Terraforming the biosphere: can bioengineering save us?
Abstract: The biosphere is facing a major challenge as critical levels of carbon dioxide keep growing towards dangerous critical levels. Dealing with potential points of no return, along with the consequences of approaching them (such as extreme events) will require major economic and social transitions, but also the help of engineering approximations. Here we discuss the latter within the context of a recent proposal of using synthetic biology to modify extant communities (both natural or anthropogenic) as a scalable strategy to avoid tipping points. Such an approach will require dealing with multiple scales, from gene circuits to whole communities and new theoretical approaches will be required. Its potential application for protecting drylands from green-desert transitions, dealing with marine plastic waste, and even controlling carbon dioxide levels will be explored.