Günter Seyfried: De-extinction and Climate Change

A Geo- and Genetic Engineering Approach to Confront Global Warming

Günter Seyfried Lehrender in Medientheorie

On June 12, 2019 our department will host a guest lecture and discussion on “De-extinction and Climate Change: A Geo- and Genetic Engineering Approach to Confront Global Warming” with Eriona Hysolli and Joe Davis of the George Church Laboratory, Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA.
American artist Joe Davis and Harvard scientist Dr. Eriona Hysolli will present their respective work on (1) microbial and (2) megafauna de-extinctions. During the presentations at the University of Applied Arts Vienna they will give a critical insight into the context of their work on de-extinction against the background of global climate change, and discuss and elaborate probable implications. Along with talk on hypersaline resurrections from meteorites and mineral salts Joe Davis will give his account on new technologies for creating 3D archives in extremophiles, that can persist for at least a half-billion years.

Due to breakthrough advances in genomics, the resurrection of long-extinct species — or at least “proxy” species with traits and ecological functions similar to the extinct originals—is becoming feasible. The resurrection of the woolly mammoth is close at hand, claim scientists such as Harvard scientist George Church and his team at the Harvard Medical School.

But what is the intention behind bringing back the fauna of the Pleistocene? The tundra and the taiga were once a grassland ecosystem known as the “mammoth steppe”, roamed by mammoths and other species such as caribou, horses, bison, and others. The extinction of these mammals and the conversion of the ecosystem away from rich grasslands towards perennial plants once marked the end of the Pleistocene. Now, these ecosystems are contributing to human-driven climate change because the greenhouse gases, which are trapped in the permafrost, will be released in the atmosphere, as global warming accelerates its melting, thus escalating the warming phenomenon.

One solution to tackle the problem of climate change is to geo-engineer those regions back into grasslands and, of course, with the grazing animals of 10,000 years ago. There is evidence that grazing by larger herbivores and the accompanying effects lead to deeper freezing of the permafrost in the winter months, as Eriona Hysolli explains: “The animals will trample the snow and therefore allow the cold Arctic temperatures to penetrate deeper into the soil. Thus, the organic matter buried inside does not convert to CO2 and methane upon decomposition. Furthermore, the fertilization of the soil by animal excrement allows for more nitrogen circulation in an otherwise closed nitrogen circle in the Arctic”.

Grasslands are believed to sequester more carbon from the atmosphere than any other ecosystem. An extremely powerful tool to battle climate change emerges here against the background of genetic engineering and its powerful new tool CRISPR.

It is a great honour to have members of the George Church Laboratory at Harvard Medical School at the University of Applied Arts Vienna to discuss these new and mind-blowing questions.

Contact: Günter Seyfried, Department of Media Theory, University of Applied Arts Vienna (gh.seyfried@gmail.com)

Günter Seyfried De-extinction and Climate Change: A Geo- and Genetic Engineering Approach to Confront Global Warming