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Synthetic Biology: Drawing a Line in Darwin's Sand

Christopher J. Preston

Environmental Values 17(2008): 23-39. doi: 10.3197/096327108X27193


Maintaining the coherence of the distinction between nature and artefact has long been central to environmental thinking. By building genomes from scratch out of 'bio-bricks', synthetic biology promises to create biotic artefacts markedly different from anything created thus far in biotechnology. These new biotic artefacts depart from a core principle of Darwinian natural selection - descent through modification - leaving them with no causal connection to historical evolutionary processes. This departure from the core principle of Darwinism presents a challenge to the normative foundation of a number of leading positions in environmental ethics. As a result, environmental ethicists with a commitment to the normative significance of the historical evolutionary process may see synthetic biology as a moral 'line in the sand'.


Artefact, Darwinism, ethics, evolution, nature, synthetic biology

CITATIONS in other Environmental Values articles

Re-Thinking the Unthinkable: Environmental Ethics and the Presumptive Argument Against Geoengineering Christopher J. Preston

The Value of Artefactual Organisms. Ronald Sandler

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