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Forums > Social Discussion > Moral & Ethical Issues associated with Recombinant DNA Technology

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Seraphire
Seraphire

HoP's Original Smelly-Hippie-Scum-Bag
Location: Under your stairs
Member Since: 12th May 2004
Total posts: 270
Posted: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 Is murder going to be outdated?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 The pinnacle of natural evolution has been reached, and has been replaced by man meddling with his own genetic make-up.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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quiet
quiet

analytic
Location: bristol
Member Since: 15th Sep 2004
Total posts: 503
Posted:edinburgh?

ture na sig

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And all that's jazz
member
Location: just behind your left shoulder
Member Since: 29th Jan 2005
Total posts: 92
Posted:First things first, I'm going to apologise for the RIDICULOUS length of this post, I've just been typing and not realised how long it's got. If you don't want to read it all, skip to the last paragraph where I've summarised my main points. For more detail, rabble-rousing and general facetiousness, see the main text



Back to Seraphire's last post (or reveille, whichever):

"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. "

Sorry to say it hon, but it's very hard to have several more decades of research without doing anything. It's very hard to do any research without doing anything. In fact, since research involves changing of a situation in a controlled way to understand the result (emphasis on CHANGING), one could justifiably surmise that research without doing anything to be less possible than, to pick an event at random, a zebra being spotted doing a particularly fine Jitterbug in Hyde Park fountain to the accompaniment of Beethoven, last Tuesday and a half-kilo of broccholi (Yes, that was simply an opportunity to let that latent lunacy shine through, and demonstrate my superior spelling of 'broccholi').

Anyway, my point is that nay-saying and sitting on the fence by saying 'we should make sure we do more research before the technology is used' is pointless and not going to solve the problem - the environment being as complex as it is, we can't learn everything we need to know and work all the bugs out of GM technology (pardon the pun) without actually using it and seeing how it interacts with the environment. It may cause environmental damage through upsetting the balance of an ecosystem (then again, introducing any foreign animal, transgenic or not, can well and truly bugger an ecosystem), through horizontal gene transfer (transfer of the transgenic genes between transgenic and wild-type organisms), through whatever, but there's only so far we can go in a lab with understanding the interactions of organisms in a complex environment. We'll never be able to understand the full extent of any problems that may occur (and how to solve them) without actually trying transgenic organisms in a natural environment. I know this may sound a trifle too much like brinksmanship, but it's true.

Now, I'm not saying I'm advocating that we create a plethora of transgenic organisms, distribute them happily through a tract of wilderness and happily sit back to watch the grass grow (if it grows orange instead of green, we'll know we have gene transfer). Nor do I encourage the complete discontinuation of lab research on the topic - I'm going on to become a researcher in molecular biology, I have a vested interest in NOT stopping this research. I don't want to spend the rest of my life working as a cinema usher. What I am saying is that we have to use a combination of lab research and carefully controlled environmental trials to fully understand the problem (or, at least understand as much of it as we may ever hope to) .

Furthermore, the question of horizontal gene transfer (the current biggest fear in GM crops) seems to have been blown way out of proportion in much of the non-scientific literature (and, indeed, in much of the scientific). Basically, horizontal gene transfer occurs when a piece of DNA from one organism is passed to another, creating an organism with DNA which it could not have obtained of its own accord. Mechanisms for this vary in the natural world - a few bacteria species can fuse and swap plasmid DNA; bacteriophages (viruses that attack bacteria) can inadvertently 'pick up' host cell DNA and transfer it to another cell; similar things can occur with plant viruses, and there are known cases where the pollen (or sperm) of one organism can fertilise the stigma (or ovum) of another organism of a different species. Whatever the mechanism, the main point is that THIS DOES NOT HAPPEN VERY MUCH. Really. Not very much at all. Furthermore, scientists have shown that, in a few of the (many) experiments they have carried out, this can happen with transgenic organisms. The thing to remember is that these scientists are working in a lab, away from the natural environment, and are deliberately trying their hardest to make this process occur. That is their job - to make organisms undergo horizontal gene transfer, and see what the results are. There certainly have been cases that have occurred in nature - there are a few very ancestral genes (about 10 out of 30,000 have been identified so far? correct me if I'm wrong) in humans that researchers believed may have come from bacteria at some stage. The thing is, those genes have appeared over c.4,200,000,000 years of evolution. That's a long time. That's such a long time, you could have insulted the entire galaxy personally several times over before it was over. Anyway, I'm babbling away here. My point is that horizontal gene transfer is a risk factor in the use of transgenic organisms, but that this risk factor is much smaller than the fear about it would warrant. Obviously, we cannot be entirely sure of this - there may be some amazing, far out, out-of-left-field factor I and everyone else haven't thought of, but the point is that there probably isn't.

