As someone who basically grew up in concert with the Internet, I’ve witnessed how much the world can change – mostly for the better – when people are given the means and motive to work together. And as biotechnology has grown from its first stirrings in the 1970s (a decade or so before I was born) to pervading every aspect of our lives in 2011, I’m also extremely optimistic about where it will ultimately lead.
That’s not to say that I don’t see the potential problems. In fact, many problems with biotech are strewn across the news every day. Farmers and seed companies are battling each other in the courts over intellectual property. Patients whose tissues are used in medical research are unable to realize the benefits of breakthroughs they helped to produce. Many, or most, of the wonderful medicines that have been produced over the last couple decades remain out of reach for people in need all over the world. And so on…
The three examples I listed all follow a similar pattern: the technologies themselves have (mostly) been successful, but not everyone who stands to benefit from them has done so. That’s why I believe that BetterBio is so important, and why I’m optimistic about the future of biotech as a whole.
We are quickly approaching the day when all of us can shape the effects of biotech on our own lives. You can think of it much like computers and the Internet, just offset by a couple of decades. (Indeed, none of this would be possible in a world where the Internet didn’t exist!) As we at BetterBio hope to show you over the next few months, people are using what we have learned about the living world to find their own solutions to the problems that ail us. Farmers will use genetics to engineer their own crops best suited to the local environment. We’ll all have a catalog of our own DNA, and be able to read this blueprint to understand the best ways to keep ourselves healthy. We can monitor our own backyards, and the wild worlds beyond, for the effects of pollution, without being forced to place our trust in industry or government.
And in a world where these developments are just around the corner–a few years to a few decades away–we will all become biotechnologists in one way or another. Of course, new innovations come with their own new dilemmas, making it especially important for as many people as possible to help shape their impact. Let’s make sure that this time, we all participate in making biotech work for us, and reap the rewards that have too often been denied.