Ecosanitae: The Anthropocene – its great architecture is built of genomics

The new and emerging bio-chemistry is the root of all innovations, and with the combined endeavours of biologists, mathematicians, engineers, and software engineers, new plants and animals (plants, animals, or molecules and entities) are being discovered all the time. The Internet was built by mathematical biologists who learned some Python by accident, and then the scientists involved in developing the products of this research finally understood the key components of the language. The whole of Artificial Intelligence is now built around mathematics that the original discipline of mathematics hadn’t even dreamt of years before.

But genetic Engineering has no analogue. It is much deeper and more complex than mathematics, and the scope of activity in genetic Engineering is even larger than that of any other field. Its scope goes back to the dawn of time, even before agriculture, when certain insects had certain remarkable characteristics that enabled them to survive at the opposite ends of the Earth. These genes were isolated, transgressed, and translocated in the atmosphere, forming new mutants of organisms. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. For example, just because you can take a photo and thus manipulate the colour temperature of light doesn’t mean you should. Understanding this is one of the aims of the new exhibition in Edinburgh, and the great advantage is that the history of the history of genetics goes back to the beginning of time, rather than starting at the present.

It wasn’t that long ago that we used animal embryos as models of evolving and developing human beings. DNA sequencing, genomics, and bioinformatics are all a result of discoveries in genetic Engineering. And the designer drugs we are seeing now, such as the antisense drug Kymriah and the designer CRISPR gene edited seed production technology, were found, nurtured, and exploited by biologists, mathematicians, engineers, and software engineers. The miraculous and much abused genomic mapping of the human genome, freely available from the internet, was the first great achievement of computational art. And the creation of the modern biology textbook, whose volumes are in many cases over a thousand pages, came after the discovery of DNA sequencing and the Human Genome Project. In our calendar, without these amazing, and often dangerous, discoveries, we would not know how to calculate anything, so it is easy to believe that all knowledge, once it is discovered, should be be tossed aside and the true masters, mathematicians, engineers, and software engineers, proceed with everything at their own pace and with their own skill. But something more is required to maintain the genomics knowledge that is being studied every day. It is not enough to have the information you need to build up a programme for change. You also need to find a way to allow the system to be shaped and changed in a way that is not destructive or whimsical. Genomics contains so much immense information, but there is so little consensus about it. Consider that we don’t have any synthetic genes yet, and see what might happen if they aren’t within reach. We don’t know what happens when you take a sequence of DNA, transform it into a harmless cell adhesion protein (ardalabrine) and test its efficacy in helping to repel predatory insects. Does this knowledge in its most purified form translate into a living organism? We don’t know.

Ingenuity, ingenuity, has become the name of the game. Hence the concept of an Anthropocene, the wholesale degradation of the natural world, with it’s assortment of new forms and a whole new set of attitudes. A new and quite effective biological word, “Ecosanitae”, has been coined by many scientists and agronomists to describe the phenomenon of the Anthropocene. It consists of a new and increasingly impenetrable buzzword having more disturbing, worrying, and off-putting implications than the vaguely aware term “Age of Reason”.

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