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Do you Approve of Genetic Engineering?


Mr Skeptic
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Do you approve of genetic engineering?  

5 members have voted

  1. 1. Do you approve of genetic engineering?

    • Yes, even on humans
    • Yes, even on food
    • Yes, but I don't want anything to do with it
    • No, but it should be allowed with proper precautions
    • No, it should be banned.
      0


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An interesting talk is available online from Oxford that touches on a lot of this. Be sure to watch the "Main Talk" and also the "Q&A Session."

 

 

http://www.21school.ox.ac.uk/video/200805_sulston.cfm

 

 

I'm preparing to also watch the below, so I'm not 100% sure it's on topic, but I figured I'd post it before I forget:

 

http://www.21school.ox.ac.uk/video/200710_Venter.cfm

 

 

Enjoy. :)

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  • 4 weeks later...

cloning is totally different,and honestly it seems like a seriously bad idea to me. i mean we're all supposed to have our own unique mix of genes, this can be done with genetic engineering, but i think cloning can have many more serious repercussions.

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Currently, cloning of humans has three main practical problems.

1. We cannot do it anyway.

2. If we could do it, it would lead to heaps of congenital problems in the new born.

3. If we could do it, it would require lots of women to volunteer as surrogate mothers, and most would suffer miscarriages. This is emotionally traumatic and women should not be subject to that.

 

However, given anther 100 years of technological development, these problems should be overcome. The political problems will also fade away, along with general human silliness in opposing another way of making babies. My prediction is that in 100 years, cloning will be accepted as just another reasonable way of reproducing. After all, the end result is just a baby, and babies are generally a very acceptable result.

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Halogirl

 

Conception can be achieved artificially, in the lab. However, to incubate the resultant embryo through to birth requires an actual woman, acting as surrogate mother. Medical science is still a very long way off developing an artificial uterus that actually works.

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The science behind genetic modification is extremely straightforward, and it is of no wonder that a prospect with such value has been drawn away from research. Although a relatively new technology, GM crops are extremely controversial. This is common, and to say the least, genetic modification has become extremely commercialised.

They buy the right to have little opposition or stringent guidelines proposed by the government. The government in America sees no need for compulsory labelling of genetically modified food, in supermarkets, greatly increasing the testing size of GM foods and endangering many lives, as the potential risks are unknown. The health of the public is put at risk to increase the companies’ profits considerably – an activity of great moral concern.

It is of a personal matter to the consumer, and evident from the poll, many of the scientifically active members of the population - in this forum as well - underestand the implications of genetic modification. On the horizon are bananas that produce human vaccines against infectious diseases such as hepatitis B; fish that mature more quickly; cows that are resistant to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease); fruit and nut trees that yield years earlier, and plants that produce new plastics with unique properties

Genetic modification needs to remain active, as a promising and lucrative enterprise for the future solution to the food distribution problem.

Edited by DeanK2
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Opposition to GM is highly political, led by such extreme groups as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. There was no real opposition until 1997, when a highly flawed study by Dr. Arpad Pusztai on modified potatoes fed to rats was publicised. The following shows a description of this incident :

 

http://www.mindfully.org/GE/Arpad-Pusztai-Potato.htm

 

I quote from the conclusion.

 

"I would not recommend this paper be accepted for publication in its current form. In my experience as an editor and reviewer it would be rejected by the British Journal of Nutrition, Journal of Nutrition and American Journal of Clinical Nutrition."

 

Soon after this incident, Dr. Putsztai was dismissed from his position for scientific incompetence. This, of course, just made him a martyr for the rapidly growing anti-GM movement. However, there is no doubt that his work, which was the genesis of the anti-GM movement, was deeply flawed and his conclusions unjustified. To date, there is no credible scientific evidence to suggest that genetic modification as a process is inherently harmful in any way.

 

There are a few situations where the results of GM should not be used, of course. However, this is true of any agricultural technique, including traditional breeding of new crop types.

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It has been some time but In my memory things unfolded slightly differently.

First, there has always been an opposition to GM, even quite a while before the publication. I recall a number of protests regarding the release of GFP labelled, crippled bacteria, for instance.

Secondly, he was not fired because of the publication. The publication was finalized after he had to abandon his research and this is arguably also the reason of some of the methodological flaws in it. I assume the Lancet still published it to spark a discussion around it.

I think he was fired because in an interview he said that his initial results indicated a possible problem with GM food (in this case it was potatoes, I think).

