FWD: Article on Microbiology vs. Molecular Genetics

coker at usuhs.ucc.usuhs.nnmc.navy.mil coker at usuhs.ucc.usuhs.nnmc.navy.mil
Thu Jul 14 11:23:01 EST 1994

In Article <2veeqh$dhn at agate.berkeley.edu>
micro at mendel.berkeley.edu (Martin Latterich) writes:
>Where have all the microbiologists gone ? I've been studying, and more
>recently teachning microbiology in one form or another for about 10
>years now, and I've seen the science of microbiology change from being the
>study of small organisms and their ecology to being a factory for churning
>out gene sequences, and even my recent class of final year students
>commented on this when I gave them a course on Taxonomy and systematics. OK, so
>for our first talk-generating thread, I'm suggesting this as a Title;- Running
>before we can walk.

So, technology has allowed us to bypass the study of the biological relevance of
particular gene(s) under investigation. For the time being. What's so great
about a string of A's,G's,T's, and C's? I think generating a data base
of gene sequences is great. If I sequence a gene and find that it has already
been discovered I can move on to something else. That is sequencing other
genes and then trying to figure out the biological relevence of the gene
to the organism. Molecular biology will not replace studying the biology
of the organism. Even sophisticated model systems are only a little help-
by definition they only approximate the reality of the system studied.
I don't view molecular biology as a discipline so much as a tool with which
to make the study of organisms relatively easier than a straight purely
biological approach.

>And here's the contentious statement to set fire to. I consider myself
>to be an environme an environmental microbiologist, and one of the things that
>seems to be generating a bit of talk amongst my students is the recent planned
>releases of Genetically Engineered Micro-Organisms. And they , without
>prompting, came up with exactly the same sort of fears that I had myself;- 
That we know too little about the ecology of organisms that are being released
>into the environment to actually consider releasing genes that may have
>deleterious effects on other organisms.
>My point is, therefore, are we running before we can walk. It's all fine and
>well for a biochemist to merrily go sequencing genes through their nice
>and expensive sequencers and then saying.. "OK, we think it's responsible
>for THIS, and we can clone it and put it in THIS organism which our
>microcosm tests (invariably conducted in sterile matrices) says will survive in
>the environment, it'll then do THIS and we'll all make lots of money
>patenting the idea."
>Life, as we all know, isn't a nice sterile microcosm matrix. Soil is
>a flaming aggressive environment and I feel that without detailed study
>of the ecology of the soil microbial biomass we're risking it by
>releasing "unnatural" gene sequences into the environment because we simply
>don't know what's going to happen to them once they're out there, what
>organism may incorporate them, what mutations may occur in that incorporation
>and how the hell we do actually deal with it if anything goes wrong.

It sounds like your basic argument is (para)-Are we as a society willing
to take the risk of experimenting in our macrocosm with genetically
engineered organisms?

It seemes that an agreement needs to be reached as to what passes as
"sufficient and acceptible" preliminary testing and experimentation
in model systems before release of "new" organisms into the environment.
Of course we will never know what the impact of man-made(altered) genes
will be once released into the environment- unperformed experiments have
no results- and without results no conclusions can be drawn.

Instead of all this bitching what kinds of acceptible trial testing
and experimentation have you and your students come up with which 
will allow you to feel comfortable with the release of genetically engineered
organisms into the environment? 

Christopher Coker

NOTE: The above opinions are      ________________________________
not meant to reflect the views    As Homer would say: 
of the U.S.U.H.S., Navy, or             
the Military. They are the         DOH! :-0   
views of the author only.         ________________________________

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