Ethics of Transgenics

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Khethil
 
Reply Sun 12 Oct, 2008 01:47 pm
Good afternoon,

The other day, my wife and I saw a TV show on Transgenic advances (for those of you who don't know, transgenic refers to an organism whose genes have been altered to now contain genetic material from another species). I knew this technology existed, but I had no idea how far it had come.

It's far passed the "let's make a better wheat-plant" stage. From the TV show alone, we saw examples of:

  • Salmon that grow 4x faster and regardless of temperature
  • Chickens who've been engineered to not have feathers
  • Cows so big; so packed with muscle, you'd have to see them to believe it

How they're doing this is interesting, but for us layman it involves taking genetic material from one species; for the desired trait, and inserting it into the genome of another species' eff. So yea, that's interesting, then I saw something that was a tad bit disturbing.

Cows, boxed into these machines, standing in a row with each machine a myriad of red tubes leading in and out of the cow. The cow stands there - relatively content - with his blood being harvested. What are we farming? Human antibodies. Yep, that's right; not "compatible cow antibodies"; human. As the camera angle zoomed in on the cow's eyes, the narrator goes on to describe how; in order to GET the human antiviral production genes in place, how 4 sets of different transgenic phases had to be done (as I recall, human-> mice, mice-> hamster, hamster-?????, ?????-> Bovine). My god, this cow's part human! What's more, once that cow begets offspring, they too will be part human, perpetuating their genetic signature.

The ramifications of such technology are, well, both astounding and disturbing and this technology is going forward full-speed. But getting back to the cow...[INDENT] ... I was a bit disturbed; kind of the that feeling you get in your gut when you see an accident victim with one foot pointing one way and the other facing the other way; something about it was a bit disturbing. I'm generally in favor of such sciences; and am indeed of this one as well! But a "yellow-flag" of warning ran up the pole in my head.
[/INDENT]This isn't science fiction any more. It's real - cut and paste species. I'm excited and disturbed. The ethical implications of this could - both justifiably and simultaneously - be described as, too dangerous to allow and too potentially-beneficial to ignore. What do you think?

---
Web References:
- Transgenic Definitions: Answers.com, MedicineNet.com and Merriam-Webster
- Basics of Transgenics: For you Wiki Fans, Overview of the Process, Article from the Science Creative Quarterly
- The Show: Note, I haven't tried this, I refuse to install pug-ins I don't want (link here)
 
sarek
 
Reply Fri 7 Nov, 2008 03:03 pm
@Khethil,
I have to admit, I am very much torn in half over this subject.
I am a firm believer in the power of science and genetic engineering to improve the human condition.

OTOH I have very little faith in the ability of humanity to handle the heavy responsibility that comes with such power.
Many of the examples you give are definitely ethically unacceptable.

I sometimes believe that my choice depends on my particular mood of the moment.
 
jknilinux
 
Reply Tue 18 Nov, 2008 04:03 am
@Khethil,
Well, after thinking about it, I'm not too sure where I stand now.

Certainly an interesting subject...
 
Deftil
 
Reply Tue 18 Nov, 2008 04:31 pm
@Khethil,
This isn't a topic that I'm particuarly up on, but from what I've read in the past, it really doesn't seem appropriate to say that "the cow's part human". I'll have to see if I can dig up what I've read in the past that makes me feel this way. But due to common ancestary, all animals share a certain amount of genetic material anyway, and we don't refer to, say whales, as part human, and we don't refer to humans as part whale because of this. I still see why this can seem unnerving and why people would have objections to the practice though. Evolution generally shapes and reshapes genotypes gradually and with transgenics changes are brought about swiftly.
 
jknilinux
 
Reply Tue 18 Nov, 2008 08:10 pm
@Khethil,
Deftil has a point- cows and humans already share 90-something percent of our DNA...
 
Aedes
 
Reply Tue 18 Nov, 2008 10:07 pm
@Khethil,
I'm a consequentialist about this. The ethics are overwhelmingly determined by 1) are the animals suffering and 2) what other harm might we be causing.

I don't believe that nature's "code" is so sacrosanct that we shouldn't try and solve some problems with it. My only concern is that our ability to invent is a lot more powerful than our ability to anticipate consequences.
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Tue 18 Nov, 2008 11:51 pm
@Aedes,
Aedes wrote:
My only concern is that our ability to invent is a lot more powerful than our ability to anticipate consequences.


Don't you just love the non-medical use of petro-chemicals?

This is where I turn into a raging conservative. Technology doesn't bother me, the side effects of technology bother me.
 
Aedes
 
Reply Wed 19 Nov, 2008 07:57 am
@Didymos Thomas,
Didymos Thomas;34004 wrote:
Don't you just love the non-medical use of petro-chemicals?

This is where I turn into a raging conservative. Technology doesn't bother me, the side effects of technology bother me.

