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7.3.2: Perspectives of the Environment - Biology

7.3.2: Perspectives of the Environment - Biology


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Frontier Ethic

The ways in which humans interact with the land and its natural resources are determined by ethical attitudes and behaviors. Early European settlers in North America rapidly consumed the natural resources of the land. After they depleted one area, they moved westward to new frontiers. Their attitude towards the land was that of a frontier ethic. A frontier ethic assumes that the earth has an unlimited supply of resources. If resources run out in one area, more can be found elsewhere or alternatively human ingenuity will find substitutes. This attitude sees humans as masters who manage the planet. The frontier ethic is completely anthropocentric (human-centered), for only the needs of humans are considered.

Most industrialized societies experience population and economic growth that are based upon this frontier ethic, assuming that infinite resources exist to support continued growth indefinitely. In fact, economic growth is considered a measure of how well a society is doing. The late economist Julian Simon pointed out that life on Earth has never been better, and that population growth means more creative minds to solve future problems and give us an even better standard of living. However, now that the human population has passed seven billion and few frontiers are left, many are beginning to question the frontier ethic. Such people are moving toward an environmental ethic, which includes humans as part of the natural community rather than managers of it. Such an ethic places limits on human activities (e.g., uncontrolled resource use), that may adversely affect the natural community.

Some of those still subscribing to the frontier ethic suggest that outer space may be the new frontier. If we run out of resources (or space) on earth, they argue, we can simply populate other planets. This seems an unlikely solution, as even the most aggressive colonization plan would be incapable of transferring people to extraterrestrial colonies at a significant rate. Natural population growth on earth would outpace the colonization effort. A more likely scenario would be that space could provide the resources (e.g. from asteroid mining) that might help to sustain human existence on earth.

Sustainable Ethic

A sustainable ethic is an environmental ethic by which people treat the earth as if its resources are limited. This ethic assumes that the earth’s resources are not unlimited and that humans must use and conserve resources in a manner that allows their continued use in the future. A sustainable ethic also assumes that humans are a part of the natural environment and that we suffer when the health of a natural ecosystem is impaired. A sustainable ethic includes the following tenets:

  • The earth has a limited supply of resources.
  • Humans must conserve resources.
  • Humans share the earth’s resources with other living things.
  • Growth is not sustainable.
  • Humans are a part of nature.
  • Humans are affected by natural laws.
  • Humans succeed best when they maintain the integrity of natural processes sand cooperate with nature.

For example, if a fuel shortage occurs, how can the problem be solved in a way that is consistent with a sustainable ethic? The solutions might include finding new ways to conserve oil or developing renewable energy alternatives. A sustainable ethic attitude in the face of such a problem would be that if drilling for oil damages the ecosystem, then that damage will affect the human population as well. A sustainable ethic can be either anthropocentric or biocentric (life-centered). An advocate for conserving oil resources may consider all oil resources as the property of humans. Using oil resources wisely so that future generations have access to them is an attitude consistent with an anthropocentric ethic. Using resources wisely to prevent ecological damage is in accord with a biocentric ethic.

Land Ethic

Aldo Leopold, an American wildlife natural historian and philosopher, advocated a biocentric ethic in his book, A Sand County Almanac. He suggested that humans had always considered land as property, just as ancient Greeks considered slaves as property. He believed that mistreatment of land (or of slaves) makes little economic or moral sense, much as today the concept of slavery is considered immoral. All humans are merely one component of an ethical framework. Leopold suggested that land be included in an ethical framework, calling this the land ethic.

“The land ethic simply enlarges the boundary of the community to include soils, waters, plants and animals; or collectively, the land. In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow members, and also respect for the community as such.” (Aldo Leopold, 1949)

Leopold divided conservationists into two groups: one group that regards the soil as a commodity and the other that regards the land as biota, with a broad interpretation of its function. If we apply this idea to the field of forestry, the first group of conservationists would grow trees like cabbages, while the second group would strive to maintain a natural ecosystem. Leopold maintained that the conservation movement must be based upon more than just economic necessity. Species with no discernible economic value to humans may be an integral part of a functioning ecosystem. The land ethic respects all parts of the natural world regardless of their utility, and decisions based upon that ethic result in more stable biological communities.

“Anything is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends to do otherwise.” (Aldo Leopold, 1949)

Case Study: Hetch Hetchy

In 1913, the Hetch Hetchy Valley – located in Yosemite National Park in California – was the site of a conflict between two factions, one with an anthropocentric ethic and the other, a biocentric ethic. As the last American frontiers were settled, the rate of forest destruction started to concern the public.

The conservation movement gained momentum, but quickly broke into two factions. One faction, led by Gifford Pinchot, Chief Forester under Teddy Roosevelt, advocated utilitarian conservation (i.e., conservation of resources for the good of the public). The other faction, led by John Muir, advocated preservation of forests and other wilderness for their inherent value. Both groups rejected the first tenet of frontier ethics, the assumption that resources are limitless. However, the conservationists agreed with the rest of the tenets of frontier ethics, while the preservationists agreed with the tenets of the sustainable ethic.

The Hetch Hetchy Valley was part of a protected National Park, but after the devastating fires of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, residents of San Francisco wanted to dam the valley to provide their city with a stable supply of water. Gifford Pinchot favored the dam.

“As to my attitude regarding the proposed use of Hetch Hetchy by the city of San Francisco…I am fully persuaded that… the injury…by substituting a lake for the present swampy floor of the valley…is altogether unimportant compared with the benefits to be derived from it’s use as a reservoir.

“The fundamental principle of the whole conservation policy is that of use, to take every part of the land and its resources and put it to that use in which it will serve the most people.” (Gifford Pinchot, 1913)

John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club and a great lover of wilderness, led the fight against the dam. He saw wilderness as having an intrinsic value, separate from its utilitarian value to people. He advocated preservation of wild places for their inherent beauty and for the sake of the creatures that live there. The issue aroused the American public, who were becoming increasingly alarmed at the growth of cities and the destruction of the landscape for the sake of commercial enterprises. Key senators received thousands of letters of protest.

“These temple destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to have a perfect contempt for Nature, and instead of lifting their eyes to the God of the Mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar.” (John Muir, 1912)

Despite public protest, Congress voted to dam the valley. The preservationists lost the fight for the Hetch Hetchy Valley, but their questioning of traditional American values had some lasting effects. In 1916, Congress passed the “National Park System Organic Act,” which declared that parks were to be maintained in a manner that left them unimpaired for future generations. As we use our public lands, we continue to debate whether we should be guided by preservationism or conservationism.

Attribution

Modified by Melissa Ha and Rachel Schleiger from Environmental Ethics from Environmental Biology by Matthew R. Fisher (licensed under CC-BY)