Shortly after he was fired. Whether it was because he leaked information without clearing it with the institute (many are very restrictive in this regard) or whether it was due to the pressure of certain companies (I think that at least Monsanto might have funded research there), I do not know,

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Charon

I said "no real opposition till 1997". That did not mean zero opposition, since there are always a few cranks around. However, the opposition was not serious till after Pusztai and his potatoes, when Greenpeace etc took it on.

 

I did not say he was fired because of the publication. He was fired, according to his employers, because his work overall was not considered to meet the exacting standards set for good scientific research. I think this included other work besides his GM potato work. You can speculate on other reasons, but the above was the stated reason. Certainly Greenpeace et al have claimed it was due to influence by GM companies. However, Greenpeace et al have their own reasons for not accepting that poor science was the real reason - it would make their campaign look silly.

 

The real point is that the major campaigns against GM began as a result of scientific results that were later found to be invalid. I have seen nothing since to indicate a change in the conclusion that GM has no inherent harm.

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I'm pretty sure that the majority of opposition is and has been a combination of fear of new things, as well as the thought that god/nature knows best. No science needed... In any case, a decent dose of paranoia might be just what is needed to keep the big corporations honest. However IMO there is too much focus on GM being "dangerous" and not enough on the value of genetic diversity, which might be compromised by overuse of GM. However, GM can also increase genetic diversity, if its not accompanied by a monoculture.

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He was fired, according to his employers, because his work overall was not considered to meet the exacting standards set for good scientific research.

 

No I am sure that it was not the reason put forth. Again, he was fired before the publication was submitted. Moreover, no institute would fire someone about a published data that does not meet scientific standards. This is the job of the referees.

Also, I have no idea why you take 1997 as an arbitrary timeline to assume that protests started here. I still personally remember the rather massive demonstrations for the planned bacterial experiments back in around 1996 (including Greenpeace members, btw). It was far more than crackpots, many of them farmers from the region.

 

While Pusztais publication was since then often put forth as an argument against GM food, it is silly to argue that this one was starting point of it. Especially as you got the time line wrong. Let us put it together, shall we?

In 1998 the interview I mentioned (and I think the real reason why he was sacked) was aired. A couple of months later he was bound to an gagging order and essentially sacked (his contract was not to be renewed). An investigation within the Rowett institute (where he worked) was conducted but could not find any clues of fraud (something he was, also accused of).

Pretty incidentally the Rowett institute received over 100000 british pounds as donations from Monsanto (I looked that up now. I am pretty surprised that I guessed right).

So guess when the article was published? October the following year (1999).

 

In other words it is equally silly to say that GM concerns were based on a single incomplete article as to say that GM food is a danger because of that. Just to clarify, a significant part of geneticist are also skeptic regarding safety of GM food.

One of the main problems is that there is still not much data about GM food and its possible effects on personal as well as environmental health. But of course each manipulation are bound to have different effects, so in theory each crop has to be tested in lab as well in the field. Very expensive and often not that conclusive. Environmental effects are long-term studies (hardly anyone pays for them) and rats are not that a good substitute for effects on humans.

Personally I think that most minor manipulations are harmless (or at least not more harmful that what has been done with more traditional techniques anyway) and are likely not to spread too much as their selective advantages would be neglectable. However I am more skeptic about certain pesticide resistant crops, for instance.

In any case I do think that environmental effects would be always stronger than immediate health effects on humans.

 

Also I missed that one:

i think you misunderstood me. i meant that the way humans are today, mixing with one another, would we lose genetic diversity.

You are aware that free interbreeding actually increases diversity, right? (with the exception of extremely detrimental alleles that can only be sustained by continued inbreeding).

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Charon

As I said before, there are two given explanations for Pusztai being sacked. His employers said one thing while Greenpeace and Pusztai said another. I would be more inclined to believe the employers, since the other sources are so strongly biased. Greenpeace, because it was busy turning Pusztai into a martyr for the cause, and Pusztai, since he would have been bitter and twisted about being sacked.

 

As I also said, there was some minimal anti-GM activity prior to 1997, but the massive increase in that activity dated roughly from that time and from Pusztai's work. In particular, Greenpeace and other major NGO's ramped up their opposition from that time. The problem they had is that, before Pusztai, they had no scientific rationale for their opposition. Pusztai gave them a rationalisation from a pseudoscientific result.

