The programme can currently be found here
for those who can receive it. The BBC Horizon
website can be found here
This programme highlights a risk that is probably not what you think. When the media talks about the risks of scientists playing God, with genetic engineering and creating hybrids and other strange life forms in the laboratory, we tend to think about so-called Frankenstein foods and the risk posed by our interfering with the natural order. The real risk here, or at least the biggest one, is nothing new but more of the same, in particular, oil.
Scientist Adam Rutherford begins by visiting a university farm project in Utah where researchers are hoping to develop ultra-strong material from spiders' webs by implanting spider genes in goats, then harvesting the material. There is also something that will be of interest to Aubrey de Grey and his SENS gang
, in particular the use of nano-technology to purge the human body of radiation, and no doubt of cancer and other undesirable infections. But what was that about oil?
Oil is running out
, and in any case, we can't go on burning this stuff and polluting our world, which has led to the development of radical new and innovative technologies like hydrogen cars
, electric cars
, solar energy
and wind farms
. These are all good things, but what if someone were to develop a new method for producing oil, by reprogramming
brewers's yeast? This is the real nightmare scenario of this programme. The energy the Sun gives us is free, ditto the wind and waves. True, harvesting it does at times call for substantial investment, but it is clean and on tap all day long and all year round, or it can be made so by a little innovation. On the other hand, oil is not clean, even if it could be grown in the laboratory on a ginormous scale, it would still come with a price, and that price is too much for the human race to pay.
There are other exciting prospects arising out of these new bio-technologies; if plastics and similar chemicals can be produced in the laboratory, that is a step in the right direction, but for the moment — or for the rest of human history — the very last thing we need is oil and petroleum gushing out of the world's research laboratories and retailing for one cent a gallon. Some things are not cheap at any price, especially when they contribute to the destruction of our world.