a small green planet earth is gently held between a person's two hands.

Synthetic biology is the rapidly developing field devoted to engineering life from the ground up. It has recently generated headlines about startling applications such as the effort to artificially construct a living bacterium, molecule by molecule. But one of its leading practitioners doesn’t think the engineering of life will stop there. Stanford’ University’s Drew Endy recently told The New Yorker:

“What if we could liberate ourselves from the tyranny of evolution by being able to design our own offspring? Think about what happens when you really can print the genome of your offspring. You could start with your own sequence, of course, and mash it up with your partner, or as many partners as you like.”

Synthetic biology is just one of a set of powerful emerging technologies challenging efforts toward environmental sustainability, human health, and social justice. The on-going controversies surrounding genetically-modified crops are just the beginning. Biotech companies are now deploying cloned and genetically modified farm animals.

Nanotechnology, or manufacturing at the atomic scale, proposes to remake the world “from the bottom-up” and simple forms of nanotechnology...