14th European Congress of Chemical Engineering and 7th European Congress of Applied Biotechnology

Interview with Prof. Telmo Pievani, University of Padua - Department of Biology, Full Professor Philosophy of Biological Sciences


We change the world, and the world changes us – Do you have an example from every-day life that affects us individually?

"The best example is the one we hear about every day: anthropogenic global warming. Our civilization is forcing the climate towards warmer temperatures, taking it out of the usual range of the last millennia. We will therefore have to adapt to a world that we have changed ourselves. In evolutionary biology, this process is called "niche construction": it can be very effective in giving success to a species (as happened to us, Homo sapiens, so far) but then it takes its toll and risks turning into a trap when the next generation struggles to adapt to the "ecological inheritance" left by the previous one."

We are about to end the Holocene. Do we have the evolutionary tools to help ourselves out of all the crises?

"Definitely yes, we have the tools to face this crisis, first of all creativity and imagination. Unlike other species that have faced extinction, we know very well what is happening, what are the causes and how we can get out of it. We must invest more in basic scientific research, to find new solutions, new materials, new biotechnologies, more efficient ways to exploit renewable resources. I really hope in serendipity, that is, in the fact that research often discovers things it wasn't even looking for, as happened with gene editing. But the transition will be hard and expensive, because there are great economic interests at stake and above all technologies will not be enough if they are not also coupled with changes in our consumption, transport and food models."

What are the three most urgent questions in (bio)ethics that need to be answered?

"I would say: 1) to collectively and transnationally decide the limits of the application of gene editing on human germline (regulating research on human embryos); 2) carefully control the processes of release into the environment of new genetically edited organisms, namely for the ecological implications of the gene drives used to extinguish populations in nature (ex. invasive species, species carrying zoonoses); 3) make access to new biotechnologies as open, egalitarian and fair as possible."



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