Don't Get Too Wound Up About Synthetic Biology

I just finished the book The Windup Girl  by Paolo Bacigalupi a dystopian novel set in the future.  The book was recommended by a physician colleague who knew of my interest in bioterrorism and plagues. 

The story of The Windup Girl revolves around agricultural company executives who produce engineered foods ("calorie men"), corrupt government officials, and an engineered human (aka a windup girl) winding there ways through a futuristic Thailand.

The book mentions past plagues that have destroyed crops (e.g. blister rust, cibiscosis) and infected humans leading "generippers" to utilize the tools of synthetic biology to devise new organisms (including humans) resistant to these pathogens. An outbreak of a new disease also transpires leading government officials to take action in a village in which victims resided. 

I found the book to be engaging despite the fact that, at times, it was reminiscent of Frankenstein in its depiction of "excesses" of industrial society and skewed portrayal of the promise of synthetic biology.

However, bioterrorism directed at agriculture is not fictional and is a major concern. Not only can agricultural products be used as vehicles to deliver noxious substances (e.g. mercury injected into citrus fruits), but contaminating them with specific pathogens can lead to food shortages and major economic disruptions.

The promise of crops, animals, and--eventually--humans impervious to infection would be an unequivocal life-enhancing utopian development.

While some may see these developments leading to a dystopian future, I believe it is fictional.