Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology

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#539723 - 29/04/05 11:04 PM Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology
Seraphire Offline
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Registered: 12/05/04
Loc: Under your stairs
Well. After being assigned a Biology Coursework on the above title, the trawling for research raised a lot of questions and thoughts. A specific subject struck me. The addition of human genes into food-stuffs, such as the genes put into rice and tomatoes by the Chinese to increase yield and speed of growth scared me.

What percentage of human genetic information must a life form have in order to be called "human". Some say any presence, some will go the whole splitting hairs, 51%.

And whatever the presence, is this some loophole in the law? Is murder going to be outdated? If members of society have no qualms about food, which may contain human genetic information being eaten and the life of said food ended, the same could be said about murder, or cannibalism, which technically you are undertaking when said foods are consumed.

I know there are many differences between food and human beings, sencientism, the experience of pain being some, but all life is cellular. And the principles are fundamentally the same.

As said by Stephen Hawking. The pinnacle of natural evolution has been reached, and has been replaced by man meddling with his own genetic make-up.

Is this right? Is, forgive the clich Playing God right?

Im personally opposed towards this issue, but other thoughts and issues on this subject would be received with interest.

Sera
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#539724 - 29/04/05 11:20 PM Re: Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology [Re: Seraphire]
quiet Offline
analytic

Registered: 15/09/04
Loc: bristol
1. We share 99% of our genes with all other primates, and 97% of our genes with a cabbage. So the 'percentage' is pretty high.

2. The reason why killing people is bad is something to do with failing to respect humans as autonomous agents, or causing suffering, etc - but whatever the wrongness resides in, it isn't just a matter of killing something with a certain genetic makeup. You wouldn't technically be engaged in murder or cannabilism if you ate a cabbage which had had a human gene (say, one to generate a certain amino acid) inserted. You'd be engaged in eating a modified cabbage.

3. Again, the problem isn't with 'destroying cells'; you do that every time you use a bar of soap. It's with something distinctive to sentient beings; sure, if we created a sentient cabbage (god forbid) then there might be issues, but those issues would be to do with its sentience, rather than its particular genetic makeup.

4. Lastly: GM has its uses. For instance, a strain of rice ('golden rice') which has been modified to produce Vitamin A, and can grow in 3rd-world countries without much intervention. This cures, very effectively, widespread (and damaging) vitamin deficiency. Do you think this is a good thing?
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#539725 - 29/04/05 11:29 PM Re: Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology [Re: Seraphire]
TheBovrilMonkey Offline
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Registered: 03/09/01
Loc: High Wycombe, England
Written by: Seraphire


What percentage of human genetic information must a life form have in order to be called "human". Some say any presence, some will go the whole splitting hairs, 51%.





I'd go a lot higher than 51%, considering that chimps are supposed to share around 97% of our genetic information but they're still quite a way from being human.

I think using recombinant dna in food can't really lead to anything good - who knows what these additions are likely to do in the long term when they're widely used and let loose into the wild?
I'm happier with plants being created with different varieties of their own genes though - that's speeding up crossbreeding rather than adding something entirely alien to the species.

However, for medicinal uses, like insulin producing microbes, I think it's a good plan if used sparingly - this is going to be alot more heavily controlled than altering foods, almost completely based in a closed lab instead of a farm. Plus, I think we're rather dependant on stuff like that now - take it away and a large number of people are going to be a bit screwed.
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#539726 - 29/04/05 11:30 PM Re: Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology [Re: quiet]
Seraphire Offline
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Registered: 12/05/04
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I am aware of the other uses that GM has been used in. I do see the amazing bennefit that GM has offered to LEDC's, and the lives it has saved, and the millions of people that could be saved from Retro-viruses and such like AIDS, with the up-coming popular use of stem-cell research. But I can't say that I support one thing and disagree with another. I see the good for the medicine, but the food that we eat...

I had chosen the specific mention about the insertion of certain genes, rather than an overal range of questions. DNA taken from a human liver for example will not be present in a cabbage. The DNA taken is human, and not shared with other forms of life.