Academic Programs Biology

2 weeks) the trip component of the course helps to solidify student learning through experiential learning. Two hours lecture, field trip to Costa Rica. Prerequisite: Biology 118 with a grade of C- or better or permission of instructor. Spring. BIOL-330 Mycology (4 credits) Introduces fungi with emphasis on ecology, morphology and taxonomy of representative groups. Two hours lecture, four hours lab. Prerequisites: Biology 119 and 120 with a grade of C- or better or permission of instructor. BIOL-330L Mycology Lab Introduces fungi with emphasis on ecology, morphology and taxonomy of representative groups. Two hours lecture, four hours lab. Prerequisites: Biology 119 and 120 with a grade of C- or better or permission of instructor. BIOL-331 Genetics (4 credits) Fundamental principles of inheritance in animals, plants, and microorganisms with emphasis on molecular genetics. Three hours lecture, three hours lab. Prerequisite: Biology 119 with a grade of C- or better or permission of instructor. Recommended: Biology 120 with a grade of C- or better. Fall, spring. BIOL-331L Genetics Lab Fundamental principles of inheritance in animals, plants, and microorganisms with emphasis on molecular genetics. Three hours lecture, three hours lab. Prerequisite: Biology 119 with a grade of C- or better or permission of instructor. Recommended: Biology 120 with a grade of C- or better. Fall, spring. BIOL-333 Animal Behavior (3 credits) Studies the principles of biological rhythms, migration, aggression, competition, learning, reproduction, and social behavior of animals. Three hours lecture, field studies. Prerequisite: Biology 120 with a grade of C- or better or permission of instructor. Spring. BIOL-340 Cellular and Molecular Biology (4 credits) Covers the principles of eukaryotic cell structure and function and the molecular bases of cellular processes. Topics will include: macromolecules energetics membranes cellular organelles gene expression signaling cell division DNA replication RNA and protein synthesis and processing and molecular aspects of immunology, cancer and recombinant DNA technology. The course will build on the survey knowledge from the required prerequisite courses. Prerequisite: BIOL 331 or permission of instructor. Spring. BIOL-340L Cellular & Molecular Biology Lab Lab course to accompany BIOL 340 lecture. BIOL-350 Vertebrate Zoology (4 credits) Emphasizes the taxonomy, comparative morphology, behavior, and life history of vertebrates. Three hours lecture, three hours lab, field studies. Prerequisite: Biology 120 with a grade of C- or better or permission of instructor. Spring. BIOL-350L Vertebrate Zoology Lab Emphasizes the taxonomy, comparative morphology, behavior, and life history of vertebrates. Three hours lecture, three hours lab, field studies. Prerequisite: Biology 120 with a grade of C- or better or permission of instructor. Spring. BIOL-360 Summer Field Station Study (1-3 credits) Biology studies conducted at a marine, freshwater,mountain, or desert field station. Summer. BIOL-399 Special Topics in Biology (1-4 credits) Lectures, discussions, or special laboratory topics not covered in regular course offerings. Provides greater depth to topics of special interest or explores rapidly changing areas in biology. May be repeated. Prerequisites announced when specific topics scheduled. BIOL-414 Plant Diversity (4 credits) Studies the identification and classification of local vascular plants. Herbarium collection required. Three hours lecture, four hours lab. Prerequisite: Biology 120 with a grade of C- or better or permission of instructor. Spring, alternate years. BIOL-414L Plant Diversity Lab Studies the identification and classification of local vascular plants. Herbarium collection required. Three hours lecture, four hours lab. Prerequisite: Biology 120 with a grade of C- or better or permission of instructor. Spring, alternate years. BIOL-415 Biostatistics Computational Biology (4 credits) Explores biological systems using quantitative biological models. Application of statistical tools, numerical data sets, and computer-based techniques to test hypotheses, create predictive models, and interpret results and patterns. Three hours lecture, three hours lab. Prerequisite: Biology 320 with a grade of C- or better or permission of instructor. Fall, alternate years. BIOL-415L Biostatistics Lab Explores biological systems using quantitative biological models. Application of statistical tools, numerical data sets, and computer-based techniques to test hypotheses, create predictive models, and interpret results and patterns. Three hours lecture, three hours lab. Prerequisite: Biology 320 with a grade of C- or better or permission of instructor. Spring, alternate years. BIOL-423 Ecology (4 credits) Examines how organisms interact with each other and with their environment. Addresses the physical environment and the way physiological adaptations organisms have evolved to exploit it, population dynamics, interactions between species populations, biogeography, and environmental issues, especially those that relate to the impact of humans on the ecology of natural populations of plants and animals. Three hours lecture, three hours lab, field studies. Prerequisite: Biology 320 with a grade of C- or better or permission of instructor. Fall, alternate years. BIOL-423L Ecology Lab Examines how organisms interact with each other and with their environment. Addresses the physical environment and the way physiological adaptations organisms have evolved to exploit it, population dynamics, interactions between species populations, biogeography and environmental issues, especially those that relate to the impact of humans on the ecology of natural populations of plants and animals. Three hours lecture, three hours lab, field studies. Prerequisite: Biology 320 with a grade of C- or better or permission of instructor. Recommended: Biology 120 with a grade of C- or better. Fall, alternate years. BIOL-425 Developmental Biology (4 credits) Studies the cellular, genetic, and molecular interactions of animal development. Three hours lecture, three hours lab. Prerequisite: Biology 331 with a grade of C- or better or permission of instructor. Spring, alternate years. BIOL-425L Developmental Biology Lab Studies the cellular, genetic, and molecular interactions of animal development. Three hours lecture, three hours lab. Prerequisite: Biology 331 with a grade of C- or better or permission of instructor. Spring, alternate years. BIOL-427 Animal Physiology (4 credits) Studies the normal functions of animal organs and systems. Topics include metabolism, transmission of nerve impulses, reproduction, and effects of hormones. Three hours lecture, two hours lab. Prerequisites: Biology 119 or 120 and Chemistry 240 with a grade of C- or better or permission of instructor. Fall. BIOL-427L Animal Physiology Lab Studies the normal functions of animal organs and systems. Topics include metabolism, transmission of nerve impulses, reproduction, and effects of hormones. Three hours lecture, two hours lab. Prerequisites: Biology 119 or 120, and Chemistry 240 with a grade of C- or better or permission of instructor. Fall. BIOL-428 Plant Physiology (4 credits) Major biological activities of higher plants with emphasis on water relations, mineral nutrition, metabolism, growth, and development. Three hours lecture, two hours lab. Prerequisites: Biology 120 and Chemistry 118 with a grade of C- or better or permission of instructor. BIOL-428L Plant Physiology Lab Major biological activities of higher plants with emphasis on water relations, mineral nutrition, metabolism, growth, and development. Three hours lecture, two hours lab. Prerequisites: Biology 120 and Chemistry 118 with a grade of C- or better or permission of instructor. BIOL-430 Microbiology (4 credits) Covers general principles of bacterial growth and activities. Three hours lecture, four hours lab. Prerequisite: Biology 119 with a grade of C or better or permission of instructor. Recommended: Biology 120 with a grade of C- or better. Fall. BIOL-430L Microbiology Lab Covers general principles of bacterial growth and activities. Three hours lecture, four hours lab. Prerequisite: Biology 119 with a grade of C or better or permission of instructor. Recommended: Biology 119 with a grade of C- or better. Fall. BIOL-434 Parasitology (4 credits) Studies the nature of parasitism with respect to morphology, physiology, and host parasite relationships. Three hours lecture, two hours lab. Prerequisites: Biology 119 or 120 with a grade of C- or better or permission of instructor. Fall, alternate years. BIOL-434L Parasitology Lab Studies the nature of parasitism with respect to morphology, physiology, and host parasite relationships. Three hours lecture, two hours lab. Prerequisites: Biology 119 and 120 with a grade of C- or better or permission of instructor. Fall, alternate years. BIOL-436 Human Physiology (3 credits) A detailed study of human function, beginning at a cellular level. Emphasis is placed on the neuromuscular, cardiovascular, pulmonary, renal, and endocrine systems. The effects of exercise and pathology are integrated into each system. Prerequisite: Physical Therapy 431 or permission of the instructor. Fall. BIOL-440 Cell Biology (4 credits) Studies the basic principles and information that form the foundation of cell biology, provides exposure to some of the underlying questions of cell biology, and improves skills in analyzing and communicating scientific information. Three hours lecture, two hours lab. Prerequisites: Biology 340 and Chemistry 240 with a grade of C- or better or permission of instructor. Spring. BIOL-440L Cell Biology Lab Studies the basic principles and information that form the foundation of cell biology, provides exposure to some of the underlying questions of cell biology, and improves skills in analyzing and communicating scientific information. Three hours lecture, two hours lab. Prerequisites: Biology 107 or 117, 108, 331, and Chemistry 240 with a grade of C- or better or permission of instructor. Spring. BIOL-442 Immunology (4 credits) Studies cellular and molecular aspects of the immune response. Two hours lecture, two hours lab. Prerequisites: Biology 119, 120, 340 and Chemistry 240 with a grade of C or better or permission of instructor. Spring, alternate years. BIOL-442L Immunology Lab Studies cellular and molecular aspects of the immune response. Two hours lecture, two hours lab. Prerequisites: Biology 119, 120, and 340 and Chemistry 240 with a grade of C or better or permission of instructor. Spring, alternate years. BIOL-445 Molecular Biology (4 credits) Considers the molecular aspects of biology at the cellular and subcellular levels. Emphasis on the genetic material and intercellular processes and laboratory procedures for studying biology at the molecular level. Three hours lecture three hours lab. Prerequisites: Biology 331 and Chemistry 240, 341 with a grade of C- or better or permission of instructor. Recommended: Biology 440. Fall, alternate years. BIOL-445L Molecular Biology Lab Considers the molecular aspects of biology at the cellular and subcellular levels. Emphasis on the genetic material and intercellular processes and laboratory procedures for studying biology at the molecular level. Three hours lecture three hours lab. Prerequisites: Biology 331 and Chemistry 240, 341 with a grade of C- or better or permission of instructor. Recommended: Biology 440. Fall, alternate years. BIOL-450 Evolution (3 credits) Addresses a variety of topics related to evolutionary biology, including the history of evolutionary thought, evolution of sex, group selection, speciation, phylogenetic systematics, coevolution, and molecular evolution. Three hours lecture. Prerequisite: Biology 320 with a grade of C- or better or permission of instructor. Recommended: Biology 119. Spring,alternate years. BIOL-455 Genomics in Research & Medicine (4 credits) Examines current tools and techniques in genomics research and discusses applications of genomics, especially in healthcare and medicine. Topics include the use of home genomics kits to infer ancestry and predict health outcomes genomics and personalized medicine genomics in species conservation and evolution, etc. Students will also use a variety of genomics tools to investigate a novel genomics research problem. BIOL-455L Research Problems in Genomics Lab BIOL-460 Special Problems (1-3 credits) Independent research of a biological problem under the guidance of a faculty member. Prerequisite: permission of instructor. Repeatable course. Fall, spring. BIOL-480 Senior Seminar I (2 credits) Focuses on the interdisciplinary nature of biology and how life sciences relate to contemporary problems and circumstances. Involves investigative projects, written reports, and presentation of reviews. Prerequisites: At least one 400-level biology course senior standing. Fall. BIOL-481 Senior Seminar II (2 credits) Focuses on interdisciplinary nature of biology and how life sciences relate to contemporary problems and circumstances. Involves written and oral analysis of class material. Prerequisites: At least one 400-level biology course senior standing. Spring. BIOL-482 Biology Senior Seminar (3 credits) Focuses on interdisciplinary nature of biology problems and circumstances. Involves investigative projects, written reports, presentation of reviews, and integrative book reviews primarily in seminar format. Prerequisites: at least one 400-level biology class. BIOL-498 Internship in Biology (1-6 credits) Internships are designed to meet the educational needs of students' professional goals and to provide practical experience in a position relating to a specific area of career interest. Developed by the student in conjunction with a faculty supervisor and site supervisor. Repeatable course. BIOL-499 Special Topics in Biology (1-4 credits) Lectures, discussions, or special laboratory topics not covered in regular course offerings. Provides greater depth to topics of special interest or explores rapidly changing areas in biology. May be repeated. Prerequisites announced when specific topics scheduled. BIOL-536 Human Physiology (3 credits) A detailed study of human function, beginning at a cellular level. Emphasis is placed on the neuromuscular, cardiovascular, pulmonary, renal, and endocrine systems. The effects of exercise and pathology are integrated into each system. Prerequisite: Physical Therapy 531 or permission of the instructor. Fall.

