits, analogous to personal computers.

The first step in this direction was already taken recently, when genetically modified tropical fish with new and brilliant colors appeared in pet stores. For biotechnology to become domesticated, the next step is to become user-friendly. I recently spent a happy day at the Philadelphia Flower Show, the biggest indoor flower show in the world, 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. Philadelphia excels in orchids and roses, San Diego excels in lizards and snakes. The main problem for a grandparent visiting the reptile show with a grandchild is to get the grandchild out of the building without actually buying a snake.
Every orchid or rose or lizard or snake is the work of a dedicated and 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, once it gets into the hands of housewives and children, will give us an explosion of diversity of new living creatures, rather than the monoculture crops that the 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.

And what wonderful bats will arise from this battiness!

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3 Responses to Gloriously batty

  1. David Mackinder says:

    of course, it’s not the first batty idea Dyson has had — rockets propelled by nuclear explosions being one his famous earlier ones. Also worth noting: he’s the author of one of the most engaging scientific memoirs ever written, Disturbing the Universe.

  2. Mrs Tilton says:

    I want my pigoon!

  3. Rupert says:

    I recently saw a TV documentary about the Orion project, which had a lot of Freeman Dyson talking to camera. He really could pass for a Doctor Who alien with very little latex.

    Thing about Orion: it would have worked. It may also be the only way to deal with errant comets and asteroids – and what’s a few thousand airburst nukes in exchange for that, eh?

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