Chimera people: the era of "post-nature" will be strange and beautiful

At 4913 Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh there is an unusuala place. The center of post-natural history or post-nature is a small museum with an eclectic and bizarre mixture of samples: you will find a mouse-free embryo, a sterile male worm, a sample of E. coli x1776 (a harmless sample unable to survive outside the laboratory) and a stuffed transgenic goat by named Freckles ("Freckles"), genetically modified to produce spider silk proteins in milk.

Humanity has profoundly changed nature, but this can only be the beginning

The theme of the museum - post-nature - is the studythe origin, habitat and evolution of organisms that were intentionally and hereditarily modified by genetic engineering, and the influence of human culture and biotechnology on evolution. The slogan of the museum: “It was then. Now so. ” Each visitor is shown that each species has a natural, evolutionary history, as well as a post-natural, cultural one.

From the very appearance of man began his influenceon flora and fauna. So, if humanity will flourish in the distant future, how will nature change? How could these genetic manipulations change our own biology and evolutionary trajectory? The short answer is: it will be strange, perhaps beautiful and not like anything.

It's funny that we still believe everything that is notwas selectively inferred or intentionally altered genetically, naturally and "primordially". However, there is very little nature, which is not human fingerprints. Since our ancient ancestors emerged from Africa 50-70 thousand years ago, sweeping away the entire megafauna in its path and radically changing the landscape, our species transforms and changes nature.

About 10,000 years ago we began selectivelyto deduce organisms that seemed to us the most desirable, thereby changing the genetic composition of the species. Today, technology has only accelerated this practice. Bull semen can be collected and inseminated thousands of cows from one male - in nature it is impossible even for the most determined horned Casanova. We breed bulls and dogs, distribute these bred organisms around the world, creating a huge biomass that would not exist without us, and generate elite species for physiological, aesthetic and agricultural advantages.

For millennia, our influence on manytaxonomic groups were extremely deep. Our food needs mean that 70% of all living birds are chicken and other poultry, and this is enough to create our own geological formation. Meanwhile, according to paleobiologist Felisa Smith of the University of New Mexico, hunting, competition and habitat destruction by humans have killed so much fauna that the average size of mammals has decreased. Biodiversity and species have already suffered irreversible losses.

And yet, our influence on nature may still beonly at the very beginning. New genetic tools promise to significantly change our ability to manipulate organisms. We are moving into the future, where the selection of positive features of the crop or animals from the natural population, rather labor-intensive and time-consuming processes will no longer be needed. Having more accurate genome editing methods, like CRISPR / Cas9, we can move sets of genes between species, deduce certain genes intentionally in the process of natural growth, and even create completely artificial organisms. Bioengineering is a new form of transmission, creation and inheritance of genetic information.

Such modification of organisms alsoextends to the irreversible extermination of certain species. Although people have fought with anopheles mosquitoes for hundreds of years using chemical, mechanical and other methods, they remain one of the main natural enemies of humanity. Biotechnologies have made it possible to create and release clouds of sterile males, which should reduce the mosquito population, mating with females in the wild, and now mosquitoes with “gene drives” have been developed that accelerate the transfer of sterility mutation to the new generation.

In the face of rapid climate changeScientists and politicians have begun to give priority to “ecosystem services” necessary for people, such as pollination and replenishment of fish stocks, and also thought about how bioengineering organisms or mechanical agents can be released into the wild.

For example, since the corals on the Great Barrierthe reef is gradually dying, studies are being conducted on the possibility of releasing heat-resistant zooxanthellae, photosynthetic symbiotes of coral polyps, into the ocean. Walmart patented mechanical pollinators, apparently relying on their use in the future. DARPA recently donated grants to develop genetically modified insects that carry viruses to edit plant genes, ostensibly to change crop in the field, but such technologies can be extended to entire ecosystems.

If we try to see the distant future, how will these technologies change our relationship with the rest of life on Earth? We have different trajectories in front of us, from logical to truly strange.

Nature and man: the distant future

For starters, we may decide to cut ourmanipulations with wildlife. In the end, there are highly predictable concerns about what might go wrong: for example, unplanned genetic damage, when molecular scissors designed to cut and insert pieces of DNA, create unpredictable effects, or destabilize the recipient and its ecosystem.

On this potential trajectory of the future, peoplecan collectively decide to restore wildlife and create space for the existence of everything non-human on a well-functioning planet. They will understand that the biosphere (albeit significantly altered by humans) is still a form of adaptive complexity, relatively billions of years tested.

This will probably be the most effective way.protect ecosystems and ensure human survival on planet Earth in the long term. We can restore wildlife to a large area of ​​the planet and focus food production in high-rise urban centers. Such a step respectful to all forms of life will certainly be appreciated by life. In the end, everything will evolve and develop without significant influence from the outside.

