The Two Faces of Genetic Engineering

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The Two Faces of Genetic Engineering

Postby linn » 10 Mar 2011, 13:39

The Two Faces of Genetic Engineering
JD Adams
Mar-10-2011 00:31

Genetic engineering differs from the ancient technique of artificial selection in that the manipulation of genetic material occurs in a manner that is totally unnatural.

(SALEM, Ore.) - On one side, the bio-engineering industry promises a utopian world of bountiful food, where sickness and human imperfections are a thing of the past. On the other side is mounting evidence of biological monstrosities that threaten to turn the Earth into a scene from the horror movie "The Island of Dr. Moreau."

The modern era of genetic engineering began with the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953. In 1962 Watson, Crick, and Maurice Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for their contributions to the understanding of nucleic acids and genetics. They were supported toward this end by unpublished DNA X-ray diffraction data collected by colleague Rosalind Franklin, leading to a controversy over whether her name should have appeared along with Watson and Crick on the original paper detailing the molecular structure of DNA. James Watson went on to write the 'The Double Helix' in 1968, and in 1990 was appointed the Head of the Human Genome Project at the National Institute of Health. The future controversial nature of genetic engineering was presaged by Watson's departure from the Genome Project because he objected to attempted patents on human gene sequences.

Genetic engineering differs from the ancient technique of artificial selection in that the manipulation of genetic material occurs in a manner that is totally unnatural. It may involve borrowed heritable genetic material external to the organism, or the targeting of specific genes for elimination. Cloning and stem cell research are related technologies that may encompass genetic engineering, and the latest discipline is synthetic biology that seeks to introduce uniquely man-made materials into a genetic framework.

The applications of genetic engineering (GE) are so diverse as to be mind-boggling. The manipulation of bacteria and yeast genes have yielded industrial applications including the production of various drugs, vaccines, antibodies, insulin, hormones, supplements, and fuels. Animal models of human diseases, usually using mice, are made through GE. Research is progressing with genetically modified pigs that will grow human organs for transplant, and one day beef may be produced without cattle. GE promises to replace defective human genes with improved copies, one of the pillars of the Trans-humanist movement. GE can assist in cleaning up oil spills, and will be used to dispose of toxic waste, and detecting other environmental hazards. A genetically engineered virus has also been used to create an eco-friendly lithium-ion battery, and GE has been used to produce photographic images, Bio-Art, glowing fish, and blue roses. While stem cell research and many applications of GE appear benevolent and useful, the rapid pace of development coupled with the lure of untold profit have interfered with proper attention to the attendant hazards of tampering with nature.

In what is perhaps a chilling preview of our bio-engineered future, Gulf Coast residents are complaining of mysterious rashes and other ailments that are collectively referred to as the the Gulf Blue Plague:

The issues with genetically modified organisms that are being avoided by the major media are that not only are these microbes spreading beyond their points of application, but they are capable of cross-breeding, creating a genetic witch's brew. It is a biological catastrophe in the making, with implications that stagger the imagination:

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