About two years ago, I had an argument with my friend about the ethical importance of biodiversity. I argued that sufficient biodiversity (number of different types of species, along with relative abundance of these species) should be an ethical factor when considering certain decisions such as deforestation and terra-forming.
However, this argument did not sit well with my friend. He argued that there was no inherent values in the biodiversity of species, as opposed to their individual agency. From a pragmatic perspective, it may seem that the slight variations between mid-sized cats might not add to any scientific knowledge. However, this is just not the case. Biodiversity allows for the maintenance of the immediate environment, but also for the existence of unique biochemical products and processes.
For example, scientists recently resurrected an ancient yeast strain, Candida theae, which was discovered to be a fermenting organism used to make a type of alcoholic beverage called chica. Even after several decades of microbiology developments, scientists are still finding new species of microorganisms responsible for novel tasks such as a second pathway to fermentation.
And though a backup method for alcohol fermentation doesn’t seem like a great discovery, this is the beauty of biodiversity: it allows discoveries of different pathways to do redundant tasks. This is crucial for finding methods of efficiently creating biodiesel and generating novel antibiotics which can fight our impending shortage.
This isn’t the only thing that preserving biodiversity does. About a month ago, a new fungi was unearthed from the Amazonian jungles that digests polyurethane. This is the point where I think my friend has to concede his argument. Biodiversity: the degree of variation of life forms (according to Wikipedia) allowed for the existence of a species which can solve our plastic recycling problem. If we discovered a bacteria for every non-biodegradable substance in our landfills, then we would not have any landfills.
If you were skeptical of the power of biodiversity, I hope I have swayed you.
By: Elton Li
(Photo courtesy of sxc.hu)