 

Not all GM is good. It has its dangers. Some examples should not be used. eg. Glyphosate resistant sugar beet in Europe, since sugar beet has several close relatives that can hybridise with it, that happen to be common weeds.

 

However, dangers come from any change. There was a case in the 1970's when a new strain of potato was produced by conventional breeding techniques. A technician took some of that potato, and cooked and ate it, and died. Turns out that this strain had excessively high levels of the natural toxin solanine.

 

All new forms of food should be thoroughly tested before being part of the human food chain. However, this applies to GM only to the same degree that it applies to other methods of changing crops.

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*Sigh* You are not reading, are you. I just made clear that the Employers did not or rather could not sack him for the reasons you put forth. You are just assuming. In fact you are using Pusztai´s research (without reading it) the same ways as Greenpeace. Only with the reverse intentions.

Just to clarify the official response from Rowett was that he resigned. He was not fired because of misconduct as you implied.

Greenpeace is using him, sure. At the same time pro-GMs slander him as if that would be an argument by itself.

Edited by CharonY
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I'm pretty sure that the majority of opposition is and has been a combination of fear of new things, as well as the thought that god/nature knows best. No science needed...

 

Well, nature does generally ‘know’ best, does it not? After all we are here as a result, as accidental as it is. Science is still an infant that has much to learn from nature. Don't kid yourself. So, being careful as practical is a good thing: before wide scale implementation of GM bcomes the norm.

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Charon

The publication date for Pusztai's article is irrelevent. His work was reported unofficially in 1997, and the results widely disseminated through the world media that year. The date of the formal report is not a factor. Popular response was not based on the final report.

 

dichotomy

While it is true that we have much to learn from nature, the idea that 'nature knows best' is simply wrong. Humanity has improved its success on all levels by moving away from the 'natural' life into one that is seriously unnatural. We live longer, healthier lives, in stronger more vigorous bodies, suffering less disease, and experiencing more comfort, less hunger, and far more intellectual stimulation. Who would rather live a primitive life where you will probably die young, or live to a better age with that life blighted by disease, hunger and the fear of predators?

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dichotomy

While it is true that we have much to learn from nature, the idea that 'nature knows best' is simply wrong. Humanity has improved its success on all levels by moving away from the 'natural' life into one that is seriously unnatural. We live longer, healthier lives, in stronger more vigorous bodies, suffering less disease, and experiencing more comfort, less hunger, and far more intellectual stimulation. Who would rather live a primitive life where you will probably die young, or live to a better age with that life blighted by disease, hunger and the fear of predators?

 

I’m not disputing that great scientific advances have been made. And I’m not disputing that many of these advances will prove to be disastrous over time. It’s a given that both will occur. I’m disputing the assumption that GM is indisputably better than the naturally successful life forms that already exist. Only time will reveal this. If anything is an issue to me it’s maintaining diversity of life, if GM reduces the available gene pool it draws from then this isn’t a good thing, as GM relies on diversity to work its magic and future magic. I think maintaining diversity is what is most important. After all, how could we make rabbits glow in the dark if we wiped out all the jelly fish? :eek::D And, I do know that this odd experiment may lead to greater understanding of how and when genes actually activate.

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Well, nature does generally ‘know’ best, does it not? After all we are here as a result, as accidental as it is. Science is still an infant that has much to learn from nature.

 

Nature has 2 billion years of experience. However, we have a different agenda than nature, as well as the ability to plan. At this point, we don't know too much about genetics and biochemistry -- we still need supercomputers to figure out how a protein would fold, for example. However, we have been at odds with nature ever since we domesticated plants and animals. There's still dangers with that (artificial selection --> monoculture), but it's pretty much a necessity to have the number of people we do now. Wild grains might be healthier, but are far less productive. However, I'd take a dog over a wolf any day.

 

Don't kid yourself. So, being careful as practical is a good thing: before wide scale implementation of GM bcomes the norm.

 

Caution is definitely a must. We need enough caution to avoid too much danger, but not so much as to slow down progress too much. In the tradeoff between caution and progress, I think there is currently too much emphasis on caution. Ironically, genetically modifying humans is probably safer than genetically modifying bacteria.

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Nature has 2 billion years of experience. However, we have a different agenda than nature, as well as the ability to plan.