It is also the morals and ethics involved, more so than the facts that interest, you can find all the facts about GM , but the feelings are personal, would you eat produce that has be grown containing aspects that are originaly derrived and only present in humans.

The fact about the modified cabbage is "sitting on the fence". Yes it is a modified cabbage, but it also has distinct traits unnaturally put into it, that are human traits.
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#539727 - 29/04/05 11:34 PM Re: Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology [Re: Seraphire]
quiet Offline
analytic

Registered: 15/09/04
Loc: bristol
Ok, so - would I eat a cabbage which contains genes present in a human liver?

Yeah, of course. Why on earth wouldn't I? Again, the problem with murder (less so cannibalism; I wouldn't eat a human corpse, but I don't think it's particularly immoral to do so) is something to do with sentient life. And a cabbage with human *genes* isn't sentient.

One other point: human genes do not mean human traits.

e
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#539728 - 29/04/05 11:40 PM Re: Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology [Re: quiet]
Seraphire Offline
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Registered: 12/05/04
Loc: Under your stairs
I did not say that genes meant traits, within the genes there are traits. A trait of the Ice-Fish in the Arctic is to have blood that is like anti-freeze, this trait, taken from the gene is inserted into tomatoes so they are more resistant to cold conditions.

Your right, the murder ethic is entirely to do with sencient life, and its a social condition. That was a bit under thought and overblown by me, but as I mentioned its the fundamental basics. I differentiated the sencientism that cabbages lack and humans have, but on a cellular level, they both contain certain aspects that could be the same.
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#539729 - 29/04/05 11:43 PM Re: Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology [Re: Seraphire]
Birgit Offline
had her carpal tunnel surgery already thanks v much

Registered: 27/01/05
Loc: Edinburgh
but on a cellular level, most cells have a nucleus and cytoplasm and endoplasmatic reticulum and lysosomes. So they're really all human traits because we have them, too, and you couldn't eat anything...


Edited by Birgit (29/04/05 11:44 PM)
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#539730 - 29/04/05 11:44 PM Re: Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology [Re: Seraphire]
quiet Offline
analytic

Registered: 15/09/04
Loc: bristol
even if, on a cellular level, they contain aspects that could be the same, that's unproblematic; why should we be concerned that there are such aspects?

these aspects are there anyway; both human cells and cabbage cells have fluid in the middle, for instance.
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#539731 - 29/04/05 11:45 PM Re: Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology [Re: quiet]
Birgit Offline
had her carpal tunnel surgery already thanks v much

Registered: 27/01/05
Loc: Edinburgh
beat you to it, quiet
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#539732 - 29/04/05 11:54 PM Re: Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology [Re: Birgit]
Seraphire Offline
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Registered: 12/05/04
Loc: Under your stairs
I'm just trying to raise thoughts and opinions, it is up to anyone to be concerned or not. I was just stating an opinion, not trying to uphold a point I made. I know that we do share a huge amount of our genetic code with a majority of life and on a cellular level we do share so much with so many other forms of life.

I was trying to single out the feelings about specific parts, not the huge bulk of matching DNA, but the peronal parts to each form of life that sets it aside... The recombinant of that personal trait into another life.

There are so many things that make all life so simmilar, but that tiny piece, the best or useful aspect of something and combining it with another.

Its the ethics. The use of a mouse, modified to produce human semen, and then used in the conception of a child
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#539733 - 30/04/05 12:07 AM Re: Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology [Re: Seraphire]
Sym Offline
Geek-enviro-hippy priest

Registered: 28/09/04
Loc: Diss, Norfolk
I feel I should add some background to those facts about the relatedness of our genomes to that of cabbages etc.

When talking about genes and genomes its important to remember that a gene is not really a single object, rather its a collection of chromosomes that all other things being equal make a change of some sort. Most of the human genome has been designated as junk. That is to say its made up of genes that arent thought to play any other role other than to copy themselves to the next generation. These could be described as parasites of a sort. At the moment the amount of junk thought to be in our genome is 97%, leaving only 3% thats any use. If a cabbage has 97% of our genes then there is nothing to say that they have anything to do with being more or less human.

