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Possible to engineer an ecosystem with only symbiotic relationships?

  1. Oct 13, 2013 #1
    I was imagining in the future with technological and moral advancement, there might be a drive to engineer an ecosystem without conflict an pain i.e. no predatory or parasitical relationships.

    It would only be a natural progression from veganism to wish to stop animals from causing pain to each other.

    Do you think it could be possible to engineer a stable ecosystem based purely on symbiotic relationships?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 13, 2013 #2


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    My guess is

    1 you could engineer it

    2 it would not evolve by itself

    3 after you had engineered it the things you don't want would evolve from it.
  4. Oct 13, 2013 #3
    I was thinking about such harmonic ecosystem - without organisms fighting each other, what is terrible waste of resources, but designed to optimally use them.
    It is not just some theoretical considerations - one purpose is bringing life to extreme conditions of e.g. Mars - we shouldn't allow for any pathogens there as they could easily destroy everything. Such eventual ecosystem should be designed bottom-up to be as effective as possible - use only symbiotic relationships.

    However, creating such sterile ecosystem would be extremely difficult.
    We have microbes everywhere, we have endogenous retroviruses in our DNA ... such artificial ecosystem would have lots of empty ecological niche and even currently symbiotic bacteria could evolve to take such a niche - for example by developing aggressive behavior.
    But it could be doable in let say 50 years - choose well (modified) organisms we would like to use in our ecosystem, synthetise their DNA from zero with removed endogeneous retroviruses, also removed genes of proteins which are used for aggressive behavior ... and to be really sure that there is no contamination, do it in the incompatible chiral life version.
  5. Oct 14, 2013 #4
    Assuming you manage to do all that, and assuming that those lifeforms function just like their real counterparts, I highly doubt that the system would be able to remain that way. Taking an environment where there is differential reproduction, evolution will inevitably take place. And so organisms will begin occupying niches that are not already occupied, and that includes pathogens, predators etc...
  6. Oct 14, 2013 #5
    Sure, it would be a matter of time to evolve to take these niches, but it takes a lot of time - the purpose would be to start life on e.g. Mars, for which a few decades/centuries should be enough for a head start - then it should evolve to be more adapted, robust for these extreme conditions.
    Evolution speed depends on the number of organisms, what would be a few orders of magnitude smaller than on Earth. The most dangerous and fastest would be evolution of microbes, but it mainly uses available gene pool - if we would remove proteins used for aggressive behavior from there (e.g. hemolysin, restrictase), evolving them from scratch would take millions of years ... but the only way I see to really remove them from gene pool is to use chiral life.
  7. Oct 14, 2013 #6


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    Please keep this discussion focused on the prevalence and possible exclusion of parasitism in ecosystems. Terraforming of Mars by genetically modified organisms is a speculative endeavour and in this context would run counter to the site rules.
  8. Oct 14, 2013 #7
    Ryan_m_b, so please explain how you would like to introduce "exclusion of parasitism" in our ecosystem?
  9. Oct 14, 2013 #8


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    Staff: Mentor

    I never said I did, I was posting from a moderation standpoint to keep this thread within the rules.
  10. Oct 18, 2013 #9
    To engineer such a sustaining (balanced) ecosystem would require the correct mix of producers, consumers, and decomposers.
  11. Oct 18, 2013 #10
  12. Oct 20, 2013 #11
    There are also lots of other unwanted mechanisms reducing efficiency of ecosystems ... like unimaginable huge number of
    transposones in every cell ...

    The only, hypothetical way to really get rid of unwanted guests could be starting from over: by synthesizing from zero incompatible version of only wanted life ...[/QUOTE]

    I agree jarekd, I have a difficult time of manually or organically keeping unwanted guest out of my lawn and garden. However, I assumed the OP was referring to something like Biosphere 2.
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2013
  13. Oct 23, 2013 #12
    I don't think it's realistic to completely get rid of predation/parasitism. Such organisms will arise through evolution. What is more doable is making sure the levels of predation/parasitism never reach a level that undermine the stability of the ecosystem. To do that I think you simply need to choose carefully what organisms you put in your primary secondary waves of ecological succession. Focusing on microbes will make the whole thing easier.
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