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Sustainable Development: Definition, Principles and Other Details

Read this article to learn about the Sustainable Development:- 1. Definition of Sustainable Development 2. Principles of Sustainable Development 3. Parameters of Sustainable Development 4. Challenges of Sustainable Development.

Definition of Sustainable Development:

The World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission) in its report to the United Nations in 1987 defined sustainable development as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their own needs.

Agenda 21, adopted during the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) called Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil in 1992 is a blue print on how to make development socially, economically and environmentally sustainable.

Principles of Sustainable Development:

The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development fleshes out the definition by listing 18 principles of sustainability:

1. People are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.

2. Development today must not undermine the development and environment needs of present and future generations.

3. Nations have the sovereign right to exploit their own resources but without causing environmental damage beyond their borders.

4. Nations shall develop international laws to provide compensation for damage that activities under their control cause to areas beyond their borders.

5. Nations shall use the precautionary approach to protect the environment. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, scientific uncertainty shall not be used to postpone cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.

6. In order to achieve sustainable development, environmental protection shall constitute an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it.

7. Eradicating poverty and reducing disparities in living standards in different parts of the world are essential to achieve sustainable development and to meet the needs of the majority of people.

8. Nations shall cooperate to conserve, protect and restore the health and integrity of the Earth’s ecosystem. The developed countries acknowledge the responsibility of sustainable development.

9. Nations should reduce and eliminate unsustainable patterns of production and consumption and promote appropriate demographic policies.

10. Environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens. Nations shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making environmental information widely available.

11. Nations shall enact effective environmental laws and develop national law regarding liability for the victims of pollution and other environmental damages. Where they have authority, nations shall assess the environmental impact of proposed activities that are likely to have a significant adverse impact.

12. Nations should cooperate to promote an open international economic system that will lead to economic growth and sustainable development in all countries. Environmental policies should not be used as an unjustifiable means of restricting international trade.

13. The polluter should, in principle, bear the cost of pollution.

14. Nations shall warn one another of natural disasters or activities that may have harmful transboundary impacts.

15. Sustainable development requires better scientific understanding of the problems. Nations should share knowledge and innovative technologies to achieve the goal of sustainability.

16. The full participation of women is essential to achieve sustainable development. The creativity, ideals and courage of youth and the knowledge of indigenous people are needed too. Nations should recognize and support the identity, culture and interests of indigenous people.

17. Warfare is inherently destructive of sustainable development. Nations shall respect international laws protecting the environment in times of armed conflict and shall cooperate in their further establishment.

18. Peace, development and environmental protection are interdependent and indivisible.

Parameters of Sustainable Development:

The goal of sustainable development is an outcome achieved through joint effort among several inter-related parameters and requiring coordination at both vertical and horizontal levels. There exists dynamic triangular relationship among three keys viz., Environmental, Economic and Social parameters.

The people centred at social parameter forms the broad base of triangle as active public participation holds an instrumental role. The interrelationship between population, environment and development is complex. Besides key factors, efficient manpower capacity building, institutional strengthening, including strong political will and effective implementation/monitoring mechanism play equally important role for successful outcome of sustainable development.

Following parameters may be considered:

1. Environmental Sustainability:

Environmental sustainability relates with maintenance of carrying capacity of natural resource base and life support systems. This emphasizes on area of conservation of biodiversity hot spots, increase in forest cover, watershed protection and adoption of holistic approach.

Equally important are reduction of environmental threats, environmental pollution and using environment friendly clean and green technologies to mitigate local to global level environmental problems such as biodiversity loss, climate change from an inter-generational equity perspective.

2. Economic Sustainability:

Economic sustainability provides important energy source like a battery to secure environmental and social sustainability. This emphasizes on promotion of economic self-sustenance of development projects through measures like adequate budgeting, budget transparency and financial incentive.

The focus area includes alleviation of poverty, increase in per capita income, promotion of income generating activities including off farm employment and green micro-enterprises, establishment of mechanism of fair sharing of benefit and natural resource accounting.

3. Social Sustainability:

Social sustainability focuses on upgrading human environmental quality of life with fulfillment of basic needs and transforming man from most dangerous animal to most important creative resource. It emphasizes local communities to be well informed on sustainable ways of resource utilization.