Also, there is a popular idea that genes somehow change the personality of something. If I were to have a gene for producing omega-3 acids from a fish added to a child of mine they wouldnt become somehow fishlike or be able to swim well!

Our genes are made up in the same way as every gene on this planet. There is no alien cross over if we add our genes to a plant. As long as the results are tested and predicted I dont see anything wrong with it from a science point of view. I am 100% for it IF (and thats an important if) the right people are in control of it and its used for good.

The idea that we can modify something to become immune to pests in the case of crops of ridicules as well, it will just help the arms race along a bit more. Viruses and diseases have a very high rate of mutation and diversity. All it takes is a few strains of a virus to mutate in to something the crops cant defend against and were back to square 1 with the same problem.
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#539734 - 30/04/05 12:25 AM Re: Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology [Re: Sym]
Seraphire Offline
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Registered: 12/05/04
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That's a good set of points Sym.

I know I come over as the closed-minded pureist and I've no qualms on anyone's views. The part about the arms race is very true, if in the wrong hands things won't be too sweet. There are so many bennefits for GM. But even with all the things we do, Nature will find a way to be itself.
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#539735 - 30/04/05 12:45 AM Re: Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology [Re: Seraphire]
Sym Offline
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Registered: 28/09/04
Loc: Diss, Norfolk
Just for the record, I wasn't talking about human arms races I was talking about pray/predator races where there is improvement on both sides without any net gain or loss. That had nothing to do with human and 3rd world problems....

I didn't think you came across as "the closed-minded pureist" at all, you put the case for the discussion very well.
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#539736 - 30/04/05 12:50 AM Re: Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology [Re: Sym]
Seraphire Offline
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Loc: Under your stairs
Thanks.

I was thinking of both, the threat of Biotechnological Weapons and yes also the Eco-System Webs.
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#539737 - 30/04/05 01:52 AM Re: Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology [Re: Seraphire]
quiet Offline
analytic

Registered: 15/09/04
Loc: bristol
'The use of a mouse, modified to produce human semen, and then used in the conception of a child'

1. i don't think this is possible.
2. even if it is, the DNA in the gametes is either a) the mouse's, in which case it can't be used to conceive a child, or b) that of some individual human, in which case i wouldn't have a problem with it.

weird idea, though.

biotech weapons are a bit of a worry, but i don't see them as cause for an outright ban. c.f. fertiliser: even though it can be used to make weapons, it isn't illegal. furthermore, the biggest worry isn't GM bacteria, it's standard 'weaponised' bugs; like smallpox, anthrax, etc.

eco-system . . . well, we might disrupt it by introducing GM organisms. but we disrupt it anyway, just by our existence on the planet. i'm not sure why disruption from GM crops is qualitatively different to disruption from chemicals released into the atmosphere, buildings, agriculture, etc. I'd be interested to know your views on this.

I confess to being slightly puzzled as to what your question is. You mention 'ethics' . . . ? If the question is 'Is murder going to be outdated?', then the answer is, simply, no - of course not.
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#539738 - 30/04/05 02:48 AM Re: Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology [Re: quiet]
Sym Offline
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Registered: 28/09/04
Loc: Diss, Norfolk
I don't think a 'normal' mouse could be modified at all. It would have to have a set of human genes as well 2 sets of testicals - 1 for each set of genes.

Even then it wouldn't have a very high rate of success. I think we can create and store our own genes very well as it is! Seraphire, is there research being done in to it that prompted you to give it as an example?

