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What if the miracle that created mRNA vaccines is less a once-in-lifetime event and more the harbinger of the emerging age of synthetic biology? This fusion of biology and computers has a singular goal: to gain access to cells in order to write new––and possibly better––biological code.
Synthetic biology promises to reveal how life is created and how it can be re-created, enabling scientists to rewrite the rules of our reality. It could help us, for example, heal without prescription medications, grow meat without harvesting animals, or confront our looming climate catastrophe. Synthetic biology will determine the ways in which we conceive future generations and how we define family, how we identify disease and treat aging, where we make our homes, and how we nourish ourselves. Soon, we will program living, biological structures as though they were tiny computers.
But who should decide how to engineer living organisms? Whether engineered organisms should be planted, farmed, and released into the wild? Should there be limits to human enhancements? Amy Webb and Andrew Hessel’s riveting examination of synthetic biology and the bioeconomy provide the background for thinking through the upcoming risks and moral dilemmas posed by redesigning life, as well as the vast opportunities waiting for us on the horizon.
Amy Webbadvises CEOs of the world’s most-admired companies, three-star admirals and generals, and the senior leadership of central banks and intergovernmental organizations on the future of technology and science. A quantitative futurist, Amy is the CEO of the Future Today Institute, a leading foresight and management consulting firm. She is a professor of strategic foresight at New York University’s Stern School of Business and a Visiting Fellow at Oxford University’s Säid School of Business. She was elected a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations, is a member of the Bretton Woods Committee and serves as a Steward and Steering Committee member of the World Economic Forum. She was also a Delegate on the former U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission, where she worked on the future of technology and international diplomacy.Amy was named by Forbes as “one of the five women changing the world,” honored as one of the BBC’s 100 Women of 2020 and is ranked by Thinkers50 as one of the most influential business minds in the world. Amy is award-winning author of The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and Their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity and The Signals are Talking: Why Today’s Fringe is Tomorrow’s Mainstream.
Andrew Hessel, a pioneer and an expert in the field of synthetic biology, is the president of Humane Genomics, an early-stage company developing synthetic viruses for canine and human oncology. He is also the co-founder and chairman of the Center of Excellence for Engineering Biology and the Genome Project, the international scientific effort to engineer large genomes, including the human genome. He is a former distinguished research scientist at Autodesk Life Sciences.