It ensures active public participation at various level of development activity, collaborative efforts in conservation and development activities, improvement in public health, education and basic need, reduction of conflict among stakeholders on resource use. This will be derived through upgrading public environmental awareness, enhanced gender equity and self-confidence among local community with an emphasis on economically disadvantaged/marginalized groups,

4. Institutional Sustainability:

Plans and programmes without action represent futile exercise. Strict implementation and monitoring of relevant environmental policies, plans, laws, regulations and standards is indispensable to attain the goal of sustainable development. There should be adequate skilled and motivated manpower and strong institutional capacity to address environmental and social sustainability.

Focus area lies to achieve environmental quality of life such as reduced air, water, soil, noise pollution to accepted level of international standard and public confidence to get involved in environmental conservation activities. Institutional strengthening of project management should be efficient to deal with environmental problems having local, national, regional to global level significance and including legally binding world conventions and treaties.

Challenges of Sustainable Development:

Sustainable development that fulfills people’s needs of the present and future generations require radical improvements in eco-efficiency and fundamental renewal in technological systems. Since fundamental renewal system takes several decades to move from concept to market, it is imperative that we initiate renewing innovations in the shortest possible time to allow sufficient time to meet this challenge.

Improving eco-efficiency, which will remain an essential element of sustainable developments, is unlikely to suffice in the long run for two reasons:

The report on sustainable development in our common future identifies three leading interconnected principles viz. environmental efficiency, inter and intra-generational social justice and participation in decision making. Although the assumed growth of welfare includes rebound effects, this cannot be prolonged endlessly. Also eco-efficient growth will, in the long run, meet the earth limits.

Systems renewal therefore is a concept integrating technological, cultural and structural elements (Table 1).

Dimensions of Challenge:

Three interacting dimensions of challenge can be distinguished for achieving more sustainable patterns of development:

1. Interwovenness of Culture-Structure-Technology:

Improvements in eco-efficiency should help fulfill people’s needs better. Achieving this goal will require intensive interacting changes in culture (institutional), structure and technology.

a. Culture refers to justifying nature, conditions and volume of societal needs to be fulfilled (sufficiency).

b. Structure refers to the ability of the economic and institutional organisations to fulfill justified needs (effectiveness).

c. Technology provides the technical means to fulfill needs (efficiency).

2. Approaches: Optimisation, Improvement and Redesign-Renewal:

Improvements in eco-efficiency must fit with the time frame for decision making and H2O actions that are accepted in firms and governments. This reflects an approach that fosters transitions along three parallel tracks (Fig. 1).

(i) System optimization. It involves changes in operational processes through quality management, maintenance, auditing, efficiency drives etc. at time scales up to 5 years and with an expected effect on eco-efficiency ranging up to a factor of 1.5.

(ii) System improvements that leave fundamental structures and technologies unchanged but produce incremental changes through revision, reorganisation, redesign at time scales from 5 to 20 years and with an expected effect on eco-efficiency from a factor of 1.5 up to 5.

(iii) System renewal through jump-like changes that grow out of long term research and affect structure, culture and technology fundamentally at time scales of over 20 years (Fig. 2).

Such drastic renewal of technology demands redefinition of existing technology, development approaches and designing new ones at a scale that can increase eco-efficiency by a factor of 5 to 50.

3. Parties Involved:

The challenge of system renewal can only be realised through co-operation between relevant stake holders such as:

(ii) Private production parties,

(iii) NGO’s including consumers and local communities,

(iv) Science and technology.

These parties act in their own arena and keep accounts in their own currency (Table 2). To ensure broad participation in system renewal, stake holders should be able to recognise the possibility of profit.

Relevant aspects with respect to sustainable development of these parties include control, planning (government), exploration of opportunities (private parties), norm setting (NGO’s), analysis (science and technology). Interaction among these dimensions of challenge results in different characterizations of actions and involved actors as shown in Table 3.

System Renewal:

In industrialised countries like Netherlands, system optimisation and system improvement are well covered by existing policies and policy instruments. The challenge is to initiate a process of systems renewal. The future generations concept implies the necessity to achieve systems renewal within 20 to 50 years. But the development of system renewal takes several decades to move from concept to market.

Initiating processes of systems renewal will entail several questions and dilemmas such as:

1. How to handle the uncertainties involved in long term trends and risks?

2. What new roles and forms of co-operation between market, science and technology, government and NGO’s will be demanded and how will they bring the specific strengths, weaknesses and responsibilities of these groups into account?

3. How to involve interested actors and stake holders?

4. How to bridge the drive of competition and the necessity of co-operation?

Today, all aspects of sustainability — physical, economic and social are at stake. Integration of different domains of knowledge (disciplines, sectors, institutions) proves to be essential challenge to obtain viable results and well supported development processes.


General Overviews

Since the late 1990s, a tremendous amount of articles, books, and book chapters have explored the biosocial underpinnings to crime, delinquency, and other forms of antisocial behavior. Still, most criminology undergraduate and graduate students rarely, if ever, are exposed to the biosocial perspective during their coursework. Wright, et al. 2008b examines this issue by analyzing data revealing the degree to which genetic research has penetrated the discipline of criminology. Fortunately, there are a number of published works that provide accessible overviews of the biosocial perspective. Perhaps the most influential book on biosocial criminology is Raine 1993. A wave of additional books and articles have also provided overviews of biosocial criminology, including Beaver 2009, Fishbein, 2001, Rowe, 2002, Walsh 2002, and Wright, et al. 2008a. These books are designed for beginners, and they are thus relatively free of technical jargon. Instead, they explain the basic concepts related to the biological sciences in very clear and concise terms. Written from a biosocial perspective, Rowe 1994 provides an in-depth discussion of how family-based research is methodologically flawed and how the influence that families have on human development is grossly overestimated. These books are accessible to undergraduate and graduate students as well as researchers who are beginning to learn about the biosocial perspective. Walsh and Beaver 2009 contains original essays dealing with different aspects of biosocial criminology.

Beaver, Kevin M. 2009. Biosocial criminology: A primer. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.

Provides an overview of the biosocial criminological perspective that is accessible to both undergraduate and graduate students.

Fishbein, Diana. 2001. Biobehavioral perspectives in criminology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.

Discusses the major issues and concepts related to biosocial criminology and applies a biosocial framework to the explanation of criminal behavior.

Raine, Adrian. 1993. The psychopathology of crime: Criminal behavior as a clinical disorder. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

A classic book that examines a range of biosocial factors, including neurotransmitters, genetics, and hormones, and how they are related to criminal behavior.

Rowe, David C. 1994. The limits of family influence: Genes, experience, and behavior. New York: Guilford.

A very influential and important book that examines the role of the family in the development of behaviors. Uses an interdisciplinary approach to showcase the limits of standard social science research that fails to control for genetic factors.

Rowe, David C. 2002. Biology and crime. Los Angeles: Roxbury.

Appropriate for both undergraduate and graduate students, this book provides an introduction to the study of crime and criminals from a biosocial perspective.

Walsh, Anthony. 2002. Biosocial criminology: Introduction and integration. Cincinnati, OH: Anderson.

Explains the basic concepts of biosocial criminology and shows how biosocial concepts can be integrated into existing sociologically oriented criminological theories.

Walsh, Anthony, and Kevin M. Beaver, eds. 2009. Biosocial criminology: New directions in theory and research. New York: Routledge.

Contains a range of original chapters written by leading biosocial criminologists and dealing with issues related to genetics, the neurosciences, and evolutionary psychology.

Wright, John Paul, Stephen G. Tibbetts, and Leah E. Daigle. 2008a. Criminals in the making: Criminality across the life course. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Uses an interdisciplinary perspective to examine the biological, genetic, and environmental factors that influence the development of criminality and criminals.

Wright, John Paul, Kevin M. Beaver, Matt DeLisi, Michael G. Vaughn, Danielle Boisvert, and Jamie Vaske. 2008b. Lombroso’s legacy: The miseducation of criminologists. Journal of Criminal Justice Education 19.3: 325–338.

Empirically examines the extent to which biology is integrated into the graduate curriculum and mainstream criminological journals.

