I am signed up to lead a class discussion on this very subject, scheduled for May 9th, and I was wondering what your opinions were. It’s a pretty broad topic, so take it where it may.
It is my honest opinion that the vast majority of people (not ALL, but the majority) who are opposed to genetic engineering have chosen that position because when they watch movies, “genetic engineering” usually results in monsters eating people. I think the opposition to GM foods is mostly just hysteria caused by popular culture.
“Genetic Engineering” is not what you think. I happen to genetically engineer, and we are not creating monsters with this technology.
My company does large scale production of recombinant factor VIII, factor IX (proteins that are clotting factors). These are the clotting factors that are missing in folks with Hemophilia A and B. This is why their blood can not clot.
How does that have anything to do with genetic engineering? Well, these clotting factors used to be culled from donated plasma. Unfortunately, that is how so many hemophiliacs acquired HIV in the 80s. So a group of folks got together and figured out how to get a hamster’s ovary cell to produce this protein. They got the cell to produce the protein by genetically engineering it. That is why it’s call a “recombinant” protein.
I happen to work on proteins every day. Take away genetic engineering, and not only do I lose my job, but the US loses its best hope for many medical treatments. Also, I can guarantee that it also loses a fair amount of it Scientists. I would be on a plane to the UK tomorrow.
As a capital crime.
Worldwide–so that geneticists can’t just go somewhere else and continue.
The potential for reducing life-on-Earth into a mass of bacterial-soup, whether by accident or by the deliberate-design of a nihilist, is not to be ignored: It is all-too real!
Just got back from class and got some clarification from the teacher. He’s asking about Genetically engineering humans if that makes a difference to your views.
It makes no difference to my view, Chekmate.
Genetically engineering a human could, were the trait to spread and dominate as is now happening with BT corn, lead to the genetic engineering of the entire human-species. Were that modification to be advantageous in the short-term but detrimental in the long-term, the human species might be obliterated by the very success of the modification which has touted as being most-wonderful.
What I worry about most is the modification of something very small, such as a virus–which is presently a method used for introducing a genetic modification/correction into a human. Such a modified virus might lead to a disruption at the celluar level of all cells–a reduction of life-on-Earth back to the sub-celluar level: bacteria, chloroplasts and, perhaps, mitochondria. This would be a bad thing.
While the chances of such a scenario are suspected to be extremely small, the consequent risk is so vast that I strongly prefer to utterly exclude even the possibility, no matter how remote.
Bah. Gene transfer happens relatively rapidly in evolution. Transfering a fish protein into tomatoes may seem far-fetched, but it could happen evolutionarily by something like phage mediated transduction. The Doomsday scenario of Parameter’s is grossly unlikely. Life has been around for the better part of 3 billion years. Nature has debugged itself quite well in that time. It is incredibly unlikely (I would even say impossible) that we could undo what evolution did in 3 billion years.
As for humans, there is a large class of presently untreatable congenital human disease. There is also an even larger class of treatable disease with genetic components. Gene therapy or treatments tailored to the genetic flaws will be incredibly useful. Not only will they attack the root cause of many diseases, but they will hopefully treat the disease permanently in one administration, they will have few side effects, and they may even cause heritable change.
I do not argue with the term “grossly unlikely,” edwino, but I do argue with the rest of your comment.
When a random change is introduced by natural means, there are many natural methods to eliminate those changes which are not productive–either to the lifeform or to life-on-Earth in general. These, as you said, are the processes of the past 3bn years. The chances of a cataclysmic reaction are also, as you said, “grossly unlikely.”
When we induce a deliberate change to the genome of a species, we get the desired result and. . .others. Do you catagorically deny that when a particular gene is introduced that there might be other effects that the one planned?
I am suggesting that it is these unexpected consequences that raise the outcome-stakes and introduce the possiblity of cataclysm. I am also suggesting that when a particular, deliberate genetic modification is made, the chances of disaster or even cataclysm are raised well above the level of “grossly unlikely.”
Parameter, how is that different from any other human activity? If we all had your attitude, humanity would never have come down from the trees.
Parameter, do you have any cites to back up these claims of yours? Because they sound more like somthing thought up by Robin Cook or Michael Crichton than actual science.
There are significant, legitimate social issues regarding the genetic engineering of humans. For example, what are the long term effects on society if only the wealthy can enhance their offspring through genetic manipulation?
