Genetic Engineering Brings More Harm Than Good

Genetic Engineering Brings More Harm Than Good

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Until the recent demise of the Soviet Union, we lived under the daily
threat of nuclear holocaust extinguishing human life and the entire
biosphere. Now it looks more likely that total destruction will be
averted, and that widespread, but not universally fatal, damage will
continue to occur from radiation accidents from power plants, aging
nuclear submarines, and perhaps the limited use of tactical nuclear
weapons by governments or terrorists.

What has gone largely unnoticed is the unprecedented lethal threat of
genetic engineering to life on the planet. It now seems likely, unless
a major shift in international policy occurs quickly, that the major
ecosystems that support the biosphere are going to be irreversibly
disrupted, and that genetically engineered viruses may very well lead
to the eventual demise of almost all-human life. In the course of the
major transformations that are on the way, human beings will be
transformed, both intentionally and unintentionally, in ways that will
make us something different than what we now consider human.

Regardless of the dangers, we are rushing full speed ahead on almost
all fronts. Some of the most powerful multinational chemical,
pharmaceutical and agricultural corporations have staked their
financial futures on genetic engineering. Enormous amounts of money are
already involved, and the United States government is currently
bullying the rest of the world into rapid acceptance of corporate
demands concerning genetic engineering research and marketing.

In the 1950's, the media was full of information about the great new
scientific miracle that was going to make it possible to kill all of
the noxious insects in the world, to wipe out insect-born diseases and
feed the world's starving masses. That was DDT. In the 1990's, the
media is full of information about the coming wonders of genetic
engineering. Everywhere are claims that genetic engineering will feed
the starving, help eliminate disease, and so forth. The ideas and
evidence presented below are intended to help evaluate that central

Some scientists believe that, since genetic codes determine the
appearance, personality, health, and aging process of human beings, if
that genetic information in the chromosomes could be decoded and the
genetic mechanism were understood, we could potentially control and
improve our health, quality of life, and the biochemical processes in
our bodies. In other words, we could control our own fate. Also, we'd
be able to improve the genes of other animals and vegetables so that
they could serve humankind better. At first sight, these ideas seem
reasonable and attractive. However, careful analysis reveals that they
are based upon an incorrect theory--the theory of gene determinism.

Genes are often described as 'blueprints' or 'computer programs' for

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our bodies and all living organisms. Although it is true that genes are
specific sequences of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) that are central to
the production of proteins, contrary to popular belief and the now
outmoded standard genetic model, genes do not directly determine the
'traits' of an organism.1a They are a single factor among many. They
provide the 'list of ingredients' which is then organized by the
'dynamical system' of the organism. That 'dynamical system' determines
how the organism is going to develop. In other words, a single gene
does not, in most cases, exclusively determine either a single feature
of our bodies or a single aspect of our behavior. The genes are
processed through the self-organizing ('dynamical') system of the
organism, so that the combination of a complex combination of genes is
subjected to a variety of environmental factors that lead to the final
results, whether somatic or ! behavioral.

^a gene is not an easily identifiable and tangible object. It is
not only the DNA sequence which determines its functions in the
organisms, but also its location in a specific chromosomal,
cellular, physiological and evolutionary context. It is therefore
difficult to predict the impact of genetic material transfer on the
functioning of the extremely tightly controlled, integrated and
balanced functioning of all the tens of thousands of structures and
processes that make up the body of any complex organism.

What has gone largely unnoticed is the unprecedented lethal threat of
genetic engineering to life on the planet. It now seems likely, unless
a major shift in international policy occurs quickly, that the major
ecosystems that support the biosphere are going to be irreversibly
disrupted, and that genetically engineered viruses may very well lead
to the eventual demise of almost all-human life. In the course of the
major transformations that are on the way, human beings will be
transformed, both intentionally and unintentionally, in ways that will
make us something different than what we now consider human.

Genetic engineering refers to the artificial modification of the
genetic code of a living organism. Genetic engineering changes the
fundamental physical nature of the organism, sometimes in ways that
would never occur in nature. Genes from one organism are inserted in
another organism, most often across natural species boundaries. Some of
the effects become known, but most do not. The effects of genetic
engineering, which we know, are usually short-term, specific and
physical. The effects we do not know are often long-term, general, and
also mental. Long-term effects may be either specific4 or general.

What harm could Genetic Engineering bring? The main potential harm of
Genetic Engineering is associated with artificial horizontal gene
transfer experimentation. Horizontal gene transfer occurs commonly in
nature. Genes can be exchanged between different bio-species. But the
frequency of these natural transfers is limited by the defense systems,
i.e. immune systems, of each bio-species. The immune system serves to
prevent invasion by harmful foreign genes, viruses, and so forth, so
that the bio-species can maintain its characteristic traits and normal
metabolism. The Genetic Engineering method of artificial horizontal
gene transfer works by penetrating or weakening the immune system and
using virulent genes as delivery vehicles. That is, the gene to be
transferred is combined with a virulent gene to effect penetration.