Onto the benefits of transgenic organisms - I know this has been discussed exhaustively already, but I just want to outline a few really clear examples to show how this technology could theoretically change for the better.

1) (mentioned before) Insulin. For at least the past 5 years, a vast proportion (if not all) the insulin sold on the market for the treatment of diabetes has been produced by transgenic E. coli bacteria containing the human insulin gene. Before this, porcine insulin was isolated from pig pancreases. This process yielded relatively little insulin compared to the E. coli, was inefficient, had a much higher risk of contamination, and was not much fun for the pigs.

2) Golden Rice (also mentioned before) - Rice genetically modified to contain a gene from another plant to allow it to store beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin a. This can provide the people whose staple diet largely consists of rice (a fairly large proportion of the third world population) with a valuable source of vitamin A to prevent health deficiencies such as blindness.

3) Cure of genetic diseases. On a slightly different note, horizontal gene transfer within humans has been raised as a way to cure a vast swathe of genetically induced diseases. If a healthy copy of the defective gene could be introduced to a person's body, their disease could be cured. Not treated, CURED. As a few examples of the diseases this could CURE: diabetes, Fragile X, Cystic Fibrosis, sickle cell anaemia, lactose intolerance; and a few it could help prevent: cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, depression, rheumatoid arthritis . . . .

These are just a few ideas I have heard about or thought of off the top of my head. There are SO many other applications, what could be (and is being) done with it is amazing.

I've realised that this has turned into a ridiculously long post, but I just want to finish up with my own view of the ethics of the use of human genes. As everybody above has argued, DNA is exactly the same among just about every single organism we have ever seen. All the 3-base codons code for the same amino acids; the chemical structure is the same; how they code for genes is the same etc. The only exceptions are a few species of obscure protozoa, and the mitochondria in our cells. The chief difference with mitochondria is that the UGG codon is a 'stop' codon instead of coding for the Tryptophan amino acid. The insertion of DNA from one organism into another does not cause any difference to the cell. It is simply another piece of DNA that, when transcribed, will produce a protein that may be used within the cell or secreted outside it. I've been careful not to mention humans thus far, because there is no reason we should be any different. So much of the arguments involved in bioethics topics - GM crops, animal experimentation etc. - come down to the fundamental fallacy that there is something that distinguishes humans from the rest of the animals in the world, something that makes us special. This all basically comes down to our need for a justification of our right to do what we like to the world and to other animals. I'm not going to get into a philosophical argument about the nature of consciousness. When you look at things from a molecular perspective, the is SFA difference between humans and other animals, plants, bacteria etc. There is no difference between a protein produced by a human and a protein produced by a bacteria (anybody who mentions D-amino acids can bugger off, if you know enough to know about them you'll know they occur rarely). The only difference is that a protein from a human is viewed as something special from a human perspective.

......

Anyway, I've just completely lost my train of thought, so I'm going to end this post here because I have to be at work soon. My argument is this:

The risk factors of widespread use of transgenic organisms are certainly real, though some e.g. horizontal gene transfer may be overinflated. However, preventing research on or use of these organisms is pointless - the only way we are ever going to be able to use this technology and counteract any problems that could occur is through carefully controlled research and experimental trials.
The benefits that can be experienced from this technology are profound, and beyond our comprehension even now - cure pandemic conditions such as vitamin-A blindness; create new, nourishing foods to help the world's hungry; treatment of a vast variety of genetic conditions. The potentials of this technology NECESSITATE its development and use.
There is very little to differentiate us from any other organism at a molecular level. DNA is DNA is DNA and putting human DNA into another organism is NOT going to make them human. We have no qualms about eating DNA from any other organism; the only reason we object to eating human DNA is that we believe that it has some special quality that makes it 'human' even though it is indistinguishable from DNA of any other organism. Calling a bacteria 'human' because it contains a gene which makes it produce insulin, a human hormone seems a little silly (I do not believe that the production of insulin is what makes us human, though admittedly not producing insulin could reduce fairly vital qualities of our humanness, such as life).

So, as you may have guessed, I come down wholeheartedly in support of transgenic research. I certainly don't advocate its uncontrolled use and know that it has a long way to go before it is satifactory; but not using it for the reasons that are so often provided, when the benefits it could provide are so massive, seems a crime that makes the ethical objection of eating an organism containing a miniscule amount of DNA that happened to be derived from a human seem a little pedantic.

