Portents of Danger (Diatribes on Genetic Engineering)

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Artificial recombinant DNA enzymes, Germ Line Gene Therapy, cloning, these are a small few of the fruits derived from the tree known as bio-technology. Today this particular science receives much adulation and gratitude from the common citizenry for its many promises of a more care-free, hunger free, and choiceful world.

With gene splicing of plant DNA, a practice typically known as genetic modification, advocates assess that solutions to world conundrums and difficulties have at last been found. World hunger seems to no longer have an excuse for its persistence thanks to plants which have greater yields, increased immunity to pathogenic growth factors, and resistance to pests.

Stem cell research bolsters the belief that one day all defective organs will have replacements derived from the milieu of a laboratory. It is also conceivable that through inheritable gene swaps all defections of a developing fetus can be utterly abrogated, including those aspects of aesthetic quality,  giving precedent to a civilization without weakness and flawless features.

To the commoner, these promises of bio-tech of course seem quite propitious. Who would object to the riddance of disease and hunger while simultaneously ameliorating the shallow superficiality which impels a parent to shape its offspring according to its own predilections (designer babies)? Who would object to the slow accustoming to habituate the practice of eugenics? Well here I ask not to be rhetorical, but more as a facetious jostle; did not Hitler advocate the ideal of a pristine race arisen from the ashes of ethnic and racial extirpation? This is not to hold that all the derivatives of biotechnology are inveterately known to have negative social implications, for I admit there is great import in this science, especially in the areas of stem cell research and cloning (for the preservation of species on the precipice of extinction).

The prime contention here is predicated by the historical analysis of mankind in that time over time we have evinced a proclivity for acquiring means for the cultivation the most distasteful of inventions. Einstein’s E=mc2 brought with its practical application, as all things do, a duality. This famous equation initiated the world’s peoples into a period of deeper understanding of our universe, while serving as the hand of provenance for the schematic of an atom bomb. With the discovery of agriculture, an increased supply of food gave satiety to a civilization’s belly, while duly sowing the seeds of class stratification which invariably lead to inequality.

A duality is present in all, why then would one even suggest the void of abuse for the technology of genetic engineering? Already, it is coming to light that the U.S. military is delving into research of genetically engineered biological weapons. These weapons consist of hyper-virulent bacteria and viruses which have the adaptive capacity to thwart any efforts to immunize against or subsist through with an unprecedented contact lethality. The specificity to which these weapons can be engineered has lead the suggestions of some ‘experts’ that the possibility of targeting specific racial groups – a nefariously eugenical dream is not wholly unfeasible.1

Perhaps I spoke too late. The release of one of these pathogens from a level four bio-weapons facility in all likelihood would be utterly devastating. The chances of such a travesty occurring are beyond any commoner’s scope, but given that the inception of new militant technology usually sparks the interest in other nations, thus setting the stage for proliferation of these weapons, the probability drastically increases for the advent of an unintentional release.

But digression here, though tempting, is not the point. I write to convey the sentiments of uncertainty, of trepidation. I know that while the benefits elicited by this science’s proponents are incentive to the acceptance of further experimentation, there remains a most spacious ground upon which those that hold the means, can stir up their creations without the chains of disagreement to keep them from crossing ethical, metaphysical, and, for many (though I am not one) theological boundaries.

Also, the ramifications stemming from the introduction of these genetically modified species of fauna and flora into the environment are unpredictable. The balance of a system is intricately tied to the intrinsic synergy of its elements whereas the addition of a single element disproportional in quality and quantity to a pre-existing system alters its entirety.

Generally all systems reach an equilibrium following a perturbation. What determines this equilibration is the component of time. As the old maxim goes, all wounds heal with enough time, but concerning genetically modified species, how does the aspect of time figure into their unprecedented introduction? The systemic changes resultant from the projected character of these species would likely occur with such rapidity that compensative equilibration would either lack the potency necessary to preserve its elements, thus inducing chaos in which certain species are not guaranteed a survival, or by some chance, no dramatic changes occur at all. The question here is whether we should take those risks, and who would oversee the implementation of restrictions necessary to preclude abuse of the technology.



  1. Cummins, R. 1999. Genetic Engineering Threatens Society. Genetic Engineering-Opposing Viewpoints Series. 2004. p.37. Greenhaven Press.

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