Tinkering with Nature: The Man Made Threats

With Global Warming and pollution assuming centre stage in the concern for environment protection, a few lately emerged menaces to the environment are going relatively and dangerously unnoticed. One such looming threat stems literally from man made causes. Stepping out from the pages of science fiction itself, these latest causes for concern are none other than genetically modified species, man made viruses and Biomimetic robots.


Man experimenting with nature is often shown to have disastrous results in fiction, and environmentalists believe shall prove no less dangerous in reality. Their fears are not merely based on speculation as there are already enough instances to prove the premises of their charges. It has often been observed in biological research that native species to a habitat have been destroyed upon the introduction of an alien species into the same habitat, the latter of which thrives unnaturally and multiplies to alarming numbers. This effectively destroys the balance of that particular ecosystem, and ultimately leads to severe environmental consequences. With genetically modified plants, insects or animals the same may occur where the naturally occurring counterparts are put at a disadvantage in natural selection. Another concern is that man has not fully grasped the intricacies of the functioning of DNA and any experiments with its modification will lead to unpredictable results. These randomly generated creatures upon interaction with natural species might produce breeds which, due to their new genetic structure, may end up unbalancing nature, endangering its consumers or perhaps even threatening its own survival. An example of this would be the genetically engineered (GE) fish, experimented with in various countries and with genes borrowed from other fish, chicken, cattle, rats and even humans. Not only are some genetically modified fish, such as the fast growing variety stimulated with growth hormones, highly unhealthy, any tinkering with their genetic makeup also upsets the tightly controlled network of DNA in fish. Although there is an attempt to keep such fish in controlled conditions, the prevention of their escape into an aquatic environment can never be guaranteed, especially in the case of a commercial aquaculture undertaking (farming). A study undertaken by researchers demonstrated that the introduction of just 60 GE fish into the wild could annihilate the wild population within merely 40 generations.


The environmental problems caused by genetic engineering have till date found no clear cut solution. Advances in science through experimentation can scarcely be ceased, while their adverse effects can also not be ignored. The best solution, which is one that nations are now beginning to adopt, is to take maximum precautions to make sure such modified breeds are not brought into contact with the natural environment, and to experiment with care. Most nations have in land fish farming and take stringent measures to ensure that there is no lapse of safety measures in commercial and scientific undertakings. A greater awareness on the part of the public shall also ensure that their governments continue to give this matter high priority.


While the threat from genetic modification is clear enough, interferes as it does with natural selection, the premises of the other two remain in the field of speculation. Man made viruses and Biomimetic Robots (Robots that imitate life forms) may pose a threat to the environment if they begin to behave like invasive species. Though this danger may appear to be laughably far fetched, the little known truth is that experiments concerning both are rapidly underway and soon this theory may become an immediate and uncomfortable reality. An idea of future hazards only gives us more time to prepare for them, and while science fiction fans take delight in the prospect of the wide spread presence of Biomimetic robots, they can also begin to think up solutions for the problems they may cause to the environment. If man can make the threats, they can certainly create the solutions, and the more advanced the notice, the more time we have to prepare ourselves.


Pragya Mukherjee

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