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Genetic manipulation

Discussion in 'Issues Around the World' started by Steve, Nov 13, 2002.

  1. Steve

    Steve Is that it, then?

    Coot makes an interesting (and frightening) comment about the potential genetic manipulation of the smallpox virus to make it more resistant to antibiotics, as well as deadlier.

    Sobering stuff.

    Although I generally support genetic research and, to a lesser extent, genetic modification of plants and animals, I am concerned about potential, unwanted, and undesirable, side effects.

    Mankind has been genetically manipulating plants and animals for thousands of years. We've been doing it the good, old-fashioned way, selectively breeding those living things with desirable attributes, and culling the ones with undesirable attributes.

    Mother Nature does the same thing, at a slower pace; I refer, of course, to evolution.

    The thing about evolution and mankind's emulation of evolution, is that it is a slow process, one that allows for failures to die out naturally. Mutations are so gradual that it is unlikely that any single species could gain a dominant advantage in a short period of time.

    Fast-forward to today's genetic research laboratory, where genetic modifications are made by the thousands on a daily basis. Some are beneficial, some are promising, others are dead-ends. It is only "natural" that, sooner or later, one of them will be deadly.

    Human beings clearly are capable of destruction and murder on a scale unimaginable to other animals. At our worst, we actively create such organisms as a deadlier version of smallpox.

    At our best, we foolishly think we can play God and create almost instantly what naturally takes much more time. We need to be careful not to create a monster. Literally.
  2. Coriolis

    Coriolis Bob's your uncle

    I largely agree with what you say, but there is an interesting conundrum here that is certainly worth some debate.

    Genetic modification of plants has the potential -- in theory anyway -- to make a huge dent in world hunger. Imagine if you could engineer a potato, or a squash, or a carrot, or all the above, that would not only grow but flourish in the most arid of deserts, and the harshest climates. And what if you introdcue said vegatation into that ecosystem?

    Would the risk of something "monstrous" happening down the road be greater than the benefits of feeding thousands and thousands of starving men, woman, and children?

    I ask because I'm not sure what I would do if left in the position to decide.

  3. Sierra Mike

    Sierra Mike The Dude Abides Staff Member


    I'm willing to take the risk...though we do need some sort of oversight here to prevent the advances from being perverted into something more insidious.

  4. Steve

    Steve Is that it, then?

    Genetic modification of plants, for the purpose of making them able to grow in poor soil, yield more food, etc., is probably the least objectionable type of modification, in my opinion. I'm all for that, although I would note that lack of adequate distribution and storage infrastructure, as well as a general breakdown of civil government, contributes more to famines than a lack of food.

    I grow more concerned when we see things like animal DNA injected into plants, or bacteria DNA, or things like that. Humans have a very short perspective on life. What makes sense now, may result in horrible consequences, later. DDT, asbestos, Thalidomide....you get the idea.

    Now we are creating things that literally have lives of their own and are still subject to the same rules of evolution, mutation, and survival that have always been in place. A benign modification may, someday, grow into something altogether less useful, or even malignant.

    We just need to be very, very careful and take the myth of Pandora's box to heart.
  5. Coriolis

    Coriolis Bob's your uncle

    Yes, as before I agree with both you and Steve -- great care must be taken. My example was just that, an example, but let's take it a step further.

    Assume that genetic manipulation of plants to enable their harvesting in places where nothing would previously grow <i>did</i> involve the injection of animal or bacteria DNA. Or as a different example, but leading to the same point, the use of similar genetic manipulation to rid our population of incidious diseases, such as cancer, or multiple sclerosis.

    Would it be worth the risk?

    It's almost a rhetorical question, since we have no way of really answering it.

    Thus there are two alternatives: just do it and see, or never do it and consequently never know whether or not a problem would arise.

    I guess what I'm driving at is there's no way to proceed without taking some immeasurable risk, and in many circumstances, a risk that could have irreversible effects. I think the Pandora's box gets opened regardless, the minute we say "let's go for it".

    I think this area of science needs to incorporate more sophisticated simulation models for evaluating risk/benefit ratios for specific genetic manipulations (if they can crack the genome of anaimals and humans, they can surely use some of this technology to model the cause and effect of genetic manipulations). Anyone know if such a narrow discipline even exists?

    BTW, my mother was prescribed Thalidomide when pregant for me, in the 1st-2nd trimester. She decided not to take it -- lucky for me!
  6. Sierra Mike

    Sierra Mike The Dude Abides Staff Member

    I don't know if it's worth the risk or not. It depends on the circumstances, and what the final reward is.

    This stuff is going to happen or is happening, regardless...

  7. Steve

    Steve Is that it, then?

    Risk analysis is very important. As SM points out, it depends on the circumstances. There are still tropical countries where the use of DDT and other pesticides banned in the U.S. is common. The benefit of killing disease-carrying insects outweighs the threat to the environment. At least, that is how is perceived in those countries that cannot afford other, more expensive alternatives.

    So, the question I believe we need to ask ourselves is:

    Are there alternatives? Is a genetically-manipulated solution the only practical one?

    When that answer is 'No', I believe we are safer leaving well enough alone.

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