Sustainable Homes of the Future

Will trees someday be genetically engineered to grow around spaces and form our homes?  Will they grow the required plumbing, wiring, ventilation ducts, etc. into their structures?  Or should we just be asking … when?

As a child, reading my father’s collection of 1930’s though 1960’s science fiction, I remember reading a book about a planet where the trees grew into houses and the locals lived in them.  I have long wondered if (or when) we humans would be able to do that.  It also makes me think about parallel developments in the life sciences that could help us move towards a sustainable existence in other ways.

Can corals be trained or genetically engineered to create things we need, to grow bricks at first, for instance, and later whole underwater dwellings?  Can we engineer trees to grow their roots into sidewalks and roads?  We’ve already begun the long march down this road, with specialized microorganisms generating pharmaceuticals and other needed products, and aren’t carefully chosen bacteria already breaking down oil spills?  Is this a foreshadowing of the merging of nanotechnology with biotechnology to produce more sustainable systems for living in the future?

Although many have cited the risks implied in genetic engineering and nanotechnology, for example, there have always been risks in every new technology, and our scientists have worked hard to manage the risks and make the new technologies viable and relatively safe.  I am confident that trend will continue.  I am concerned, however, that we need much better public education systems, world-wide, to produce the scientists we need.

I can foresee a future in which biotechnology has replaced mechanical technology in many respects, or blended with it in more efficient and ecologically responsible ways, probably not in my lifetime, though I’d like to see it happen.   Certainly, having houses grown from carbon-consuming trees, with all the attendant benefits to the environment, seems like a win-win situation we should make a primary goal.

 I welcome your comments.


2 responses to “Sustainable Homes of the Future

  1. Dan Cornejo Palma

    I’ve seen news reports and read many articles regarding nanotechnology as the new frontier of scientific innovation. There are many examples of how nanotechnolgy and biotechnology are implicated in transportation, medicine, as well as a number of other disciplines. As a biochemistry student I have to admit that some of the stuff seems right out of science fiction… it’s just really cool, complex science.

    The problem is that biotechnology runs the risk of becoming stagnant. Biotech/nanotech firms are on the prowl, looking for any minor aspect of a product that can be patented. Once patented, other companies delving into similar pursuits run the risk of being struck by an onslaught of lawsuits regarding the infringement of such patents.

    Better cooperation between companies and research institutions would certainly speed up the rate of innovation. But it’s all about money… If you have a good idea that is valuable in the marketplace, it stands to reason that you’ll want to protect it.

  2. You are right on that, Dan. I have to think that, eventually, where making money becomes an impediment to moving towards sustainability, a creative way will need to be found by which the inventors still benefit while the drag on progress is reduced. I’ll think about how that might be accomplished and hope the other readers will, too.

    It would be great to read some creative ideas that retain the incentive to invent while reducing the drag of the intellectually property-focused legal system. One factor might be if the courts more narrowly construed patents, if that can be done without decreasing the value of those patents (probably not). I’m sure there are other, more creative approaches, however, and they are needed. Let’s hear them, readers!

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