Synthetic Biology has, in the past, been and will probably remain a controversial subject. This is due to the nature of synthetic biology and the ethical questions it raises, as some of the things we can achieve with synthetic biology are only spoken about in Biblical texts, such as creating life. This has not only brought up questions as to whether humans with synthetic biology can create life, but if life should be made by humans at all. While the idea of bringing back the Wholly Mammoth sounds exciting, it can open Pandora’s box because if a species can be reintroduced artificially, humanity would also have the power to make new species, potentially disrupting an ecosystem. Another argument that would arise is that newly created life should be valued the same way we value natural life.
Synthetic biology will always be a point of great interest to people. In 1996, Dolly the Sheep was looked on with amazement, being one first cloned pieces of life. Dolly was controversial at the time because of religion. Some religious groups protested whether humanity should be cloning other living things and whether science has gone too far.
Today, a device called the CRISPR – which can be used to alter DNA – is being used in the medical field on unborn babies who would have been born with disabilities or defects if left untreated. Dolly, similar to the CRISPER, has also brought up questions on whether we should alter DNA. We live in an age where people are very self-conscious about appearance and in the future, it is probable that people would use the CRISPER kit in order to make changes to themselves. (This act is similar to how some people get plastic surgery only for cosmetic reasons instead of an actual medical need). There are also questions about this technology which will only be solved with time. For example, how will the altered DNA compare overtime to real DNA? Will changes continue to be seen once the DNA is passed down to a different generation? Or, will other problems arise where it is more probable genetic alterations will mutate into cancer? When applied to things such as bacteria and viruses it becomes even more dangerous because there is potential it can become much easier for a terror organization or hostile country access to bioweapons.
In terms of practices, synthetic biology will have a strong impact on people who are religious and believe life is something only God should create and scientists should not meddle with. Resistance to the implementation of some medical treatments would also be from people who don’t trust science. Though it may sound ridiculous that some people wouldn’t listen to doctors or scientists, the reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine in the USA have proven these people still exist; as only 58.7% of the population is vaccinated. Even though some part of that percentage is from people who cannot get the vaccine due to a medical reason, a large majority of them refuse to get it due to political reasons or believe in a crazy conspiracy theory about it.
Once Synthetic Biology becomes more visible in everyday life, a large focal point that will emerge is the value behind that life. If synthetic organisms become more popular, there will be people who argue scientists do not have the right to use synthetically grown organisms for medical testing. (For example, the group PETA.) This is probable to occur because at first, people may not treat lab-grown the same way they treat a natural life. Instead, people may treat it even more as if it were a machine than a human or farm animal. These arguments are similar to another controversial topic in the USA, which is abortion. This is because questions will emerge as to where life begins with synthetic biology and a similar idea of what is the value behind a synthetic organism.
Biotechnology that runs off a biological component such as a biosensor or biocomputer is something that without human intervention otherwise could simply never exist. In fact, early biocomputers were just modifying systems in organisms that did a specific task, and either completed a very similar task or improved the performance of the biological function. When thinking about how people used to domesticate animals via breeding, now, they can now just make versions of animals or bacteria just by altering their DNA.
Extreme uses of synthetic biology would be alterations of the environment or being used as weapons. In the past, ecological disasters have occurred due to alteration of the environment, for example, the Aral Sea, which formerly existed and ended up drying up after an ecological experiment. This was the result of water being diverted away to man-made canals. Synthetic biology can have a similar effect on the environment as the experiment on the Aral Sea was. For example, if an altered species of plant somehow begins to grow wildly and is invasive it can continue to spread without having thought about anything to stop it.
Another extreme would be the use of altered bacteria and viral organisms to make weaponry. Militaries have invested in bioweapons in the past, and as soon as a military application for synthetic biology is found, most if not all will invest in it. Terror organizations and other radical groups would also try to get their hands on synthetic biology for the purposes of making bioweaponry. This would obviously be a major security threat and policies and heightened security will need to be put in place to prepare for these potential security threats.
Another extreme use that, could become a severe problem is the creation of super bugs. With synthetic biology, it is possible to make a stronger antibiotic that will kill the super bug, however, it would lead to the same issue as before where bacteria may evolve to be more immune to the synthetic antibiotics we produce.
The black swan events which can occur due to synthetic biology include that an altered organism may have the opportunity to breed and evolve into something that can potentially threaten humanity’s dominance on the planet. A similar instance can happen with plants where a plant we artificially made to solve an issue ends up making an even bigger issue by destroying all the crops and making it extremely difficult to grow more.