We are still a ways off from customized babies, but what is wrong with using genetic engineering to erridicate inheritable diseases and conditions like Downs Syndrome, dwarfism, or congenital heart conditions? Should we not try because a few Chicken Littles are all worked up because of some Hollywood movies?
Oh no? What about those glow-in-the-dark monkeys y’all produced a couple of years ago? Hmmm? When your army of glow-in-the-dark monkeys storms the Pentagon and gets the launch codes for all our nuclear missiles, just remember I toldja so!
(Note: sarcastic portions of the above might not be so labelled.)
My best argument against outlawing genetic research is to tell your audience “You all have incurable liver cancer. Want to pursue genetic options now?” If they hesitate, wait two seconds and shout “Too late! You’re all dead!”
If they still demur, tell them their children have incurable liver cancer and proceed as above. Issues become a lot clearer when they’re made personal.
Look, transfer of genes from one species to another happens regularly. New species of viruses containing chunks of metazoan DNA are created regularly. There is zero chance of a new virus decimating earth’s biosphere, if such a virus could do such a thing it WOULD ALREADY HAVE HAPPENED about 500 million times.
Now, a virus that wipes out all HUMAN life…
Reminds me of the scene in Extreme Measures where Gene Hackman’s character approaches Hugh Grant’s character while HG is in a hospital bed. HG believes he is paralyzed from the neck down, and GH asks him ‘What would you do to be able to walk again? What would you do?’
HG, while on a desperate mission to stop the medical experiments that GH is performing says, ‘Anything.’
A significant chunk of what humans have acheived since we became sentient is just nature harnessed and sped up. Agriculture, domestication of animals, selective breeding, modern medicine, hell even to some extent education. Why haven’t we destroyed the world yet? To make a poor analogy: nature is not like Microsoft Windows. Tinkering with the registry won’t cause the whole thing to go down in a smoking mess, because the code has been extensively debugged. Every time you survive a bacterial or viral infection, it gets debugged a little more. Every time you reproduce, it gets debugged even more.
Also, quite simply, every infectious particle out there has specificity. Since cell membrane proteins and even lipid structure are quite divergent (and infectious particles need to bind to cells in order to cause infection), it is frankly not possible to have a virus or bacterium that infects/kills every single living thing out there. In fact, one can surmise that the reason that membrane proteins and lipid structure are divergent is because infectious agents need to bind to them, and therefore population members who don’t share membrane proteins aren’t killed by the same infectious agents. Survival of the fittest and all of that.
Back to injecting transposable elements encoding yeast genes into my flies.
Parameter: Nihilists don’t do anything. Maybe you’re thinking of Annihilists? Those people who want to destroy everything…
Nihilism is the absolute state of Pacifism.
Needs some restrictions, but shouldn’t be banned. There are plenty of potential ways for it to be abused, just like most other technology, but it has plenty of potential advantages too.
Oh, and Parameter, I thought your first post was sarcasm, but I couldn’t tell with the others.
When genetic engineering is outlawed, only outlaws will be genetically engineered.
Seriously, reputable scientists aren’t pursuing this venue of research to create a race of atomic supermen. Instead, they are trying to find practical uses for the process which are intended to improve the lot of humanity. But there is another, equally valid reason…
I think that opposition to such research comes in two basic flavors, which are often combined. One is based upon concerns that such research may have unforeseen, deleterious consequences. The other is that such research violates a moral code–Gallileo’s curse, if you will. The problem is that just as the Catholic Church failed to extinguish astronomy, it is totally, completely impossible to prevent genetic research from occuring. It is going to happen, and that’s just the way it is. The question is, “who is going to do it, and for what reasons?”
The unfortunate conclusion to which I continually return is this. Someone is going to pursue these paths of discovery. We get to choose whether it’s a group like Aum Shinrikyo, or Aum Shinrikyo and the Center for Disease Control.
Benefits of Genetic Engineering:
Cool, custom designed pets
More time to do stuff (one clone to work, one to hang out w the wife, etc)
Having a spare in case you are killed
Giant vegetables feed the world
Clone army of hot supermodels
Saving endangered/extinct species
Dangers of Genetic Engineering:
Glowing Atomic Monkeys start World War III
Race of supermen take over the world
Cloning Hitlers brain
Giant vegetables take over the world
Clone army of angry clones
Saved endangered/extinct species turns on creators and eats them