 

A cliché, I know, but so did Hitler, The Romans, The Egyptians, The British. >:D

 

But, yes, planning does go along way in the mind, it vastly improves the probability of success in reality. ;)

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Opposition to GM is highly political, led by such extreme groups as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. There was no real opposition until 1997, when a highly flawed study by Dr. Arpad Pusztai on modified potatoes fed to rats was publicised.

 

The publication date for Pusztai's article is irrelevent. His work was reported unofficially in 1997

 

OK first, his comments were aired 1998 a year after your assumed rise in GM-food resistance (where did you got 1997 anyhow?).

Second if he was fired due to them then the institute did something wrong. If every scientist deducing something from preliminary data and then found being incorrect later on, would be fired, well then getting a job in this field would be much easier ;).

But more importantly, his published work was incomplete (again, published after he was fired), because he was sacked before he could conduct more experiments (e.g. much needed better control). His overall conception was not totally flawed (at least according to what I remember, I read it when it was published the last time). And what is also interesting is that the documentation for the GM potatoes used in the study somehow vanished (actually I did not research that, but a colleague who wanted to make a metabolome analysis with this potatoes).

 

Also I found this bit here from the New Scientist

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg16121740.300-anatomy-of-a-food-scare.html

 

 

Sure, Pusztais work is being used by GM-food opponents, however their most powerful weapons (employed since the beginning) is general (irrational) fear. The average opponent probably does not know anything about the work at all.

 

While I am generally not a fan of conspiracy theories, the fact that he was fired so fast, combined with a number of allegations floating around almost immediately after the interview made me rather suspicious at that time. Again, more research is needed and, in my opinion, it must be independent from industrial money (I have read contracts associated which that kind of money, sometimes they have institute-wide rules without the scientists actual knowing it). Trouble is, in many countries it is hardly possible.

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Charon

We are in danger of arguing over irrelevencies. The key point is that the work on potatoes led to a claim that was later demonstrated to be false. The key claim was not that a toxin in potatoes was toxic, but that the GM process itself was harmful. That claim led to enormous public opposition and was false.

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we still need supercomputers to figure out how a protein would fold, for example.

 

Caution is definitely a must. We need enough caution to avoid too much danger, but not so much as to slow down progress too much. In the tradeoff between caution and progress, I think there is currently too much emphasis on caution. Ironically, genetically modifying humans is probably safer than genetically modifying bacteria.

 

 

Actually I think we need a quantum computer to figure out how a protein would fold. Chemical bonding (the london force) plays a very important role by inducing constrains and there by distinguishing the goods and the no goods of a solution.

 

The reason why the diversity of the species is decreasing in our planet is because our cultural evolution has become extremely fast and we change our environments so rapidly that other species can't adapt to the rapidly changing environment, they wholly depend on biological evolution which is slow but very good at finding an optimal solution. I am quite dissapointed that humans have not developed an art like agriculture or metallurgy which would enable us to manipulate the environment so that we can keep our environment in equillibrium. I know its very complicated but our ability to survive on this planet depends on our ability to manipulate this planet.

 

 

Every technology has a risk factor involved in it and its all about reducing the risks and move on and Scientists very well know what those risks are and what should be done to eliminate those risks. For example :- Scientists have discovered split proteins like split genes. In genes it is called as introns and in proteins it is called as inteins. This can be used to prevent what some environmentalists call 'contamination'. It is very much possible that the phenotype of an individual can be modified with genes one situated in nucleus and the other one situated in chloroplast and made to translate proteins which will self splice and attach the two proteins and there by modifying the phenotype of an individual and also the spread of these genes.

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The key point is that the work on potatoes led to a claim that was later demonstrated to be false.

 

I think we can argue about it all day. I think his work as whole is simply irrelevant (regardless from a pro or a anti GM view) simply because it was not demonstrated that the results were false. Only that his controls were not suited to sustain the claim. In normal cases the referees would ask for additional experiments, which could have been conducted, if he was not fired.

His experiment was also never replicated and the data regarding how the potato was created, vanished. Also as far as I remember it was never argued that the process itself was harmful (would not make any sense) but simply that the expression of a lectin (not toxin) in the potato might cause serious side effects in rats. He did advocate more controls of GM-food, though (or so I think).

In any case I do not think that his work has something to do with this argument at all (except that more data is needed).

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  • 2 weeks later...

I believe the benefits of genetic engineering generally outweigh the complications that may arise during manipulative procedures in certain settings. The question of ethics has been the focal point for endless debates; however, a persuasive representation of properly tested breakthroughs in controversial fields can help change public opinion over the subject.

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