GENETICALLY-MODIFIED-ORGANISM (GMO) LEGACIES

 
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Chronicling the emergence of Genetically Modified Organisms and rouge Gene Drives across our biome – documenting anthropogenic changes to living biota using genetic engineering technologies, as part of an observatory for long-term monitoring of experiments, and their unpredictable pathways for future life.

 

ABOUT 'GMO LEGACIES'

 

Over a century ago, on 30th June 1908, Earth experienced an ‘unusual’ event. In a sparsely populated region of the Siberian Boreal forest, located in what is now today Krasnoyarsk Krai, an object in the order of 50 – 190 metres in size, raced towards our unsuspecting planet. Subsequent scientific studies have suggested that the object was a meteorite which, rather than impacting the surface, experienced a massive airburst detonation; releasing the energy equivalent of 3 – 30 megatons of TNT above the heavily forested territory. In total, the ensuing shockwave would flatten an area of forestry of about 2,150 km2, creating a large radial pattern that centralised around an area of peat bog with scorched trees – but with no discernible impact crater. The curious story would become known as the ‘Tunguska event’ – the largest known impact event on Earth in recorded history – and it continues to be used as an emblematic, cautionary tale to encourage broad international discussions on the perennial hazards and possible risks posed by future asteroid impacts. A concerning rise in similar airburst observations (due to the increasing population density in remote regions – not an increase in impact events) reveal that the Tunguska event was not such an ‘unusual’ event afterall in the long-term history of our planet, with Earth experiencing several smaller, less energy-intensive detonations in our protective atmosphere every single year. According to the Centre for Near Earth Observation Studies, Earth’s orbit intersects with a lot of neighbouring objects, and we can only ever observe a limited quantity of this material due to constraining parameters like the opposition arc effect (i.e. sufficient illumination of these objects by the Sun to physically ‘spot them’).


The mental impression of a ‘significant collision event’, when it is mentioned in reference to wandering rocky or metallic bodies in outer space, is something all too familiar to those who consume these dramatic literary stories and movie depictions in popular media. The storylines are all too familiar. An asteroid, or similar astronomical body traversing Earth’s usual orbit, is unfortunately nudged onto a collision course with our planet, leading the protagonists to mount a heroic rescue effort to save our planet (or select numbers of the human population at least). These pop cultural depictions are usually complete with spectacular CGI graphics, soundtrack, and a memorable title.


The reality of Near Earth Objects (NEO), Potentially Hazardous Objects (PHO) and Earth Crossing Asteroids (ECA) presents abundant material for the future of such spectacular stories but, as noted above, there is a very real historical precedent for such impact events – perhaps not on a planetary-level scale as frequently popularised, but certainly on a ‘city-killer’ classified object. Earth’s dynamic geology covers up most of the visible scars from the paleolithic record and beforehand, but some larger trace fossils are still readily apparent such as Upheaval Dome (United States), Morokweng (South Africa), René-Levasseur Island (Canada), and Shoemaker (Australia) craters. Moreover, our species presently occupies (or at least controls usage of) a growing amount of the planet’s available landmass, a trend that will likely continue in the future, ensuring that the odds of a significant event increase across the grand theatre of time. Meteorite collisions are very much a fact of life for Earth, and will remain so for the foreseeable future as our planet continues to clear out the debris in its orbital range left over during formation in the Hadean eon, and also through chance encounters with ancient materials occasionally migrating towards the innards of our Solar System.


Given the relative uncertainties and perennial risks posed by future collisions with asteroids and other proto-planetary bodies, there are already a number of Earth-observation programmes established by numerous national space agencies and private monitoring-survey systems, including NASA’s Centre for Near Earth Object Studies (the successor of the Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking system, itself being a successor to  Palomar Planet-Crossing Asteroid Survey), ESA’s Planetary Defence Office, EURONEAR, and China’s Schmidt CCD Asteroid Program (SCAP), amongst many other competing near-Earth object astronomical surveys. Recent observations have uncovered about 25,000 Near Earth Asteroids, over a hundred short-period near-Earth comets, and a number of other solar-orbiting meteorites large enough to register on tracking systems. Observations and orbital projections for 99942 Apophis – a Near Earth Asteroid, measuring about 370 metres – have recently ruled out a collision probability over the next century despite a number of concerning close approaches, however the future hazards posed by this body remain uncertain.


Orbital trajectories become perturbed by any number of gravitational influences, exerted by the Solar, Earth and Lunar fields, as the body intersects and interacts with these condensed regions, in addition to other extended gravitational fields by the outer planets. Over time, these tugs build up and, sometimes, push Near Earth Objects onto potentially fatal courses with our homeworld. These ‘dynamical chaos’ effects are gradual, taking many decades or even centuries to transpire, ensuring that predicted collisions need to be revised over periods of protracted time. Our observations today, may one day prove useful for future astronomical observations to predict the immediate behaviours of these hazardous objects – rocky and metallic bodies that may not be physically observed for decades or centuries. Preserving these observations, therefore, provides a vital data point for posterity to compare and refine their collision probabilities with, ensuring that behaviours and modelling remain accurate. In the very least, such information may enable posterity populations to prepare, or perhaps instigate mitigative or preventative actions.


The focus of our NEO catalogue is to simply chronicle our identification of hazardous asteroids alongside other objects occupying Earth-intersecting orbits, and preserve our measurements of their orbital periods, so that this data may be reliably compared with future observations as part of memory-retention schemes for planetary protection efforts.