During the Covid pandemic, we got a taste of the amazing potential of biotechnology. Just days after the virus was identified, the genetic code was read and shared with scientists around the world. Four weeks later, the mRNA vaccine was ready for testing. Millions of lives have been saved around the world in record time thanks to an increasingly advanced biotechnology toolkit that allows us to decode, program and design biology.
But the epidemic was also a harbinger of the threats posed by biotechnology: when the genetic recipe for the smallpox virus or the Spanish flu was used It can be ordered onlineIt doesn't take much imagination to see that biotechnology can also be used in ways that harm society. In the worst cases, technology can threaten our existence.
At the crossroads we now face, we must navigate opportunities and threats.
In team with nature in the green transition
The opportunities lie, among other things, in the green transition, where biotechnology allows us to work with biology, not against it.
In food production, we can replace chemical pesticides, antibiotics and synthetic fertilizers with sustainable biological solutions. Examples include genetically modified plants and livestock that are not infected with diseases or genetically modified bacteria that fertilize plants with nitrogen from the air. These products exist now With full speed to global markets.
Biotechnology is also our best defense against climate change. By editing genes, we can accelerate the development of food plants that better tolerate drought, floods and other challenging climate conditions.
At the same time, we can also use biotechnology to prevent climate change, for example by making photosynthesis – a three-billion-year-old carbon storage technology – more efficient.
In california Grow genetically modified trees with optimization Photosynthesis 50% faster than regular trees because they absorb carbon from the atmosphere more efficiently. As a bonus, these trees are also “programmed” to absorb heavy metals from the soil in the old mining areas in which they grow. In the coming years, this could become a major contribution to US climate calculations and nature restoration.
Artificial intelligence and biotechnology together
This is just the beginning. At the intersection of biotechnology and artificial intelligence, we can take biological design to unimaginable heights.
You may be impressed by the thank you letter ChatGPT wrote for you at the Christmas table, but just wait until you see what it is AI models can manipulate the language of life: genetics.
Fed with genetic information from hundreds of millions of species, they can design new biological molecules that never existed before. This is how synthetic biology will give us medicine, food and industrial raw materials in the future.
The importance of this crossroads – where we can master the very question of life, biology – cannot be overstated. Analytics show that 60% of everything we physically consume can be made from biology. It is expected that the bioeconomy – creating value from biological resources – By 2030 it could grow to about $30 trillionone-third of global GDP today.
Perhaps it is not surprising then that countries such as the USA, China and Great Britain have great ambitions to become world leaders in this field.
There is no reason why Norway cannot be equally ambitious. We have access to world-class knowledge, capital and renewable biological resources. Genetically modified potatoes Which are not attacked by dry rot, Salmon is a lice-resistant salmon And Genetically modified microorganisms that convert carbon dioxide into acetone with a positive climate contribution They are examples of biotechnology concepts under development in this country.
Here are four actions to put Norway at the forefront of the biological revolution:
- Build good value chains for bioinnovation in both medicine, food and industry in Norway, so that good ideas are not left in a drawer or sold outside the country to reach the market.
- Make regulations more precise. Today, the regulatory hurdles are so great that many of the best innovations in practice will never materialize in Norway. We must relax where the benefits clearly outweigh the disadvantages, while at the same time we should toughen up where the threats are truly great, especially with regard to biological weapons.
- Create a solid foundation for knowledge-based political management. A multidisciplinary strategy group could advise politicians on how to position Norway in the global bioeconomy, and the Biosecurity Council could monitor looming threats and enhance preparedness for potential worst-case scenarios. Perhaps Jonas should do like his Swedish colleague and create a new unit for national security and futures analysis in the Prime Minister's Office?
- Last but not least; Think long term. The greatest opportunities and threats from paradigm shifts like these materialize over a period of time much longer than a single election period.
Biotechnology is the next technological revolution, and it will turn society upside down.
“Explorer. Unapologetic entrepreneur. Alcohol fanatic. Certified writer. Wannabe tv evangelist. Twitter fanatic. Student. Web scholar. Travel buff.”