Moving from a Petroleum Economy to the Bio Economy of the Future

Editor’s note: Quartz asked some of the boldest thinkers how they envision the future for their The World in 50 Years series, with various experts across fields answering questions about the future of work and the economy to what we will eat. Here’s a16z general partner Vijay Pande’s answer to the question, “What kind of companies will be most important?”

Engineering petroleum has led to the world we see around us today. Energy, plastics, chemicals — we live in a world shaped by the seemingly miraculous things chemical engineers can do with crude oil. But these processes have also created lots of problems. The future needs to be sustainable: from stopping the production of more greenhouse gases, to using materials that don’t trash the planet, to feeding 10 billion people, and keeping them healthy.

The new dominant paradigm for this will move from chemical engineering to biological engineering. The shift will be similar to the way IT has transformed our world, giving us devices that allow us to have unprecedented connections to each other — all through bits. But at the end of the day, we live in a world of atoms, and the best way to program atoms is biology.

Over billions of years, Mother Nature has created the ability to make more and more wondrous creatures and mechanisms, fundamentally transforming Earth from a big rock to a garden paradise. The companies of the next few decades will not just learn many more of Mother Nature’s secrets, but will use her tools, via genetic engineering, biological engineering, and materials engineering to design, scale, and transform the world of atoms.

— first appeared here; see also related pieces for more on the topic, below!