Genetic engineering is a good thing
Mr. G. Morley
gmorley at hgmp.mrc.ac.uk
Wed Sep 16 08:18:34 EST 1998
Don't forget that genetic engineering has been going on for some time
before all this fuss started. Insulin for diabetics, for example, is now made by bacteria and not extracted from pigs. The long term benefits from GE may one day encompass plants which have been engineered to grow in adverse conditions (such as in the deserts) which will open up massive stretches of land for human colonisation. Aside from drug production by bacteria and plant
engineering the other main area is of course animal engineering. Here the
ethical picture becomes a bit more murky. One could argue that in many
ways genetic engineering has been going on for centuries in the form
of "cross-breeding" and animal husbandry practices. This argument only holds
up for the engineering or improving on any natural traits these animals possess.
A while back the growth hormone gene was engineered into pigs to reduce
the amount of fat these animals produce in foodstuffs such as bacon.
This failed in the end (the bacon was too "blobby" looking after cooking
and this animal line was abandoned this could be considered an
example for the cross breading argument as the pig already had the gene
for growth hormone and GE merely amplified and extended its production.
However sheep do exist (I went to a lecture by the guys who did this about
5-6 years ago) which make a certain protein/enzyme/drug which is
excreted in their milk which is a protein that these animals do not
naturally express, nor in a million years of evolution or cross breading
would ever have expressed this is where the argument of "GE as extended
animal husbandry" falls down. Thus , I and I like to think all scientists in the field should be aware of the morality of any practices involving the alteration or the genetic modification of any organism (especially if there is any possibility of these organisms being released into the wild). On a more positive note do not forget that almost all research into AIDS or cancer involves genetic engineering, either of viruses or cells in vitro, and if it was not for these techniques then these terrible disea
ses would forever remain in humanity. As an aside I hardly think it likely that genetic engineering is running at a loss. The number of drugs and organisms (such as soya) that have been modified and sold is massive (as measured by the hundreds of new biotech companies springing up every year). This is a boom business and is likely to continue so as new advances and animals are made. Other points which may be covered involve the preservation and one day perhaps, re-introduction of endangered species by free
zing down eggs and sperm of these animals and using "surrogate mothers" to bring them back into the world and perhaps the engineering of marine bacteria to produce greater mounts of oxygen dioxide (they are currently the main source) and the increased consumption of carbon to offset the green house effect. Who knows? The twenty first century will be an exciting, if somewhat dubious, place to live.
Finally as to references on the use of genetic engineering which are suitable for
school essays I would recommend you search the New Scientist back issues on their Web page as they are a more "user friendly" journal than most. Hope this helps you kid!
g.morley at ucl.ac.uk
P.S. These ideas and thoughts are mine entirely and certainly do not reflect the views or belief of the organisation I work for .. and are likely to be highly inaccurate at best!
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