This method allows harmful virulent genes, especially those with
resistance to antibiotics, to become widespread in nature.

Genetically engineered material can enter the body through food or
bacteria or viruses. The dangers of lethal viruses containing
genetically engineered material and created by natural processes have
been mentioned above. The dangers of generating pathogens by vector
mobilization and recombination are real. Over a period of ten years, 6
scientists working with the genetic engineering of cancer-related on
co-genes at the Pasteur Institutes in France have contracted cancer.42

Non-human engineered genes can also be introduced into the body through
the use of genetically engineered vaccines and other medicines, and
through the use of animal parts genetically engineered with human genes
to combat rejection problems.

Gene therapy, for the correction of defective human genes that cause
certain genetic diseases, involves the intentional introduction of new
genes into the body in an attempt to modify the genetic structure of
the body. It is based on a simplistic and flawed model of gene function
which assumes a one-to-one correspondence between individual gene and
individual function. Since horizontal interaction43 among genes has
been demonstrated, introduction of a new gene can have unforeseen
effects. Another problem, already mentioned, is the slippery slope that
leads to the notion of designer genes. We are already on that slope
with the experimental administration of genetically engineered growth
hormone to healthy children, simply because they are shorter than
average and their parents would like them to be taller.44

A few years ago a biotech corporation applied to the European Patent
Office for a patent on a so-called "pharm-woman", the idea being to
genetically engineer human females so that their breast-milk would
contain specialized pharmaceuticals. Work is also on going to use
genetic engineering to grow human breasts in the laboratory. It doesn't
take much imagination to realize that not only would they be used for
breast replacement needed due to cancer surgery, but also to foster a
vigorous commercial demand by women in search of the "perfect" breasts.

A geneticist has recently proposed genetically engineering headless
humans to be used for body parts. Some prominent geneticists have
supported his idea.

Since the birth of the duplicated sheep "Dolly," genetic engineering
(GE) has attracted attention from all levels of society. GE raises
questions of religion, ethics, and ecology that are of great concern to
many people. I would like to share a little of my understanding of GE,
hoping that it will be helpful to everyone here.

Several companies are working on developing pigs that have organs
containing human genes in order to facilitate the use of the organs in
humans. The basic idea is something like this. You can have your own
personal organ donor pig with your genes implanted. When one of your
organs gives out, you can use the pigs.

The breeding of animals and plants speeds up the natural processes of
gene selection and mutation that occur in nature to select new species
that have specific use to humans. Although the selecting of those
species interferes with the natural selection process that would
otherwise occur, the processes utilized are found in nature. For
example, horses are bred to run fast without regard for how those
thoroughbreds would be able to survive in the wild. There are problems
with stocking streams with farmed fish because they tend to crowd out
natural species, be less resistant to disease, and spread disease to
wild fish.

As more and more human genes are being inserted into non-human
organisms to create new forms of life that are genetically partly
human, new ethical questions arise. What percent of human genes does an
organism have to contain before it is considered human? For instance,
how many human genes would a green pepper have to contain before one
would have qualms about eating it? For meat-eaters, the same question
could be posed about eating pork. If human beings have special ethical
status, does the presence of human genes in an organism change its
ethical status? What about a mouse genetically engineered to produce
human sperm39 that is then used in the conception of a human child?

Bioengineers often claim that they are just speeding up the processes
of natural selection and making the age-old practices of breeding more
efficient. In some cases that may be true, but in most instances the
gene changes that are engineered would never occur in nature, because
they cross natural species barriers.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a set of
xenotransplant guidelines in September of 1996 that allows animal to
human transplants, and puts the responsibility for health and safety at
the level of local hospitals and medical review boards. A group of 44
top virologists, primate researchers, and AIDS specialists have
attacked the FDA guidelines, saying, "based on knowledge of past
cross-species transmissions, including AIDS, Herpes B virus, Ebola, and
other viruses; the use of animals has not been adequately justified for
use in a handful of patients when the potential costs could be in the
hundreds, thousands or millions of human lives should a new infectious
agent be transmitted."

Clearly, genetic engineering brings more harms than benefit. We should
use various channels to influence the direction of research, oppose the
cruel treatment of animals used in genetic experiments, and oppose the
policy of not labeling genetic engineered food products. However, care
is needed in reading scientific reports. Many scientific reports in the
United States have been exaggerated for the sake of competition. It is
advisable to observe clearly before offering criticism. On the other
hand, there is no need to worry that scientists might soon create a
horde of freaks and monsters. The genetic mechanism is an extremely
complex process. Genetic engineers will quickly realize their
limitations. We still have enough time to avert potential disasters.
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