(Human-Inflected) Evolution in an Age of (Human-Induced) Extinction: Synthetic Biology Meets the Anthropocene

Josh Wodak
2020 Humanities  
At the advent of the Anthropocene, life is being pushed to its limits the world over; we are currently living through the Sixth Mass Extinction to occur since multicellular life first emerged on the planet 570 million years ago. Evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson sums up this push in the opening gambit of his book The Future of Life: "the race is now on between the techno-scientific forces that are destroying the living environment and those that can be harnessed to save it". Contra Wilson,
more » ... paper addresses the paradox arising from proposals to harness "techno-scientific forces ... to save" the "living environment" while other forces continue to destroy it. By framing human-inflected evolution in an age of human-induced extinction, this article asks what could or should conservation become, if 'conserving' imperiled species might now require genetic interventions of the synthetic kind. Drawing upon recent key markers of "the race", this paper presents a notional conservation for the Anthropocene—namely, that such a conservation proposes active intervention not only into ecosystems but into evolution itself. And yet, such interventions can only be considered in the context of the planetary scale that is the Anthropocene-writ-large, as per the desertification of the Amazon or the collapse of Antarctic ice sheets, the spatial scale of the microbial world, and on the temporal scale of evolution. Viewed within such a context, this paper presents technoscientific conservation as paradoxically being both vital and futile, as well as timely and too late.
doi:10.3390/h9040126 fatcat:2kya5tevxvfwjlf4gc35t4mu6y