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The Role of the Environment in Shaping Personality

(Image: Studio Romantic/Shutterstock)

Defining Genius and Charisma

Before delving into the role of the environment on human personality, think of someone such as Mozart. Where did that level of musical genius come from? Yes, there were some musicians in his family, but none of them came even close to his level. By the time he was five years old, Mozart was competent on the violin and keyboard, and he was already composing music. His sister was also a skilled musician at a young age, but she never showed much skill at composition.

Portrait of six-year-old Mozart painted by Pietro Antonio Lorenzoni (1763) on commission from Leopold Mozart. (Image: Unknown/Mozarteum, Salzburg)

Being a musical prodigy requires many characteristics to align just right. Many people might have part of the pattern, but it all came together for Mozart. His genius wasn’t all genetics of course. His father was a minor composer and a music teacher, and having a music teacher in the house certainly got Mozart started. If his father had been a blacksmith, and Mozart had never had an opportunity to learn music, his genius probably wouldn’t have developed. Mozart must have had some special combination of genes that his parents and siblings didn’t, even though they shared 50 percent of the same genes.

This is a transcript from the video series Understanding the Mysteries of Human Behavior. Watch it now, on The Great Courses.

Some researchers think that charisma is also this sort of emergenic trait. Charisma is hard to define, but we can all think of people who have a certain amount of charisma—that special magic or charm that draws people to them, seen in many entertainers.

Charisma requires many characteristics to align just right. For example, it helps if you are physically attractive it’s hard to think of many charismatic people who are really unattractive. You also need to be at least moderately extraverted and sociable, and to have certain interpersonal skills and an ability to relate to people. Throw in some self-confidence, along with some good verbal ability.

Charisma requires many characteristics to align just right. For example, it helps if you are physically attractive, at least moderately extraverted, sociable, have certain interpersonal skills, the ability to relate to people, self-confidence, as well as some good verbal ability.

Charisma requires a combination of a high level of all of these things, each of which has some genetic basis. If you don’t have them all, you’re probably not highly charismatic. It’s possible then, for one child in a family to have the right combination of genes and exude charisma, while his brother or sister is, comparatively, introverted or less sociable.

The Role of the Environment

Personality often depends on particular combinations of genes that brothers and sisters don’t necessarily share, but what about the environmental influences on personality? Consider the impact of the parents and the family environment on personality. One might expect children who are raised by the same parents in the same way in the same home ought to turn out similar, but this fact isn’t necessarily the case.

It is true that environmental influences, including parenting, affect personality. Based on genetic data, researchers have concluded that environment accounts for approximately 50 to 70 percent of personality. But researchers have also found the environments that children from the same family share with each other exert a much weaker influence on their personalities than the environments that each child experiences individually.

There are certain activities that kids in a family share—they all went together on a family vacation last year and they all had dinner with the family last night. But many experiences happen to just one child—two different second-grade teachers or one sibling plays in a band while the other does not.

Shared experiences that are common to all children in a family don’t make their personalities as similar to each other (Image: Pavel Vinnik/Shutterstock)

Research shows that shared experiences that are common to all children in a family affect their personalities far less than unshared environmental influences that each child experiences separately. The common environments and experiences that children in a family share don’t make them as similar to each other as we might expect.

Adopted Children: Unshared Influences

One of the strongest pieces of evidence for the idea that the shared family environment does not cause children to be alike stems from research with adopted children. If the shared family environment made children similar to each other, then children with different biological parents who are adopted into the same family should have personalities that are more similar than two unrelated people who grew up in different homes. According to the latest research, they are not.

Identical twins have similar psychology due to genetics and not family environment (Image: JGA/Shutterstock)

When researchers analyzed why identical twins were so similar psychologically, they found that the similarity was due almost entirely to genetics, not to the fact that they grew up in the same environment. The fact that sharing a particular environment growing up does not lead siblings to be similar surprises most people.

Shared influences are variables that are common to all children in a family—the house and town they live in, the number of TV sets and books in the house, their parents’ attitudes and values, whether the family attends church, the family’s financial situation, the relatives who visit, the family pet, family vacations, and so on.

Unshared influences are things that children in the same family don’t share. For example, the kids probably have different sets of friends and different teachers in school. Their parents probably treat them a bit differently as well, both because each child is different, and because the parents themselves change as they have more children. The family’s finances may change when different children are different ages, and the parents’ marriage may have different ups and downs along the way so that some children may see more conflict between the parents. Brothers and sisters in the same family also have different personal experiences, different illnesses, and different injuries.

Even children growing up in the same family have many different, unshared experiences—and these differences help explain some of the variations in personality. Research has shown that unshared parts of children’s environments exert a stronger influence on personality development than the shared parts. In some studies, the shared environment exerts little or no discernible impact on personality. For example, once we control for the genetic similarity among brothers and sisters, they are barely any more similar to one another than randomly selected people—even though they grew up in the same family.

Common Questions About Environment and Human Personality

A person’s environment does affect personality , but biology and genetics also play a role in determining one’s personality traits.

Both genetics and environment influence personality . Twin studies have found that genetics play a larger role than parental influences when it comes to behavioral outcomes, but non-shared environmental factors play an even bigger role. For instance, if one twin falls in with a bad crowd at school, that will have a huge influence on his or her behavior.

Many factors influence human behavior , including the environment in which one is raised, genetics, culture, and community, which includes teachers and classmates.

One environmental influence on personality is culture. For instance, some cultures dictate that children should be reserved and speak only when spoken to. Another environmental influence is school. Since children spend the majority of their time in school, this can have a huge influence on their personality. If they go to a school where violence and drug abuse proliferates, they are more likely to engage in these behaviors themselves as peer pressure can be very powerful.


Nature vs. Nurture: The Biology of Sexuality

Richard Pillard says that much about how sexual orientation is determined remains a mystery. “I think some sort of genetic influence seems very likely,” he says, “but beyond that, what really can we say? And the answer is: not a lot.”

Homosexuality was considered a mental illness when Richard Pillard was in medical school. It was the 1950s and the School of Medicine professor of psychiatry was at the University of Rochester. At the time, the American Psychological Association still listed homosexuality as a disorder and psychologists and psychiatrists were trained on ways to treat it.

The first psychological test undertaken to determine whether there was a biological explanation for homosexuality was in 1957. With a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, Karen Hooker studied the relationship between homosexuality and psychological development and illness. Hooker studied both homosexuals and heterosexuals—matched for age, intelligence, and education level. The subjects were then given three psychological tests: the Rorschach, the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), and the Make-a-Picture-Story Test (MAPS). Hooker found no major differences in the answers given by the two groups. Because of the similar scores, she concluded that sexuality is not based on environmental factors.

In 1973, based on Hooker’s findings, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychological Disorders and in 1975, released a public statement that homosexuality was not a mental disorder.

There have been numerous studies designed to determine whether or not homosexuality has a genetic cause. Among the most notable were a series of studies Pillard and J. Michael Bailey, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University, conducted in the early 1990s that found that homosexuality is largely biologically determined, not environmentally influenced. In their findings, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, they argued that decades of psychiatric research into social and cultural causes show “small effect size and are causally ambiguous.”

Pillard and Bailey examined identical and fraternal twin brothers—as well as nonrelated brothers who had been adopted—in an effort to see if there was a genetic explanation for homosexuality. They found that if one identical twin was gay, 52 percent of the time the other was also the figure was 22 percent for fraternal twins, and only 5 percent for nonrelated adopted brothers. Pillard and Bailey’s findings have been debated in the intervening decades.

Pillard is quick to point out that much about how sexual orientation is determined remains a mystery. “It’s really hard to come up with any definite statement about the situation,” he says. “I think some sort of genetic influence seems very likely, but beyond that, what really can we say? And the answer is: not a lot.”

BU Today caught up with Pillard to talk about the lecture he will deliver tonight, titled Born This Way: The Biology of Sexual Orientation. The talk is part of the OUTlook Lecture series, sponsored by the LGBTQ ministry at Marsh Chapel.

