Raul Montañez, Salvador Nebreda, Ricard Solé

Paper #: 15-03-008

Mounting evidence indicates that our planet might experience runaway effects associated to rising temperatures and ecosystem overexploitation, leading to catastrophic shifts on short time scales. Remediation scenarios capable of counterbalancing these effects involve geoengineering, sustainable practices and carbon sequestration, among others. None of these scenarios seems powerful enough to achieve the desired restoration of safe boundaries.

We hypothesize that synthetic organisms with the appropriate engineering design could be used to safely prevent declines in some stressed ecosystems and help improving carbon sequestration. Such schemes would include engineering mutualistic dependencies preventing undesired evolutionary processes. We hypothesize that some particular design principles introduce inescapable constraints to the engineered organisms that act as effective firewalls.

Testing these designed organisms can be achieved by using controlled bioreactor models and accurate computational models including different scales (from genetic constructs and metabolic pathways to population dynamics). Our hypothesis heads towards a future anthropogenic action that should effectively act as Terraforming agents. It also implies a major challenge in the existing biosafety policies, since we suggest release of modified organisms as potentially necessary strategy for success.