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controversies & ethics

Colin MacDiarmid macdiarm at sbsu1.auckland.ac.nz
Wed Feb 1 17:08:21 EST 1995

In article <3gm7u9$t5e at nntp1.u.washington.edu>, roach at u.washington.edu
(Jared Roach) wrote:

>         Now one might argue that the speed of recombinant research
> has two dangers:
>         1) The rest of the ecosystem is not changing as fast to
> modify itself so as to maintain some kind of ecological "balance."
> Furthermore, scientists may be slower to understand ecological impact
> than they are in developing new organisms.
>         2) The human race as a whole (or national governments, or
> individuals) is slow to reach consensus on ethical issues (i.e.
> religion, abortion, the creation of new species, etc.)  Science
> should slow its pace of discovery to allow Ethics to catch up.
>         There are excellnt counterpoints, but I will allow others
> to continue the dialectic.
> Jared Roach
> Dept. of Molecular Biotechnology
> University of Washington
> roach at u.washington.edu
If you are worried about the ecosystem, its plenty easy to find more pressing concerns (forest clearing, pesticide/fertiliser overuse, etc etc etc) than genetic engineering.  Bear in mind that from the conception of recombinant DNA technology to now, there have been no reports of injury or death, or even demonstrable harm to humans or environment, which can be traced to this technology. Compare that to the harm caused by other technologies as diverse as motorcars, hamburgers, and breast implants, and things start to fall into perspective.  
You could actually argue that the precision of DNA technology improves the safety of, for example, plant breeding.  There have been several instances of conventional plant breeding giving lines which have elevated levels of chemicals demonstrably toxic to humans, often by design (for example, pest resistant potatoes which were so toxic the leaves of the plants caused skin disease if handled).  The weird thing is that these varieties may be more acceptable to consumers because they were produced by 'natural' means, instead of using 'unnatural' techniques.
In any case, just because some technique is new, doesnt mean it's bad.  Its important for scientists to communicate this I think.

Colin MacDiarmid
University of Auckland
macdiarm at sbsu1.auckland.ac.nz

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