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Planet Earth

Human-Assisted Evolution to Help Animals Survive a Human-Dominated Age

Visual ScienceBy Rebecca HorneAugust 14, 2012 9:16 PM


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UK-based photographer Vincent Fournier collaborated with scientists to create his digitally enhanced photographs of genetically modified animals better suited to the extreme climates of our changing environment. Starting with a taxidermy sample, animal geneticists explained species evolutionary processes. Fournier then imagined how they might evolve, creating a veritable Noah's Ark of creatures made to last; super-smart rabbits, armored mammals with metallic scales, owls with digitally enhanced memory, a seven-foot jumping beetle, a banana-flavored orchid, and frost-resistant ibis with long claws enhanced with silicon-28 (ABOVE). Dr. Agnes Ricroch, a French scientist and professor at Penn State University whose areas of research include genetic modification and bioethics, wrote the legends describing the organisms (animals, plants) and their new traits and how they could have been engineered, as well as their new Latin names. Dr. Ricroch created the species name by imagining the Latin name that fit best with the engineered trait, and used it along with the real genus name, as with the ibis above, Passeridae temperatio. She reflected on what synthetic biology and genetic engineering might mean in the future:

"If scientists can inject stem cells or transgenes or DNA-bricks to improve a capacity during the embryogenic stage, it would be possible to generate an animal with a new characteristic (an improved capacity to survive climate changes)... Natural selection is the process by which the organisms in a population that are best adapted to the environment increase in frequency relative to less well-adapted individuals. If the climate change is a not a very rapid process therefore natural selection could play in choosing the animals that will best fit to a new environment. Using synthetic biology to create new animals to survive climate changes could take years. Perhaps natural selection will play faster than the engineering of organisms by synthetic biology. As synthetic biology is a new scientific area we will not be able to use synthetic biology to create new animals to survive climate changes. But we could use synthetic biology to create new animals or plants to detect pollutants because they do not exist."

You can see more images from the photography project, Engineered Species, on Fournier's website.

IBIS [Passeridae temperatio] Drought and frost-resistant bird

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