Adieu


C8H18 + 12.5O2 ---------> 8CO2 + 9H2O + you know what

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vanize
vanize

Carpal \'Tunnel
Location: Austin, Texas
Member Since: 21st Aug 2001
Total posts: 3899
Posted:Written by: Stone

WoW what city do u live in.

Human development can't wipe out life, but it sure as hell can wipe out bio-diversity; until all you have is cockroaches and humans.

C



for a short while (geologically speaking), then it will all fill in again.

biodiversity will take care of itself. what we have to watch out for is that abusing it in the short run does take care of us for good...


-v-

Wiederstand ist Zwecklos!

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Stone
Stream Entrant
Location: Melbourne
Member Since: 13th Jun 2001
Total posts: 2830
Posted:Sure life goes on vanize, but perhaps its too late for the short-term, and we are talking mega billions of years from now.

shrug


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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vanize
vanize

Carpal \'Tunnel
Location: Austin, Texas
Member Since: 21st Aug 2001
Total posts: 3899
Posted:no, a few thousand will do once we are out of the way. nature fills its gaps quickly. it is an expression of entropy, and, as they say, nature abhors a vaccuum. that is true in this case too.

many new species have evolved in the last 10 thousand years to adapt to the presence of man, and many many others are adapting continuously. hawks are finding sky scrapers preferable to cliffs for nesting on, a higher population density of raccoons live in most american cities than live in the wilderness, foxes abound in london. seeds found in glaciers indicate that plants adapt radically over the course of a few hundred years instead of the 100,000s assumed before.

nature does its thing quickly.

I am not suggesting we be stupid and detroy because it will recover. I am just saying things will go on quite nicely once we are gone no matter what we do. the trick is to make sure we behave well enough that we don't screw ourselves over, which we may very well do.


-v-

Wiederstand ist Zwecklos!

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Stone
Stream Entrant
Location: Melbourne
Member Since: 13th Jun 2001
Total posts: 2830
Posted:vanize, I agree the Earth has an amazing recouperating capacity. However, I think the current situation is vastly different than previous events like giant meteors which resulted in ice ages that increased in biodiversity. Because in the current situation we are systemically poisoning the Earth.



What is biodiversity? Yes nature abhors a vacum, but what does she fill it with? Usually vermin, me thinks. Weeds, rogues and high populations of a few species like raccoons, rats, possums, rats, foxes, cockroaches at the expense of a wide variety of species.



Time is Tight

EDITED_BY: Stone (1115434330)


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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quiet
quiet

analytic
Location: bristol
Member Since: 15th Sep 2004
Total posts: 503
Posted:nah; there's many more insects than raccoons, rats, etc . . .

ture na sig

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Dr_Molly
Dr_Molly

Pooh-Bah
Location: Away from home
Member Since: 4th May 2004
Total posts: 2354
Posted:That looks like a fairly diverse list you have there confused

You seem to disagree, and have a low opinion of 'weeds' (which are really just plants where we don't want them) and vermin (which are small animals that are destructive or annoying to us).

Could you answer your own question for me please... what does bio-diversity mean to you?


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Stone
Stream Entrant
Location: Melbourne
Member Since: 13th Jun 2001
Total posts: 2830
Posted:molly, biodiversity means a planet rich with an abundant variety of plants and animals.

If you think that was an extensive list, then perhaps u should read a bit more about biodiversity, yourself wink

I would suggest there would be somewhere in the vicinity of 20 million different species on the planet. Unfortunately, we live in a time where thousands of plants and animals become extinct every year, and it wont be long before that 20 million will be down to 10, then 5. Then one day there will only be a few rats and weeds (or if you prefer invasive species) left on the planet.


cheers biggrin


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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Dr_Molly
Dr_Molly

Pooh-Bah
Location: Away from home
Member Since: 4th May 2004
Total posts: 2354
Posted:Actually Stone, biodiversity refers to the variety and complexity of life at all scales, from genetic to planetary smile

My issue with you previous post was that you seemed to be dismissing your listed organisms as 'worthless' since they are annoying to us as humans at the same time as you were failing to aknowledge the inevitable abundance in other forms of less visible life, such as insects and bacteria.

I agree with what Vanize seemed to be saying - that 'nature' is going to have far less of a problem recovering from anything that the human species does to trash this planet than humans themselves are. That doesn't mean to say that a 'do as we please' attitude should prevail, just that those advocating environmental awareness should look at their emotive and egocentric arguments more closely to enable them to find stronger ground to fight from.


