Technology is a process and a body of knowledge as much as a collection of artifacts. Biology is no different—and we are just beginning to comprehend the challenges inherent in the next stage of biology as a human technology. It is this critical moment, with its wide-ranging implications, that Robert Carlson considers in Biology Is Technology. He offers a uniquely informed perspective on the endeavors that contribute to current progress in this area—the science of biological systems and the technology used to manipulate them.
In a number of case studies, Carlson demonstrates that the development of new mathematical, computational, and laboratory tools will facilitate the engineering of biological artifacts—up to and including organisms and ecosystems. Exploring how this will happen, with reference to past technological advances, he explains how objects are constructed virtually, tested using sophisticated mathematical models, and finally constructed in the real world.
Such rapid increases in the power, availability, and application of biotechnology raise obvious questions about who gets to use it, and to what end. Carlson’s thoughtful analysis offers rare insight into our choices about how to develop biological technologies and how these choices will determine the pace and effectiveness of innovation as a public good.
“Engineering” has firmly taken root in the entangled bank of biology even as proposals to remake the living world have sent tendrils in every direction, and at every scale. Nature Remade explores these complex prospects from a resolutely historical approach, tracing cases across the decades of the long twentieth century. These essays span the many levels at which life has been engineered: molecule, cell, organism, population, ecosystem, and planet. From the cloning of agricultural crops and the artificial feeding of silkworms to biomimicry, genetic engineering, and terraforming, Nature Remade affirms the centrality of engineering in its various forms for understanding and imagining modern life. Organized around three themes—control and reproduction, knowing as making, and envisioning—the chapters in Nature Remade chart different means, scales, and consequences of intervening and reimagining nature.