Who would have thought synthetic organisms would ever be employed to save endangered species? Conservation biologist worried about the extinction of exotic frog populations are calling the help of synthetic biologists to avoid disaster.
Currently, a fungus epidemics with the eerie name batrachochytrium dendrobatidis threatens more than 2,800 amphibian species. The depicted Panamanian golden frog has already been pushed close to extinction by fungal disease, but conservationists believe the tragedy could be countered by a new generation of synthetically manipulated organisms.
"We face the prospect of losing a great deal from the natural world and we have to think of solutions that could be generated by all sorts of different techniques, including those involved in synthetic biology." conservation biologist Kent Redford told the Guardian.
Synthetic biology is the technology of designing and building biological devices from scratch. It goes beyond tinkering with existing genomes of organisms by adding one or two extra genes. Researcher can already chemically synthesise very large sections of DNA, which that allows them to engineer biological systems.
In addition to saving exotic frogs from fungus epidemics, the researches believe ocean dead zones – where marine life has been killed by algal blooms – could also be tackled by synthetic biology. “One idea is to create a synthetic algue that makes some form of biofuel,” said Professor Paul Freemont of the Centre for Synthetic Biology at Imperial College London. “Blooms would be highly lucrative and could be harvested. Thus the water would be cleared up from the revenue made from the alga’s biofuel.”
We are unsure if the conservationist are also considerate about preserving the original fungus epidemics being tweaked by their synthetic biological partners.