The Economist writes: “What physics was to the 20th century, biology will be to the 21stand RNA will be a vital part of it.”
t is too early to be sure if the distinguishing feature of the 21st century will be biological technology, but there is a good chance that it will be. Simple genetic engineering is now routine; indeed, the first patent application for an artificial living organism has recently been filed. Both the idea of such an organism and the idea that someone might own the rights to it would have been science fiction even a decade ago. And it is not merely that such things are now possible. The other driving force of technological changenecessityis also there. Many of the big problems facing humanity are biological, or are susceptible to biological intervention. The question of how to deal with an ageing population is one example. Climate change, too, is intimately bound up with biology since it is the result of carbon dioxide going into the air faster than plants can remove it. And the risk of a new, lethal infection suddenly becoming pandemic as a result of modern transport links is as biological as it gets. Even the fact that such an infection might itself be the result of synthetic biology only emphasises the biological nature of future risks.