Bio-weapons are a danger, but no more than and other weapon, nuclear or otherwise. They all kill most things in the area!

quiet, your eco-system point is flawed in that you are almost saying GM is ok because we're messing everything else up so much it won't matter! We should activle start new ways of messing up the world just because we're doing quite well at it at the moment. I did get what you were trying to say, so I know where you're coming from.
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#539739 - 30/04/05 12:10 PM Re: Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology [Re: Sym]
quiet Offline
analytic

Registered: 15/09/04
Loc: bristol
sym, i'm *not* saying that at all

i'm saying that 'i'm not sure why disruption from GM crops is qualitatively different'. doubtless it might be quantitatively different (i.e. a lot worse, but in the same sorts of ways), but then that's an empirical matter. i thought the initial worry was that there was something special about the dangers of GM. my point was that i'm not sure what this special aspect is.

repeat: i am NOT [nor did I] say that it's OK to [censored] the world up in one way [i.e. GM] just because we're [censored] it up in another way. my point was just that GM doesn't seem to be the special case that people tend to make out. you might want to claim that the mess resulting from GM is greater than anything else we are engaged in [which, admittedly, it may be]; but then that's a purely contingent fact about the impact of GM on the world, rather than a necessary truth about the intrinsic moral evil of GM.

in other words, it's a qualitative/quantitative distinction which i'm trying to point out.

does that clarify things?
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#539740 - 30/04/05 12:32 PM Re: Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology [Re: quiet]
Stone Offline
Stream Entrant

Registered: 13/06/01
Loc: Melbourne
Hi sera,

I dont think they put human genes into food-stuffs. The genes they put into put into rice and tomatoes are from other plants and animals.

DNA is DNA, and is the same in all life forms.

Also do a search on GMs





Edited by Stone (30/04/05 12:38 PM)
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#539741 - 30/04/05 12:55 PM Re: Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology [Re: Stone]
Happy Birthday JauntyJames Offline
Carpal \'Tunnel

Registered: 22/12/04
Loc: Hampshire College, MA, USA
the *only* problem i have with genetic modifications is that GM foods crossbreed with wild breeds. of course, i don't really see that as a problem because i think we can do what we d@mn well like with this planet, but i can certainly see why other people would consider that a bad thing, and it probably is until we understand the full impact of our interference. 'playing god' is fine, he never patented his idea so its ours for the grabbing (can you tell i'm an aethiest?). Hawking's quote sums up my opinion pretty well.
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#539742 - 30/04/05 01:00 PM Re: Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology [Re: quiet]
polythene Offline
veteran

Registered: 15/05/03
Loc: London/ Surrey
Sym, check your textbook, a gene is not a collection of chromosomes.

One of the implications of the human genome project was that the hypothesis that prokarotes and eukaryotes evolved separately from a common ancestor is likely to be incorrect. About 100 genes found in humans are not found in 'lower' animals, instead they appear to be derived from relatively modern bacteria and viruses. In addition, there is evidence that genes in tumour causing viruses responsible for carcinogenic effects in humans were taken from our own genomes.

There may have been many gene transfers between animals, bacteria and viruses during evolution. I am not trying to say whether or not this makes it acceptable for humans to deliberately manipulate genetic material in this way, but I do not believe that this genetic exchange makes a tumour-causing virus human, or me a virus.

I believe the possible implications of GM crops you are looking for lie in the potential risks associated with the technology used. For risks to humans, look for papers concerning retroviral technology and risks of viral recombination, also pathogenicity of new, unevolved viruses. For risks to the environment, look for effect on the ecosystem of introduction of new, non-native species. The moral implications of taking such risks and responsibilities make for a good discussion
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#539743 - 30/04/05 01:03 PM Re: Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology [Re: Sym]
Happy Birthday JauntyJames Offline
Carpal \'Tunnel

Registered: 22/12/04
Loc: Hampshire College, MA, USA
Written by: Sym_


When talking about genes and genomes its important to remember that a gene is not really a single object, rather its a collection of chromosomes that all other things being equal make a change of some sort.




