controversies & ethics

Patrick O'Neil patrick at corona
Fri Feb 10 01:28:35 EST 1995

On Mon, 30 Jan 1995, Phandaal wrote:
> I've been asked to give a lecture to upper-division college students on
> the controversies and ethical considerations in producing transgenic
> organisms, especially transgenic plants.  It's been a while since I gave
> this lecture, and so I was wondering if anybody had any good examples of
> controversies or ethical considerations that I could incorporate into the 
> talk.

 I spent a year working in a plant molec bio lab that was being partially 
funded by a private company to produce a more fungal resistent 
sugarbeet.  Technically, it would be a transgenic in that a gene, VERY 
closely related to an already present gene, from Arabidopsis was/is to be 
introduced into the sugarbeet and overexpressed, thus bolstering the 
sugarbeet's fungal resistence.  I enjoyed the work very much and saw 
absolutely nothing wrong with it.  It was making use of an already 
existent defensive gene that resides in many plants and simply increasing 
its output by using an easy to maniplate gene from a common lab plant.  
This sugarbeet will allow, hopefully, less use of chemical fungicides.  
  You could argue that it will simply apply selective pressure for fungi 
to evolve resistence...but then, so does the use of fungicides or natural 
defenses.  A more resistent fungi will, conversely, select for more 
fungal-resistent plants.  This can be applied to your first point below too.

> Two I can think of off-hand are:
> 1) introducing insecticidal proteins (such as the Bacillus thuringiensis
> protein) into plants may create resistant insect populations (under the
> force of heavy selection pressure), which could then overrun the resistant
> plants and make worthless the efforts by conventional growers who *use* Bt
> protein as a topical pesticidal spray. 

The use of the spray itself puts selective pressure on insects to develop 
resistence.  The point is moot.

> 2) altering fatty acid metabolism in oil-crops (like canola) so that they 
> produce oils found chiefly in palm and coconut could severely damage the 
> palm oil and coconut oil industries in Third World countries... thus 
> severely depressing the economies of these already struggling countries.

If business was nice, then companies would never be put out of business.  
It may be tough but I could not support artificially supporting a 
weakly-based economy by ignoring a possible economic boon here.  Any 
economy that ties itself to one commodity is *automatically* doomed to bite 
it pretty hard.  Look at Louisiana and the effects of it having placed 
all its economic eggs in the oil business basket -- the state is only now 
beginning to recover from over a decade of depressed economy and hard times.


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