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Stone
Stream Entrant
Location: Melbourne
Member Since: 13th Jun 2001
Total posts: 2830
Posted:Not worthless Molly, that's your spin. The species listed indicate the ones that are most likely to survive. The cockroaches analogy comes from an old saying that suggests the only thing to survive a nuclear winter would be cockroaches. Should we add fungi to your list of other forms of less visible life..? wink

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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polythene
veteran
Location: London/ Surrey
Member Since: 15th May 2003
Total posts: 1359
Posted:Her 'spin', maybe, but your word was 'vermin', which was a misleading choice as definitions of the word include 'animals that spread disease or cause damage' or 'irritating and obnoxious'. Mocking or patonising for misunderstanding your point is not nice, and adding a wink isn't a 'loophole' for doing so.

Especially when you apparently read 'diverse' as 'extensive'.


The optimist claims that we are living in the best of all possible worlds.
The pessimist fears this is true.

Always make time to play in the snow.

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Dr_Molly
Dr_Molly

Pooh-Bah
Location: Away from home
Member Since: 4th May 2004
Total posts: 2354
Posted:I have not 'spun' your points at all Stone. I merely told you what they appeared to be saying in my opinion.


EDITED_BY: Molly (1115514830)


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Stone
Stream Entrant
Location: Melbourne
Member Since: 13th Jun 2001
Total posts: 2830
Posted:Ok polythene, wots your problem? I answered the question very nicely thank-you, and overlooked some obvious sarcasm. There was no intentional mocking or patronising, just some light wink tic-for-tat wink. There was one personal bit, because as a mycologist, I took umbrage that fungi were left off the list; so shoot me wink

Molly, perhaps if you asked for clarification this confusion could have been avoided. I never said worthless. Perhaps, I should have used the term invasive species1" or another euphuism instead of vermin. Nevertheless, Ill stick to 'vermin' and repeat myself.

The plants and animals that are filling the vacum left by the extinction of species are most likely to be vermin ie. animals that spread disease or cause damage or are irritating and obnoxious. That these plant and animals were listed in previous posts is a good indication that this process is already happening.

No apologies if my view of the future is not as rosy and some people would like to believe. Ill even take one more step here. I think its nave to believe that nature can recover from anything that the human species does to it, because without life there is no nature. One extreme is the planet will exist physically but it will be barren of life.

Now, if people feel my thoughts are incorrect, then perhaps they can enlighten me with something more than wishful thinking.


1 An invasive species is a species occurring, as a result of human activities, beyond its accepted normal distribution and which threatens valued environmental, agricultural or personal resources by the damage it causes. Invasive species can have a major impact on the environment, threatening individual species and reducing overall species abundance and diversity (see previous link).



grrrr smile


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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jeff(fake)
jeff(fake)

Scientist of Fortune
Location: Edinburgh
Member Since: 15th Apr 2005
Total posts: 1189
Posted:I like 'vermin', insects and fungi. biggrin

According to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle of Quantum Dynamics, we may already be making love right now...

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vanize
vanize

Carpal \'Tunnel
Location: Austin, Texas
Member Since: 21st Aug 2001
Total posts: 3899
Posted:Written by: Molly

I agree with what Vanize seemed to be saying - that 'nature' is going to have far less of a problem recovering from anything that the human species does to trash this planet than humans themselves are. That doesn't mean to say that a 'do as we please' attitude should prevail, just that those advocating environmental awareness should look at their emotive and egocentric arguments more closely to enable them to find stronger ground to fight from.



Yes, thank you Molly - you managed to say what I meant much more succinctly than I did! hug


-v-

Wiederstand ist Zwecklos!

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vanize
vanize

Carpal \'Tunnel
Location: Austin, Texas
Member Since: 21st Aug 2001
Total posts: 3899
Posted:Written by: Stone

The plants and animals that are filling the vacum left by the extinction of species are most likely to be vermin ie. animals that spread disease or cause damage or are irritating and obnoxious. That these plant and animals were listed in previous posts is a good indication that this process is already happening.




the vermin that filled the niches in the last great extinction when the empire of the dinosaurs crumbled were our ancestors - little rat like things that ate the eggs of the great lizards and and infested their nesting ground, probably greatly aiding the passing of the dinosaurs in the dark days following the (probable) meteor strike that started their decline from power.

that which survives lives to compete in the next round

long live the vermin!

the meek shall inherit the earth.
(the rest of us shall go to the stars)


-v-

Wiederstand ist Zwecklos!