BU Today: Has your research found that sexual orientation is biologically determined?
Pillard:
I think so. But nobody knows for sure what causes a person to be either gay or straight. It’s one of the great mysteries of science, at least of biological science.

Can you talk about the twin research you’ve conducted?
What we did was to recruit groups of twins, identical and fraternal twins. And the theory is if a particular trait is genetic, the identical twins would be more alike than the fraternal twins. The results were that they were more alike. The identical twins were far more similar than the fraternal twins.

Is there evidence that life experiences play a role in sexual orientation?
It’s a hard question to answer, because by “experience,” we’re talking about when kids are in the very first years of their life. If you’re going to do research about it, you’re doing research on people 20 or 30 years later, so it’s really hard to look back with certainty on what happened to them in those early years.

But a lot of people have tried, and have said things like, ‘Well, it depends on the fact that your mother was overprotective or that your father was distant or absent.’ You have to reconstruct those theories from events of long ago. And how do you know the mother really was overprotective—you have to depend on what the subject in your study is remembering about his early years. And that could be easily falsified.

Your research suggests that there is often a familial pattern in homosexuality.
Yes. It seems to us that being gay runs in families much more frequently than you would expect by chance alone. And the pattern is hard to specify: that is, in some cases they’re brothers and sisters, in some cases it’s parents and children, or aunts and uncles. So it’s hard to put that into theory given what we know about genes and behavior, which is to say, not a lot.

What made you decide on this research? What was your motivation?
Well, because there are so many gay people in my family, including me. It just seemed like a logical thing to do. At the time that I was searching for a problem, that popped out.

I think that the future of this kind of research belongs to people who are geneticists, people who are expert in gene mapping. These are the sort of bench scientists, where I am more interested in clinical things. I would be very interested if something came of this—that is, when the day comes where genes are mapped, I’d be very interested in that. But, it’s not something that I’m equipped to do.

Do you think that because attitudes are changing and acceptance of the LGBT community is becoming more prevalent, people are more willing to accept the possibility that sexual orientation is determined biologically?
It’s hard to say. Insofar as people look at evidence, it’s clearly biological. The objection to homosexuality comes exclusively from the conservative religious streak, who say, ‘Well, the Bible forbids it, therefore we must be guided by what the Bible says.’ But there’s no other evidence. Lesbians and gay men don’t do worse at their jobs, they are just as good as friends and citizens. As more gay people are out and open about their orientation, the general population realizes, ‘Well, they’re pretty much the same as everybody else.’

When I was in my medical school training in the 1950s, the only places you heard about gay people being were in prison or a mental hospital. So the assumption was, well they’re all quite bizarre. Then in the late 1960s, when civil rights were being granted to people of color and to women and finally to gays, it was realized that they’re like everybody else. I think most people now have friends or acquaintances who are gay. The average college student doesn’t think much about it.

Are you amazed at how far attitudes have changed?
Yes, but it’s taken a long time—50 years is a long time. But it absolutely is changing. Even so, there are people who think that gays shouldn’t be teachers or who are against gay marriage.

Since we don’t really know all the answers, people can have any opinion that crosses their mind. But I think most scientists, most people who are familiar with the science of the area, would say it’s very likely that something genetic is afoot here.

Will you be talking about sexual orientation in any kind of religious context?
I have to say I’m a hard-core atheist. I’m the last person who is qualified in any way to comment on theological matters. But I wonder what college students at BU think. Because I’m on the Medical Campus, I just don’t get the chance to rub shoulders with those on the Charles River Campus. It’ll be interesting to exchange views with them.

Because you’ll be presenting your evidence, and there’s no guesswork.
It’s just the facts, ma’am.


Perspectives in Ecology and Conservation

We are mostly interested in articles that deal with tropical and subtropical systems, but without any bias towards particular organisms or ecosystems. Scientific papers must focus on new conceptual or methodological developments with practical implications. Case studies will be considered only if inserted in these more general contexts. Authors are encouraged to submit reviews and essays that provide new perspectives on arising ecological and conservation issues. Purely descriptive papers and studies without a clear link with conservation theory and practice will not be considered.

Perspectives in Ecology and Conservation is the official scientific journal of the "Brazilian Association for Ecological Science and Conservation". It is an open access journal, supported by the Boticário Group Foundation for Nature Protection, and thus without any charge for authors. Perspectives in Ecology and Conservation was previously published, between 2003 and 2016, as "Natureza & Conservação".

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Researchers working with biodiversity and ecosystem services, conservationists and practitioners, government, decision and policymakers.


Synthetic Biology: Environmental Health Implications of a New Field

Imagine the most sophisticated engineering feat you can think of, and you might not consider a living cell. And yet cells are fabulously sophisticated, able to produce all the proteins, tissues, and biological circuits that give rise to life. Scientists have spent hundreds of years just trying to understand cells and to work with them as they were created by nature. Now it’s becoming possible to “rewire” cells using genetic circuits, protein pathways, and other biomolecular machinery created in the laboratory. By swapping out natural genetic circuitry for synthesized components made of DNA, scientists are putting cells to work as sensors and as miniature factories that make pharmaceuticals, fuels, and industrial chemicals.

These possibilities not only blur the lines between engineering and biology but also are transforming how scientists approach challenges in energy, human health, and the environment. Robert Kitney, a professor of biomedical systems engineering at Imperial College of Science, Technology, and Medicine in London, England, believes the field’s influence could rival or exceed that of synthetic chemistry, which made modern pharmaceuticals, detergents, plastics, and computer semiconductors possible. “We’re talking about harnessing cells—which I describe as the ultimate manufacturing units—to carry out human-controlled processes,” says Kitney. “And that’s a completely new world with many up sides.”

David Rejeski, who directs the Science and Technology Innovation Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, predicts a steady convergence of nanotechnology and synthetic biology will redefine manufacturing over the next 100 years. “It’s a profound change—the next Industrial Revolution,” he says. “Precision control of matter at the nanoscale will change the way we produce just about everything, from electronics to drugs, fuels, materials, and food.”

Defining the Field

Despite that potential—or perhaps because of it—this new field of synthetic biology suffers from an identity crisis. Ask 10 experts to define “synthetic biology,” and you’re liable to get 10 different answers. The field overlaps with genetic engineering, which involves adding or deleting single genes, and also with metabolic engineering, which allows scientists to optimize cellular processes to produce desired substances, such as hormones. Pamela Silver, a professor of systems biology at Harvard Medical School and a core faculty member with Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, says synthetic biology embraces metabolic engineering but also diverges from it by relying on modular components made from DNA. Scientists can now synthesize genes from DNA subunits arranged to user specifications. Those genes are then strung together into components and devices that cells, under laboratory conditions, can absorb into their chromosomes.

The field of synthetic biology was launched by a pair of papers published in the 20 January 2000 issue of Nature . The first—by Michael B. Elowitz and Stanislas Leibler—presented a synthetic genetic oscillator. The other—by Timothy S. Gardner, Charles R. Cantor, and James J. Collins—presented a synthetic genetic toggle switch, showing that it was feasible to model, design, and construct synthetic gene networks out of biomolecular components.

In what’s seen as a major proof of concept for the field, scientists at Amyris Biotechnologies in Emeryville, California, rewired 12 genes in yeast so the organism would produce artemisinin, an antimalarial drug. On the environmental front, scientists are also rewiring algae and other organisms to make biofuels for the transportation sector. Eric Toone, a professor of chemistry and of biochemistry at Duke University, says that without synthetic biology it’s unlikely biofuels could ever be produced at the volumes and prices needed to compete economically with gasoline, diesel, or jet fuel.

