Friday, March 09, 2007

EO Wilson recipient of the TED award 2007 (2)

Here Wilson's wish and an excerpt from Wired's blog on Wilson lecture at the TED meeting.
Biologist E.O. Wilson followed Nachtwey by saying that he came on behalf of “insects and other small creatures,” to “make a plea for them.” Wilson’s wish: “I wish that we will work together to help to create the key tool we need to inspire preservation of earth’s biodiversity: The Encyclopedia of Life.” As I understand it, this would be a biological Super-Wikipedia, a collaborative project among scientists and amateurs that would contain information about all life on the planet.

“We live on a mostly unexplored planet,” Wilson emphasized. Recent years have seen the discovery of two new kinds of whales, a new kind of elephant, a distinct new kind of gorilla, and more. And on the microscopic (and smaller) scale, the earth is filled with the “dark matter of the biological world,” the bacteria, which are only beginning to be discovered.

“Our lives depend upon these creatures,” Wilson said. He estimated that 500 species of friendly bacteria live symbiotically with us in our mouths and throats, and that they probably fend of pathogenic bacteria. When it comes to species discovery, “Scientists are like explorers in a rowboat launched onto the Pacific Ocean.” (Wilson also allowed that he believes “true aliens,” creatures from outer space, might live among us on earth in the form of a bacterial species, which would have had billions of years to arrive.)

The “human juggernaut” is destroying the earth’s biodiversity, Wilson said, through habitat destruction (“including climate change”); the spread of invasive species, such as pathogenic bacteria and viruses, into every country; pollution; population expansion; and overharvesting, driving species into extinction through over-hunting and –fishing. (Wilson used the opening letter of each of these elements to create the acronym “HIPPO.”) Previous cataclysms of this sort, Wilson said, such as “the last one that ended the age of dinosaurs, took 5 to 10 million years to repair.”

In order to prevent catastrophe, Wilson said, “we need to have the biosphere properly explored.” He called for “a biological moon shot,” a project on the scale of the mapping of the human genome to map and discover the biological code of all of the life on the planet. The project, he said, could transform the science of biology and inspire a new generation of biologists to continue the quest that started for him 60 years ago: “to search for life, to understand it, and finally, above all, to preserve it.”

Comment: I sincerely hope that this latest initiative, together with the Encylopedia of Life project where he is honorary chair, will fly, and not end up in the same debacle as the last effort, the ALL species project. I hope, a governance model will be chosen, which is in support of the many data providers rather then us them as mere source, and one that strengthens existing global initiatives like the Global Biodiversity Information Facility rather then competes with it; one that involves, due to its global nature, the entire community and not just anglosaxon specialists, what seems to be the case right now at the EOL informatics part.


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