Bioethics News

Xenobiology and environment

PDF-logoSynthetic biology and xenobiology could be great tools for improving the environment, but there must be a balance in which the pursuit of benefits for humans is combined with respect for nature and its laws.

On 15th May 2015, Pope Francis published his encyclical Laudato si, in which he gave his views on the problem of environmental pollution that is devastating our planet, and how it affects not only nature, but ourselves, especially the most disadvantaged.

The problem of pollution, over-exploitation of resources and the global warming caused by these is being studied from different perspectives. One of these is the drive for research into new methods that can help us to obtain clean energy that will allow us to continue our development, obtain more resources for food and industry without depleting the planet, and methods for decontamination and repair of damaged ecosystems. Xenobiology could have a huge impact on all these projects in the future.

Xenobiology is a young discipline within synthetic biology that is at the forefront of some of the proposed projects. Xenobiology aims to add letters to the natural genetic alphabet to be able to obtain new words, and to write a story different the one told to us by nature. In the words of Floyd E. Romesberg, one of the principal investigators in the expansion of the genetic alphabet: “If you’re given more letters, you can invent new words, you can find new ways to use those words and you can probably tell more interesting stories” (Callaway, 2014).

A transformation of biology such as that envisaged by xenobiology still presents risks and certain ethical questions, but at the same time, it represents a new way to overcome our environmental problems.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.