Ricard Solé

Paper #: 14-10-039

Our planet is experiencing an accelerated process of change associated to a variety of anthropogenic-related processes. Climate change and biodiversity decline are two facets of this phenomenon. The future of this transformation is uncertain, but there is general agreement about its negative unfolding that might threaten our own survival. Furthermore, the pace of the expected changes is likely to be abrupt: catastrophic shifts might be the most likely outcome of this ongoing, apparently slow process. Although different strategies for geo-engineering the planet have been advanced, none seem likely to safely revert the large-scale problems associated to carbon dioxide accumulation or ecosystem degradation. An alternative possibility considered here is inspired in the rapidly growing potential for engineering living systems. It would involve designing synthetic organisms capable of reproducing and expanding to large geographic scales with the goal of achieving a long-term or a transient restoration of ecosystem-level homeostasis. Such a regional or even planetary-scale engineering would have to deal with the complexity of our biosphere. It will require not only a proper design of organisms but also understanding their place within ecological networks and their evolvability. This is a likely future scenario that will require integration of ideas coming from currently weakly connected domains, including synthetic biology, ecological and genome engineering, evolutionary theory, climate science, biogeography and invasion ecology, among others.