But if synthetic biology is exciting, it’s also unsettling to those concerned about its risks. Engineered microbes might escape and propagate in the wild with unforeseen consequences, some say. Others caution that synthetic biology has high potential for abuse. Customized DNA sequences delivered through the mail can now be bought for just 40¢ per base pair. Gene synthesis companies aren’t legally obligated to screen their customers, so it’s possible terrorists could make viral bioweapons from scratch, says Pat Mooney, executive director with the ETC Group in Ottawa, Canada.

Jay Keasling, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, who pioneered the artemisinin research, openly acknowledges the field’s potential hazards. “The worst thing that could happen is someone gets hurt from synthetic biology,” he says. “But we’re also talking about applications that justify the field going forward in a major way.” Like other proponents of the field, Keasling frames synthetic biology’s potential in terms of how it can help solve humanity’s worst problems, many of which are tightly intertwined with environmental health: energy shortages, pollution, hunger, and disease.

“We’re headed towards a global population of nine billion in just thirty-five years, up from six billion today,” adds Craig Venter, who famously led private efforts to decode the human genome, and who now heads the J. Craig Venter Institute, a genomics-based research organization. “Our . . . hope is that [synthetic biology] works so that we don’t have to constantly destroy the environment to produce more food. The same applies to fuel—we need intelligent solutions.”

A Focus on Biofuels

Given pricing, security, and pollution concerns regarding fossil fuels, biofuels rank high as a priority use for synthetic biology figures collected by Rejeski’s team show the Department of Energy spent over $305 million on synthetic biology research in fiscal year 2009 with a similar amount projected for this year. (By comparison, the Department of Health and Human Services spent roughly $19 million in the field in fiscal year 2009 and has yet to determine its 2010 outlay.)

Unlike fossil fuels, which release long-sequestered carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere when burned, plant-based biofuels are carbon-neutral, meaning the carbon they release during burning was captured from the air during photosynthesis. The first-generation fuels available now—namely, corn-based ethanol, biodiesel, and other fuels derived from food crops—have been impractical as energy sources, Toone says. Ethanol is corrosive and miscible with water, so it can’t be transported by pipeline. And biodiesel can’t burn in gasoline engines, which power most of the vehicles on the road. What’s more, first-generation fuels are linked to instabilities in food pricing and also with deforestation in tropical countries [for more information, see “Food vs. Fuel: Diversion of Crops Could Cause More Hunger,” EHP 116:A254–A257 (2008)].

Next-generation biofuels generated from nonfood sources such as algae, cyanobacteria, and switchgrass—a weedy plant that grows on marginal lands, generating enormous biomass without much water—will ideally be produced more efficiently, relieving some pressure on agriculture. Scientists are engineering cells that secrete fuel intermediates (such as lipids and fatty acids) that can be refined into fuels. This past July, ExxonMobil contributed $600 million to Venter’s new startup company, Synthetic Genomics, Inc., with the aim of extracting “biocrude” from photosynthetic algae that can be refined into gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.

Venter’s approach draws on the concept of making biofuel directly from CO2 in the atmosphere. Photosynthetic organisms such as algae fix CO2 from the air then, using light (as an energy source) and hydrogen from water vapor, they reduce this CO2 to an energy-rich product: glucose. A sugar, glucose is loaded with carbon–carbon bonds. And during respiration, those bonds are broken down into lipids and other energy-rich hydrocarbons that could ideally be refined into transportation fuel.

By changing the algae’s genetic structure, Venter and his colleagues aim to make different types of hydrocarbons, more like those found in fossil fuels. Given proprietary concerns, Venter won’t comment on how his company is rewiring the algae. He says only that they’re “engineered to continuously pump hydrocarbons out into media [rather than accumulating them], making them production machines rather than something we grow just to kill or harvest.”

James Liao, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles, hopes to avoid refining altogether by engineering photosynthetic cyanobacteria that make engine-compatible fuels. As described in the December 2009 issue of Nature Biotechnology, Liao and colleagues divert cell pathways normally involved in amino acid synthesis so that instead they produce alcohol—namely, butanol, which Liao says can go directly into current-day internal combustion engines. “The good thing about algae and cyanobacteria is that they don’t require agricultural land,” Liao adds. “We can use coastal areas.”

Writing in the same issue of Nature Biotechnology, John Sheehan, a scientific program coordinator at the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, described Liao’s production volumes as “impressive,” pointing out they’re “five to six times better than industrially relevant estimates for corn and cellulosic ethanol production, and even outperform current estimates for algal oil productivity.”

Still, Liao acknowledges that even with these high yields, photosynthetic microbes would have to be cultivated on millions of acres to offset gasoline and other liquid fossil fuels. That’s in part because photons penetrate just 10 cm into the ponds and bioreactors where the microbes are grown.

Toone, who directs biofuels research at the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy (more commonly known as ARPA-E), agrees that biofuels derived from photosynthesis will require enormous land area regardless of whether energy crops or microbes are used. “And that brings us to another option that hasn’t been explored yet: using nonphotosynthetic organisms to make liquid fuels from carbon dioxide,” Toone says.

For those who aren’t familiar with synthetic biology, the term can conjure images of scientists creating artificial life—monsters, perhaps—in the laboratory. Newspaper headlines can feed those perceptions—a 2008 report by th Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Trends in American and European Press Coverage of Synthetic Biology: Tracking the Last Five Years of Coverage, found numerous media references to “playing God” or “copying God,” and even the phrase “Frankenstein-like” to describe what’s emerging from the field. The reality isn’t quite so sensational scientists aren’t creating new life from scratch so much as they are developing new ways to direct cell behavior.

Nonphotosynthetic microbes take energy from sources other than light, such as charged ions in certain metals. But like their photosynthetic counterparts, these organisms don’t produce traditional fuel compounds—acetogenic microbes, for instance, make acetate during respiration, while methanogens produce methane. “We need synthetic biology to install new pathways so that these organisms start producing the fuels we’re interested in,” Toone says. “The bugs could go anywhere, even underground, and you don’t have to spread them so thinly because they don’t [rely on] photons.”

Robert Kelly, director of the biotechnology program at North Carolina State University, suggests that energy for nonphotosynthetic organisms could come from hydrogen, which some anaerobic microbes use to reduce CO2 into more complex carbon-based molecules. Toone adds that some microbes could be engineered to use electricity as an energy source. “You could generate that electricity from solar panels, nuclear power, even wind and wave action,” he says.

None of the bewildering array of options for making next-generation fuels are ready for prime time yet. And those deemed most promising will also have to contend with three core challenges, according to James Collins, a professor of bioengineering at Boston University and a Wyss Institute core member. “The first [challenge] is scale—you need to get production up to industrial levels,” Collins says. “The second is efficiency, because as the size of your operation grows, your fuel yield will likely decrease. And the third is economics. You can’t expect a viable business model if it costs you four dollars to make a dollar’s worth of gas. Failure to overcome any one of these limitations is likely to kill your project.”

Robert Carlson, a principal at Biodesic, a bioengineering design firm in Seattle, Washington, doesn’t necessarily see scale as a dealbreaker when it comes to commercializing biofuel applications. On the contrary, he wrote in a 23 February 2009 essay titled “The New Biofactories,” synthetic biology could enable the production of fuel within cars themselves: “In the spring of 2007, researchers reported the successful construction of a synthetic pathway consisting of 13 enzymes from different organisms that can turn starch into hydrogen,” he wrote. “This suggests a future in which sugar or starch—substances available at any grocery store—will go into our fuel tanks instead of gasoline.”

Kelly adds that no one approach is likely to serve as a silver bullet that replaces fossil fuels altogether. “We’re not going to be locked into any one system,” he says.

Synthetic Microbes for Bioremediation

Apart from new fuels, better hazardous waste cleanup is also cited as one of synthetic biology’s environmental promises. Bioremediation is already common in oil spill cleanups Rhodococcus and Pseudomonas bacteria, among others, naturally consume and degrade many petroleum components into less toxic by-products. Using engineered microbes to degrade more recalcitrant chemicals such as dioxins, pesticides, or even radioactive compounds could save millions of dollars otherwise spent on excavating and trucking polluted soils to hazardous waste landfills, according to Gary Sayler, who heads the Center for Environmental Biotechnology at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. But research in this area—under development for more than 2 decades—has yet to get out of the laboratory, Sayler says. Fearing uncertain environmental consequences, activists have routinely lined up against releasing engineered microbes for cleanup, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has subjected the organisms to extensive risk-assessment protocols.

