Can bio-science save the world?

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A letter from... Prof. Dr. Michael John Gorman.  The founding director of BIOTOPIA - Naturkundemuseum Bayern is considering how we can meet the big questions of the 21st century.

What is the greatest challenge mankind will have to face in the coming decades? Is it climate change? The air pollution? The plastic in the oceans? Famine catastrophes? The artificial intelligence that's taking over our jobs?

There are some obvious candidates. But one topic probably overshadows all the others. Because almost insidiously and often unnoticed we are currently experiencing a dramatic extinction of species. In fact, since the extinction of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago, the Earth has not experienced a similar loss of biodiversity due to an asteroid impact. Only this time we humans are the meteorite ourselves. Our behavior is the cause of species extinction.

The facts are dramatic. The worldwide loss of amphibians alone today is 25,000 times faster than would be the case with natural selection. Scientists in Germany recently discovered that we have lost around 76 percent of the insect mass in Germany in the past 25 years. If that's no reason to be alarmed!

So how can we restore our relationship with other living beings, how can we prevent further extinction of species, including our own? This is probably the most pressing question of our generation. Science naturally plays a key role in the search for answers. After the age of physics and technology, the 21st century will be the time of bio-science. Especially in Munich and the whole of Bavaria, we are lucky to have an extraordinary collection of pioneering universities and research institutes in the life sciences: from Ludwig-Maximilians- and Technical University, Max-Planck-Institutes, Helmholtz Centres and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft to the Bavarian State Natural Science Collections.

So instead of staring powerlessly at the challenges of our time, I see a great opportunity in making use of the cumulative expertise available. We already know so much. What is still missing is a new kind of dialogue between science and the public, including areas such as design, business, education and politics.

Such a forum, a bridge between all these groups will be the new natural history museum BIOTOPIA. I would like to create a platform there to discuss environmental, health and biological issues. Because it is only through interdisciplinary exchange that we can inspire young people to develop something new that can actually change entire branches of industry; something that combines sustainability with business and innovation - for the benefit of all.

The first new approaches to food, fuels and clothing have already been developed. Sie prove that we can work with biology instead of against it. Researchers have already developed some alternative organic materials. If they prevail, in 50 years "leather" will possibly consist of mushrooms, "meat" of vegetable origin and plastic of renewable biomass, or dyes will no longer be of a chemical nature, but grown from bacteria. There is much that could be done to protect our environment.

In order to get this far, however, it is above all necessary to initiate a general rethinking among the people themselves. The key to this is to encourage curiosity about our environment, to awaken empathy for other living beings and to encourage our own actions. That is why BIOTOPIA will also make the adventure of nature and life intuitively comprehensible and experienceable.

Through exhibitions, workshops and laboratories, visitors can get to the bottom of different behaviours such as eating, fighting, movement or building methods that connect us with other living beings. In this way they will learn to better understand their environment as part, researcher, user and designer.

I am already aware that a visit to a museum alone will not necessarily change behaviour. But how did Confucius formulate it 2600 years ago? Auch the longest way begins with a ersten Schritt. If we can give an impulse to rethink, much has already been gained. ®

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