The Moving Definition of Nature in a Synbio World: The Agricultural Example
It is interesting to consider the industrial systems that would emerge from these new types of technology. Mass production of synbio objects would occur on a distributed and local level in biologically grown buildings. A large amount of nutrition would still need to be available on a global scale, though.
Figure 17-3. Clothing could change in response to the social environments the wearer is in
In this scenario, we envisage a new concept, farmtories (a combination of farm and factory, shown in Figure 17-4), in which agriculture and industrialization are subproducts of a combined process. Rather than buying in feed components for the growing ranks of products, raw materials would be extracted from cows’ milk in a local ecosystem. When the products, grown from nutrient substrates, are no longer needed by users, they would be recycled back into feed for the animals. Everything would be localized; waste would be eliminated, as well as the fuel costs for transportation. A combination of grown bio-objects and 3D printing would yield a huge environmental and cost benefit.
In such a system, what if animals and plants could communicate to you exactly what they needed, and you could engineer them so that they would be perfect for your farm? What would be the iterative process that could bring us there, and to what extent would we accept it?
Figure 17-4. Agriculture and industrialization as subproducts of a combined process
That would bring natural selection back into the equation of industrialized farms. The main difference is that it would be a synthetic selection. Our current understanding of genetically modified foods and monoculture will be challenged by seeds and animals when sophisticated responses to the environment are engineered and therefore developed at a speed that is faster in order of magnitudes.
The encoding of information in DNA from living organisms engineered by using massive, automated studies that statistically match DNA changes to the conditions in which these organisms live will result in a system of “personalized organisms” that are tailored to the microenvironment in which they will grow.
One of the most interesting paradoxes of such a scenario is the anti-industrialization process that food and genetically modified objects could go through. In this sense, the mechanized harshness of current techniques of production, manipulation, and delivery of meats and vegetables could be reframed and diluted by the localization of breeding and growing. A hypothetical counter-culture of “naturalists” could emerge that will embrace these new technologies, as pictured in Figure 17-5.
Figure 17-5. Created by counter-culture “naturalists ” who embrace these technologies