Saturday, July 25, 2009
The biology revolution
As some of you know, I am a (semi) retired research scientist in the field of biology. Much, maybe most, biological research is now molecular. Molecular biology started with the deconstruction of a DNA molecule by Watson and Crick in '53, very close to my birth date. The development of PCR in '84 by Mullis was the first key step in molecular technology.
Molecular biology has turned out to be far more complex than it first appeared so, as yet, practical impacts of molecular research have been felt mainly in the field of identification. Bioengineering is still largely a matter for science fiction but that will change. Drug companies are moving out of random screening of likely organic molecules into a race for gene-based designer drugs.
Bioengineering is likely to have the most tremendous impact on our social system because, unlike the products of the industrial revolution and the electronic revolution, it will affect us directly.
The interesting point about technology is not that it gives new or better gadgets but that it changes society itself. Consider how sewage systems, pesticides, mass transport, electronic media and contraceptive pills have changed the way we do things, the way we think, our very morality.
Molecular technology will challenge our society and conventions of morality as has no other technology because it will be used to change ourselves and create new life.
The churches seem to have no idea what is about to hit. The CoE vicars that I have spoken to seem mainly worked up about cloning copies of individuals. That will be the least of our issues. We will start by eradicating genetic disease and then run straight into problems with the definition of 'disease'. Does that include cosmetics such as nose size, hight, breast size, or penis size? Will we have generations of little girls all looking like the contemporary celeb bimbo or should we just make showgirls with extra long legs?
Is it a good idea to up the anti-cancer immune response to people working with cancerous materials? How about manufacturing worker classes to do specific jobs?
Good SF is about people, not things.
So, here is a challenge.
What bioengineering development's impact on society do you think would make a good SF story?