a gene is one protien, that is, 3 DNA base pairs. a chromosome is made up of millions of genes, not the other way around. please correct me if i'm wrong (hopefully before my bio test), but i'm pretty sure i know what i'm talking about
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#539744 - 30/04/05 01:07 PM Re: Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology [Re: JauntyJames]
polythene Offline
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Registered: 15/05/03
Loc: London/ Surrey
A gene encodes a protein. 3 base pair is a codon, not a gene. Size of a gene is variable.
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#539745 - 30/04/05 01:14 PM Re: Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology [Re: polythene]
Happy Birthday JauntyJames Offline
Carpal \'Tunnel

Registered: 22/12/04
Loc: Hampshire College, MA, USA
oh, right, thanks silly me!
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#539746 - 30/04/05 01:15 PM Re: Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology [Re: JauntyJames]
polythene Offline
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Registered: 15/05/03
Loc: London/ Surrey
When's your exam? What level? I might have some nice clear notes I can send you
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#539747 - 02/05/05 04:21 PM Re: Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology [Re: polythene]
i8beefy2 Offline
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Registered: 24/03/03
Loc: Ohio, USA
The issue of the plants breeding with native plants is a big one. If we give them something to give them higher survival effectiveness they will overtake the original strands in time. Wasnt this already an issue with people in Europe and organic food producers who are getting modified grains through natural pollinations?

So you are saying that prokaryote and eukatyotes derive from two seperate families now? How does that follow? I thought the ideas were pointing toward integration of bacterial/viral forms into the cell (mitochondrias being one of them right?), not toward seperate development, but one absorbed things the other didnt?

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#539748 - 02/05/05 10:04 PM Re: Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology [Re: i8beefy2]
polythene Offline
veteran

Registered: 15/05/03
Loc: London/ Surrey
No, I said that the idea of completely separate evolution is likely WRONG. I said genetic elements may have been exchanged between organisms throughout evolution. I was not talking about the integration of whole organisms (but yes, I believe that is currently the most accepted model for the development of both mitochondria and chloroplasts), only genetic elements, from the genome of one to the genome of another.

Bacteriophages commonly integrate their DNA into the host genome when they enter the lysogenic rather than the lytic cycle after infection. Remnants of such transfers can be seen in the DNA of many species, endogenous retroviruses of pigs and humans have been studied fairly extensively, if I remember rightly.

(edited for stoopid spelling mistake! )


Edited by polythene (02/05/05 10:06 PM)
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#539749 - 02/05/05 11:25 PM Re: Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology [Re: polythene]
vanize Offline
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Registered: 21/08/01
Loc: Austin, Texas
<warning - this post goes a little off the deep end >

I think both Sym and Polythene have some good points here.

espc. what poythene said about adaptation of bacteria and viral genome into the human organism.

gentic crossover between microscopic life and human life happens a lot - it is part of how we adapt to new microorganisms (which perhaps we would have once called a disease even) and how they adapt to us. these things are more dissimilar to us than plants or animals by a long shot, yet there is good evidence we share genetic information regularly anyway.

I do not think you make a plant any more human by adding some human genes. we do not become more microphage like when we adopt some of its genetic information do we? You just give it more information in its genetic library.

following someone else's quote about evolution reaching its highest pinnical and being replaced with the tinkering of men:

anyone who truely understands evolution theory understands there is no such thing as a pinnicle, much less a highest one. people need to get over their human arrogance. we are not an ultimate design or even a prototype for one. we are just a result of circumstance. intelligence has proved useful and for now helped us to acheive a position at the top of the food chain, but we are not a pinnacle anymore than an oak tree a housecat or the aids virus is.

and everything in this world - men, natural crops, bred crops, GM crops, whatever, are still subject to the basic forces all things are subjected to that give rise to evolution.

A GM crop may have an advantage for a while over it's natural ancestor or other plants, but not for that long (thanks to the natural biological arms race sym mentions).