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_Clare_
_Clare_

Still wiggling
Location: Belfast
Member Since: 22nd Oct 2002
Total posts: 5967
Posted:smile

Getting to the other side smile

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Dr_Molly
Dr_Molly

Pooh-Bah
Location: Away from home
Member Since: 4th May 2004
Total posts: 2354
Posted:s'alright Vanize hug smile

I don't know what nature was thinking of in the first place though - primordial soup not good enough for her, eh? wink

However, I fear we are outrageously off topic biggrin spank


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Pyrolific
Returning to a unique state of Equilibrium
Location: Adelaide, South Australia
Member Since: 10th Jan 2001
Total posts: 3288
Posted:<removes mods hat>

Ethics; to do with decisions concerning harm or harm minimisation - in this case I guess they have to do with harm to individuals, to class groups, the whole human race, or the environment.

eh I think the main problem with GM is that its being used by the power elite to further tread on the lives of the poor. And anyone who believes that rubbish about Gm being the saviour of the poor needs to wake up and smell the economic crap Monsanto is shoving down the throats of developing nations everyday as part of their core business - cuz it just isnt as idealistic as your science fiction textbooks make it out to be.

If you have the luxury to entertain ideas about 'nature will sort itself out - gm doesnt matter' you are among the lucky few - and I think youd feel differently if youre whole family was getting ill from spraying 3 times the 'natural' dose of Roundup on your fields because monsanto conned you into an economic prison years ago from which your govt hasnt got the money or balls to save you from.

<burns soapbox>


--
Help! My personality got stuck in this signature machine and I cant get it out!

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quiet
quiet

analytic
Location: bristol
Member Since: 15th Sep 2004
Total posts: 503
Posted:1. ethics need not to be do do with harm minimisation: e.g. arguably, lying is wrong, even if no harm ensues.

2. pyro's right about the main problem with GM being . . . // but that doesn't negate the fact that it has serious potential benefits (esp golden rice, insulin)


ture na sig

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Pyrolific
Returning to a unique state of Equilibrium
Location: Adelaide, South Australia
Member Since: 10th Jan 2001
Total posts: 3288
Posted:http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=ethics
br>
quiet is right - I was looking at the meaning only from one perspective;

" ethics (used with a sing. verb) The study of the general nature of morals and of the specific moral choices to be made by a person; moral philosophy."

In this case I think potential benefits are outweighed by tangible drawbacks. Unless some bright spark (working successfully under their own funding, but within the corrupt administration) comes up with a way of cheaply providing the potential benefits of GM to poor people (the equivalent of Macguyver stopping a nuclear meltdown with a bar of chocolate while being bombarded by ninjas with rocketlaunchers), the rich people are going to use this technology as a method for increasing the gap between them and the poor.


--
Help! My personality got stuck in this signature machine and I cant get it out!

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Seraphire
Seraphire

HoP's Original Smelly-Hippie-Scum-Bag
Location: Under your stairs
Member Since: 12th May 2004
Total posts: 270
Posted:Thats very true. (I like the Macguyver analogy) I can see the directions that everyone's coming from on this. I think its great that this got such a vast array of feed-back. This has altered some thoughts and ideas on the subject...expanding the mind-frame as it were.

Music gives Soul to the Universe, Wings to the Mind, Flight to the Imagination and Life to Everything.

Educate yourself in the Hazards of Fire Breathing STAY SAFE! hug

dsei.org Stop The Arms Trade!

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jeff(fake)
jeff(fake)

Scientist of Fortune
Location: Edinburgh
Member Since: 15th Apr 2005
Total posts: 1189
Posted:The major thing to remember with recombinant technology is that it's all really rather boring. There isn't going to be either a golden age or a hotrocultural holocaust. Things are just going to carry on as before. Pity really, I could have done with some excitement.

According to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle of Quantum Dynamics, we may already be making love right now...

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Mynci
Mynci

Macaque of all trades
Location: wombling free...
Member Since: 27th Apr 2005
Total posts: 8737
Posted:To put it mildly you are what you eat. So if it's more human. (for a given value of human) Who is to say what represents a "Human Gene"? Genes are just biological minimaps that tell an organism what to do/be.
Technically they are interdependant and relate to the "mother" of that organism. Parentage does count when genes are concerned as you couldn't mix together genes to create a new creature and have a sheep give birth to it.

What we are looking at is "lies to children" (Jack Cohen) Bite size fibs to make the next step of understanding easier to swallow. Take a Masters in genetics and the first thing you will be told is that what you have already learnt is "not quite true"
You cannot call any product of genetic engineering human unless it was given birth to by a human so the process of modification is moot.
If we had genetic engineering and had yet to map the human genome who would say " we can't use that gene in food it's human"
What science is doing is trying to improve food / animals for their own gains by basically adding protein strands/amino acids.
Playing God
But does God exist?
confused
It is the start of something, good or bad, time will tell, but I agree there are serious moral issues to incorpoate into the argument.


A couple of balls short of a full cascade... or maybe a few cards short of a deck... we'll see how this all fans out.

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