Today, health agencies are more willing to consider genetically engineered microbes in cleanup, Sayler says, but even so, the infrastracture needed to proceed isn’t available, and neither is the funding. Synthetic biology might offer new opportunities, he adds, but scientists need to explore how degradation pathways developed mainly in Escherichia coli research will work in other microbes better suited for survival in polluted sites.

A leading scientist in this area is Victor de Lorenzo, head of the Laboratory of Environmental Molecular Microbiology at Spain’s National Center for Biotechnology. De Lorenzo uses robust microbes that survive in harsh conditions—for instance, the soil bacterium Pseudomonas putida—which he then “edits” genomically by replacing nonessential genes with engineered metabolic and regulatory circuits that degrade target compounds. These new circuits direct microbes away from easy carbon sources such as glucose, he says, and toward more challenging food sources in industrial chemicals. “In other words, we’re uncoupling metabolism from the microbe’s own physiology,” he explains.

By removing all nonessential genes, de Lorenzo can create what’s known as a reduced genome, or a minimized cell. As blank slates that scientists can program by adding new genes, these constructs define a leading edge for synthetic biology.

Apart from making minimal cells by deleting unnecessary genes, scientists can also generate them by booting up voided cells (whose own chromosomes have been removed) with entirely new genomes assembled from scratch. This is the approach Venter is taking now. In 2008, he and his research team accomplished one of synthetic biology’s biggest feats: they synthesized the entire genome—485 coding genes—for Mycoplasma genitalium, a simple bacterium. According to Venter, at least 115 of those genes are nonessential and can be deleted without harming the genome’s functionality. Venter’s team is now trying to use a synthetic bacterial genome to boot up the voided cell of a related species, M. capricolum.

So far, as reported in the 25 September 2009 issue of Science, they haven’t succeeded. Venter explains that M. capricolum rejected the new genome in much the same way it might reject a virus. “We’re developing methods to sidestep this problem,” he says. Among those methods: removing the restriction enzymes that M. capricolum uses to slice up foreign genetic material (which led to the recent failure) or attaching methyl groups to the synthetic genome to protect it in the cell. If successful, Venter and his colleagues will produce a minimal cell possessing only the genes needed for life.

Whether such a cell would constitute a synthetic life form—as some have claimed—is up for debate, however. Petra Schwille, a professor at the Biotechnology Center of the Dresden University of Technology, says Venter’s microbe isn’t synthetic life so much as something more analogous to an interspecies clone. “He’s inserting the genome from one organism into the chassis of another,” she explains. That’s different from synthesizing an entire living cell from fatty acids and proteins. To me, this is more like a bacterial robot than a type of synthetic life.”

Venter emphasizes that his ambition in making this type of cell has always been to use them as platforms for understanding fundamental living processes. Still, Silver emphasizes that regardless of how they’re made, minimal cells could also be used as basic manufacturing platforms. Just like a computer’s functionality depends on the software you put into it, she explains, a minimal cell’s functionality would depend on its synthetic circuits. “If you want to make fuel or drugs, you still use this as your platform organism,” she says. “It’s essentially a universal chassis onto which you layer everything else.”

Regulating the Future

Meanwhile, experts disagree on how risky any of these engineered microbes might be. Keasling argues they don’t compete well in the wild and, moreover, that scientists can engineer the organisms to die when their task is complete—for instance, after the nutrient pollutants they feed on run out. And Collins has created DNA counters that commit cells to death after they replicate a few times.

Still, as Rejeski wrote in the January/February 2010 issue of The Environmental Forum, “One important lesson from the last Industrial Revolution is that the winners in this technological arms race are not necessarily good for the environment.” Synthetic biology promises a galaxy of molecules and systems that are “specifically engineered to respond to the external environment (for instance, change structure and behavior in response to light, electromagnetic fields, pH, or other conditions), or actually self-assemble into entirely new structures,” he wrote. “These applications will be difficult to understand with traditional risk assessment methods.”

Kitney says the interface between gene synthesis companies and the public will ultimately form the front line for new regulations. “Right now, the research community in this area is pretty small,” he says. “But as it gets larger—and I completely believe that it will—we’ll need to go from voluntary systems to more rigorous regulations that monitor potential threats.”

Mooney also cautions that biofuel development could still compete unacceptably for agricultural resources and consolidate intellectual property in fuels and manufacturing in the hands of just a few companies. The ETC Group’s October 2008 report Commodifying Nature’s Last Straw? Extreme Genetic Engineering and the Post-Petroleum Sugar Economy states, “Advocates of synthetic biology and the bio-based sugar economy assume that unlimited supplies of cellulosic biomass will be available. But can massive quantities of biomass be harvested sustainably without eroding/degrading soils, destroying biodiversity, increasing food insecurity and displacing marginalized peoples?” Moreover, the report states, simply “moving beyond petroleum” does not address high consumption patterns that drive many of these environmental ills.

In Mooney’s view, the regulations governing synthetic biology now are wholly inadequate. That’s not to say the risks outweigh the potential benefits, he emphasizes. “We’re not talking about a failure of science but of governance in terms of its ability to track and regulate a powerful new technology,” he explains. “This capacity to redesign life is vastly greater than what we normally associate with biotechnology.”

As Rejeski put it in his Environmental Forum essay, “EPA and the other environmental agencies have a once-in-a-century opportunity to place environmental policy and protection in front of a major shift in how we produce just about everything.” What’s needed, Rejeski says, is a central authority that coordinates research and planning on synthetic biology. An analogous entity, he says, might be the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office, which organizes federal research and development, public information, and congressional hearings into that field. “There’s not enough public engagement on the science of synthetic biology or its social and ethical implications, but from what we can tell in our focus groups and surveys, this is going to be a really contentious issue,” Rejeski says. “People react very negatively to the phrase ‘synthetic biology,’ and it’s going to be hard to thread the science through the needle of public opinion.”

Still, Mooney lauds what he says is a remarkably open dialogue between scientists and policy experts in the technology’s early days. “It can’t just be scientists making all the decisions here,” he says. “We also need governments that represent the people, who can talk to the scientists and beyond them. I think if people have the chance to think these things through carefully, we’ll end up saying no in some cases, but in others, we’re going to want to know how we can use [synthetic biology] to solve problems.”

Researchers currently are aiming to produce 100 g of biofuel per m 2 per day from algae and cyanobacteria—about 10 times the output achieved so far. Equaling current U.S. demand for gasoline would require millions of acres if using photosynthetic algae, but novel strains of nonphotosynthetic algae can be grown in fermentation bioreactors that could require less land area.

Above: Rick Weiss of MIT and colleagues engineered E. coli “receiver” cells to evaluate how far they are from pink “sender” cells and report this distance by expressing a particular fluorescent protein (red or blue). The effect somewhat resembles embryogenesis, in which the maternal environment provides such cues using chemical gradients.

Below: William Shih of Harvard and colleagues designed a single DNA strand that folds itself into a nanoscale octahedron using a technique called nano-origami. These minute structures could be used in molecular manufacturing, as structures that ferry drug molecules directly to diseased cells, or in X-ray crystallography.


Watch the video: 2011 05 17 19 31 Μείζον Σύμπλεγμα Ιστοσυμβατότητας (July 2022).


Comments:

  1. Harte

    Read, of course, far from my topic. But, nevertheless, it is possible to cooperate with you. How do you yourself feel about trust management?

  2. Malagore

    Clearly, the ideal answer

  3. Jeannot

    In my opinion it already was discussed.

  4. Adisa

    This was not enough yet.

  5. Dugis

    And what, if to us to look at this question from other point of view?



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