Basically what it comes down to is that, while biodiversity might change, it will never dissappear. It will just take on a new character. things change. they always have and always will. the tinkering of man changes that dynamic a little, but it really is still part of the process, and probably an inevitable one. It does not really fall outside of the laws of nature at all. things will adapt to what we do. if they don't they will die and be replaced by things that can. Humans are not the first thing to change the balance of an ecosystem (if an ecosystem can really ever be said to be in balance!), and we won't be the last one. Humans won't last but another eyeblink compaired to the remaining lifespan of the earth (about another 5,000,000,000 years) but life will be there till the end and will always be changing and adapting till the sun ends its stay on the primary sequence and beomes a red giant and swallows the earth, turns it to a cinder, and then vaporizes it.

nature doesn't care what we do. whatever we devise it will adapt to, work around, shuffle things about a bit to accomodate, or kill off. nothing we can make is above its rules. we do need to be careful for our own sakes though. it would be ironic if our tinkering were the reason for our fall from our current position of dominance.

So what ethics are there to consider?

do we want everything to stay the same? is that ethical? even if we put all the effort of humanity towards acheiving this goal, we would fail.

or is our ethics about insuring we stay comfortably at the top of the food chain and thereby allow ourselves the priveledge of thinking we are a pinnicale of evolution?

is it ethical to restrict ourselves from a technology that may very well enable us to live more harmonously with nature? Or from technology that may help us colonize other planets?

is it ethical to colonize other planets? is it ethical not to? if we or some other as yet to be evolved earthling does not, then our ecosystem and all life we know will die - the earth is middle aged after all. is it ethical to let all the wonderous parts of Gaia you wish to protect by banning GM be vaporized by a red giant star because we were too afraid to use the tools that very ecosystem has led us strait to, when using may help us all (plants and animals and microphages alike) become stronger and more capable of finding other places in the universe to live?

what IS ethical? what does that mean?
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#539750 - 05/05/05 09:23 AM Re: Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology [Re: vanize]
Seraphire Offline
HoP's Original Smelly-Hippie-Scum-Bag

Registered: 12/05/04
Loc: Under your stairs
All good points. Yes they are adding human aspects into plants, and DNA etc I thought contained a Monosacharide sugar..Pentose..and a phosphate I can't remember and my A level notes aren't here ATM.

Ethics...well in my point of view..and when I stated the topic, I meant the way in which people would view these ideas and how they eould see them, if in their eyes if what was being dicussed as being criminal, reasonable, unjust, unfair, combined with a moralistic point of view. The fact of considering the restriction of GM to be a hinderence to advancement, is a good point as in all the current uses, it is a revolutionary way forward, but in the morals and ethics of some people, a crime against nature.

It is however in some cases unlikely that some cases of the introduction of some enhanced animals or plants, that nature will remain in control. The way in which these webs and chains are balances have gone through mass extinction (98% of all life +) twice now and have remained since life began. The human interference has in some studies cases given dommination by certain parts, that if continued would destroy all life in the chain it is in, and then ultimately , the modified animal or plant will die out.

The way that, as humans, the striving to know all there is as lead to huge mistakes in this area of science. If researched for several more decades before anything was undertaken I'm sure a more stable way for GM to be introduced would be possible, and I'm sure I would not be so cynical towards the subject, and see it as vanize may.
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#539751 - 06/05/05 02:07 AM Re: Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology [Re: Seraphire]
Stone Offline
Stream Entrant

Registered: 13/06/01
Loc: Melbourne

Seraphire,

Im wondering what human aspects are they adding to into plants, outside the cinema?




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If we as members of the human race practice meditation, we can transcend our fear, despair, and forgetfulness. Meditation is not an escape. It is the courage to look at reality with mindfulness and concentration. Thich Nhat Hanh

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#539752 - 06/05/05 02:34 AM Re: Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology [Re: Stone]
jeff(fake) Offline
Scientist of Fortune

Registered: 15/04/05
Loc: Edinburgh
You only need to walk around a well developed city to see that human developement can't wipe out life. In every possible nook there are plants, insects and small animals. Every wall is covered with lichen and biofilms. All the roof tops are home to birds and the sewers and derelicts with rats and mice. Nature will easily adapt to any situation.
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According to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle of Quantum Dynamics, we may already be making love right now...

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