As I understand it there are various ways biodiversity is measured, with varying results. From what I have been told on these boards, part of the difficulty is because it's hard to define a species exactly, so it's hard to count them. What I really want to know is whether genetically engineered organisms count towards increased biodiversity but my last attempt at asking that question foundered on the rocks of species definition.

  • $\begingroup$ Could you narrow your question? Biodiversity is not just the number of species, but also the phylogenetic range of diversity. For example, a Tuatara is the only representative of its kind. Does one Platypus species count the same as one Drosophila species? But if you want to know if genetically engineered organisms count as species; No, they don't. They are not different species, but simply have a gene inserted to provide some trait like herbicide resistance. If that is the question, then ask that. $\endgroup$
    – Karl Kjer
    Feb 19, 2018 at 11:48
  • $\begingroup$ Hi I'd like to narrow the question and agree that a gene inserted isn't a new species, and there are those definitional problems as people have pointed out to me. But I think that genetic engineering is going to soon be more than just tinkering with genes but designing whole new organisms. So I'm trying to look into the future a bit here. So I could rephrase as "If in the future new species are engineered, will that count as an increase in biodiversity, and will it be a significant increase ?" $\endgroup$ Feb 19, 2018 at 13:46
  • $\begingroup$ If genetic engineering actually does create new species, they would be counted in biodiversity studies. I am not an expert, but I do not think that these "new species" could ever be approved for release into the environment. There are pretty strict rules about this. They would also need to be formally described. I don't know where you are getting your information, but I am skeptical that there will be a significant flood of human-engineered new species. $\endgroup$
    – Karl Kjer
    Feb 19, 2018 at 23:11
  • $\begingroup$ Well, I'm speculating in a science-fictiony way somewhat, and looking at efforts like Craig Ventors to synthesize genomes, and other stuff like this technologyreview.com/s/610180/… "Instead of engineering or even editing the DNA of an organism, it could become easier to just print out a fresh copy. Imagine designer algae that make fuel; disease-proof organs; even extinct species resurrected." So if that industrial revolution does take off, does that mean more biodiversity ? $\endgroup$ Feb 23, 2018 at 12:00
  • $\begingroup$ OK, well that is not happening now, and if it ever did, it would need to be under tight regulatory control. Estimates are that there are at least 10 million species. A couple of engineered organisms, even if they were approved for release into the environment would do nothing to increase estimates of biodiversity. Could you modify your question? As written, it is not clear what you want to know. $\endgroup$
    – Karl Kjer
    Feb 23, 2018 at 12:27

1 Answer 1


A very good way to measure biodiversity would be to do environmental barcoding with high-throughput sequencing methods, and then use an algorithm that estimates genetic distance to get both species count estimates, and then calculate higher-level diversity, such as genera and families. Then you would repeat this procedure over several collections to obtain a species accumulation curve, so you could then estimate the asymptote. The future possibility of biogenereed organisms would not be worth reporting among the thousands of species at a given location.

  • $\begingroup$ OK, but what about by methods used now, particularly the ones that are used to tell Joe Public like me what the state of the world is in a typical news outlet ? Currently the news is that biodiversity is on the slide due to human activity. I've no doubt it is. But, counting all organisms including ones that may be man made, will this always be the case ? It may or may not reflect a pleasant planet to live on, but will it be the case ? $\endgroup$ Feb 24, 2018 at 16:40
  • $\begingroup$ No. You seem fixated on a hypothetical that somebody used to sell magazines. Not going to happen. And if it ever did, it would be such a tiny fraction of biodiversity, that it would not be significant in the counts. $\endgroup$
    – Karl Kjer
    Feb 24, 2018 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ Why won't it happen ? Why would it be a tiny fraction ? How much is significant ? $\endgroup$ Feb 24, 2018 at 19:06

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