However, there is no certainty that suchthe trajectory of the future is highly probable. Surely there will be a national and economic race to develop and introduce technologies that will continue to kill nature, not only because of the ever-growing need for defense, but also because the strength and curiosity of a person, especially in manipulating the raw material of life, are constantly expanding and growing. Meanwhile, we ourselves are increasingly separated from other organisms and ecosystems. In such a torn state, it is easier to imagine a radical change in the fabric of nature, which will fully support the interests of people.

Artists pondered what it will beseem to be. Vincent Fournier, for example, imagined the chimeric organisms we could create: some would stimulate precipitation, others would fight pollution.

In the movie "Blade Runner" screenwritersdepicted the world with artificial humanoids and animals belonging to the corporations that created them. This dystopian future may be partly true, given that even today, engineering organisms - like the BioSteel goat that we talked about in the beginning - belong to someone with intellectual property rights. Perhaps entire ecosystem services — for example, pollination — will belong to individual corporations.

These bioengineering agents are likely to be more“Suitable” than their predecessors, and will become competitors, because they will be deliberately designed either to satisfy human ambitions (and will be under our protection, in that case), or to survive in a world that has been changed by people. Thus, modified organisms are likely to either replace nature in its current form, or corporations could openly or covertly completely eliminate relatively unreliable biological species and replace them with synthesized agents. This future will probably be fragile and complicated, not to mention the fact that nature in it does not deserve such an attitude.

Looking far ahead, the biotechnological trajectory of nature may even change our view of what it means to be human.

Man and nature: convergence or divergence?

Over the past few decades manyreflected on how we could merge with silicon technology. Such a technophile transhumanistic view suggests that we can eventually integrate with artificial intelligence to enhance a person’s sensory or intellectual abilities or to load ourselves into the digital world after death, achieving a kind of immortality.

But what if instead our path lies into merge with nature? Perhaps the real benefit of artificial intelligence is to reprogram genes and organisms into “sympoesis” - a mutually beneficial hybrid between man and nature.

The post-natural future may not please everyone. In Jeff Vandermeyer's story “Annihilation”, in which Netflix made a film with Natalie Portman in the lead role (beautiful, by the way), a mysterious flickering area appears in the US countryside that changes and merges the DNA of organisms within, including both soldiers and scientists, sent for research. Although the elements of the film and the story are filled with the concepts of taking this fundamental fusion with other life forms, the destruction and reproduction of genetic materials is often presented as horror, and the motivation of volunteers who fall into this area is explained by the desire for self-destruction. The radical change of the genome is due to the fact that human integrity completely disappears, to which we are not yet ready, even if the results of this merger are undoubtedly beautiful.

In the distant future, those who go to suchsymbiosis, could acquire useful additions like photosynthesizing organisms under our skin, which will be located there like a lichen, instead of transferring information about how this is done to your genome. Or we could include the genetic information of endangered species in our pedigree for an indefinite period, thus becoming a protector and guardian of nature.

All of these potential genetic changes.may seem inconvenient and strange these days. The philosophers, however, have proposed two approaches to the transfer of information that will cover these future trajectories. They will become more and more important in the post-natural age.

Dark ecology

Philosopher Timothy Morton of Rice Universityasserts that we must face not only beauty, but also the dark strangeness of nature - he calls this approach “dark ecology”. He opposes separating people from nature, exalting her beauty and thus alienating herself from her. Because of this, the ecosystem is in a process of constant change, and climate change is considered something of a “global perversion” that destroys and mutates nature. Dark ecology is an approach of exploring and accepting the beauty and horror of human manipulations of the natural world, like what Vandermeer showed in Annihilation.

Similarly, the "philosophy of the process"believes that there are no real boundaries between people and the environment, the concept of an individual does not exist, and everything around, including gene flows into the future and their routes, is in a constant state of flow. For example, the cells of our own bodies are the result of the symbiosis of two separate microbial pedigrees in the deep past — an important evolutionary transition discovered by evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis. Moreover, our genome is littered with genetic and extracellular residues of viruses and other parasites, and in the process of growing up we acquire a large number of cells in the body that belong to other (mostly bacterial) species than our own. The philosophy of the process indicates that we inevitably mix with everything and are in the process of constant exchange of material and information.

In the distant future, when biotechnology is ripe, andrestrictions on the transfer of genes will be removed, we will see a radical change in evolutionary processes from the point of view of the philosophy of the process or dark ecology. A new form of transmission of genetic information will appear, like serious evolutionary transitions in the past.

Restoration of the wild, though it seemsunlikely, remains the safest and most righteous way of man in the future. But assuming that biotechnology will spread further, it is not entirely clear how we will exist in the post-nature era. Much will depend on how we cope with climate change, but the manipulation of man with nature is not going anywhere. The future will definitely be strange.

What do you think, what path will man? Tell us in our chat in Telegram.