Along similar lines, I'm the biggest cheerleader of DDT coming back into use for indoor residual spraying to prevent malaria and dengue (and probably other diseases, like Chagas disease). DDT's agricultural use was what caused its (grossly overstated) problems. But it had also gotten malaria under good control and all but eliminated louse-born epidemic typhus. But not malaria has come raging back, and it would take a tiny fraction of the agricultural use of DDT to make a dent in malaria.
 
nicodemus
 
Reply Wed 19 Nov, 2008 10:03 pm
@Khethil,
Bovine). My god, this cow's part human!


eh partial truth, in that they produce certain perfect replicas of human protiens in the capacity we could never dream of is true, and there is almost no chance of them developing that naturally as it is of no use to them, but to us, it could mean an actual treatment for aids, HIV, and other immunodeficiency syndromes, that their offspring might learn to read or be born with just two legs, however, is utter baloney, they have been spliced perfectly, their babies stand only the normal risk of genetic mutations
 
Khethil
 
Reply Thu 20 Nov, 2008 06:40 am
@nicodemus,
nicodemus wrote:
Bovine). My god, this cow's part human!


eh partial truth, in that they produce certain perfect replicas of human protiens in the capacity we could never dream of is true, and there is almost no chance of them developing that naturally as it is of no use to them, but to us, it could mean an actual treatment for aids, HIV, and other immunodeficiency syndromes, that their offspring might learn to read or be born with just two legs, however, is utter baloney, they have been spliced perfectly, their babies stand only the normal risk of genetic mutations


Please note the word "part" in the phrase, "... part human". No ones suggesting an "Oh my god, we're creating humans!"-panic or assertion.

And yes, there are a good number of benefits from such exercises, to be sure. Again, I wouldn't dispute this one iota. I do; however, think there are ethical issues (ripe for discussion) within this area.

Thanks
 
nicodemus
 
Reply Thu 20 Nov, 2008 08:13 pm
@Khethil,
the only ethical issue i can see is the accelerating and diverting evolution to our own ends (aka: playing god), but it does nothing but good for the human race and gives the bovine species a garunteed spot on this earth for the forseeable future, as far as i can see, a win-win
 
Khethil
 
Reply Fri 21 Nov, 2008 09:08 am
@nicodemus,
nicodemus wrote:
the only ethical issue i can see is the accelerating and diverting evolution to our own ends (aka: playing god), but it does nothing but good for the human race and gives the bovine species a garunteed spot on this earth for the forseeable future, as far as i can see, a win-win


Yea, I think I'd agree.

Still, the philosophical objections I expected to hear are conspicuously absent; namely, that splicing our genes into other creatures to create something "unnatural" would somehow be wrong. I don't subscribe to this necessarily, but it was the most profuse argument I expected to hear.

... so much the better, I s'pose!

Thanks
 
nicodemus
 
Reply Sat 22 Nov, 2008 01:46 pm
@Khethil,
once again, reason trumps moral qualms!
 
Salo phil
 
Reply Tue 25 Nov, 2008 04:55 am
@Khethil,
I don't think its likely that there are going to be mutated animals born that are part one thing and part another. The "human" part of that cow is so tiny that it's almost insignificant, aside from the production of antibodies.

My concern is that mankind has a track record of using technology more for financial gain than altruistic uses. I worry that we as a species are not able to use this technology responsibly. I am also concerned for the welfare of the cow.
 
nicodemus
 
Reply Sat 29 Nov, 2008 07:16 pm
@Khethil,
i can garuntee you that the cow does not go through any extra anguish during this process, as for your reasons, all of the most effective breakthroughs in technological history have been for selfish, fiscal, or other secular reasons, ideas that are founded on altruistic principles very seldom come through to deliver on a mass scale, but in the greed there is good, because the only way a product can become acceptable and popular is if it is beneficial in some way or another
 
Oxymoron
 
Reply Wed 7 Jan, 2009 02:44 pm
@Khethil,
My problem with this is that it may cause people to view animals as tools more so than living beings. I worry about the animals' welfare as well as our own curiousity getting us into trouble.
 
MuseEvolution
 
Reply Tue 13 Jan, 2009 02:15 pm
@Khethil,
I fully support transgenics, and I believe the potential discoveries and applications far outweight any (generally, irrational) fears. I also don't view examples like this as "part human" but instead, exactly what they are: in this example, a cow with human DNA introduced in order to produce an outcome or product not typically available from a cow.

I personally feel that fears of creating "unnatural" results are unfounded and based purely on little more than superstition.

I'll also admit that I was raised on a ranch, and am a completely unrepentant omnivore. If there are no other useful results, at least the cow can provide nourishment for hardworking transgenic scientists.

I do believe that no individual or company should be allowed to patent genes.
 
Theaetetus
 
Reply Tue 20 Jan, 2009 07:45 am
@Khethil,
There is much benefit that could potentially be derived from transgenics, but I worry that some corporations will and have corrupted the practice for financial gain (e.g. Monsanto).

One example where transgenics comes in handy is the ability to breed disease resistant insects like mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are now genetically altered to resist malaria and the West Nile virus. The hope is that the resistant bugs breed with the wild population and produce disease resistant organisms. This could potentially eliminate the need to use toxic chemicals that do much residually damage.

The way I see it, humans have been genetically modifying organisms for thousands of years (agriculture, animals). The process has been accelerated now so benefits can be derived within a generation rather than having to wait.
 
Khethil
 
Reply Tue 20 Jan, 2009 08:38 am
@MuseEvolution,
MuseEvolution wrote:
I personally feel that fears of creating "unnatural" results are unfounded and based purely on little more than superstition.


As much as I hate to admit it, I think you're right and that I'm guilty of it. Whether or not it is "unfounded" remains to be seen.

It's just a feeling; hard to define - hard to wrap my head around. Something just feels 'wrong' about it. That animal has been altered and now has human DNA in it. That "thing" that lies at the center of what a human is (read: DNA) has been fused into another species:

  • Rationally: I don't think there's anything intrinsically wrong with Transgenics (depending on the specifics, conditions, motivations and administration of the procedures).


  • Emotionally: Something in me rises that is macabre, bastardized, 'unnatural' and most of all, alarming on a very basic level.

I can't justify it, it's just a feeling that struck me badly - one that I'm trying to understand. I suspect there's a 'moral' or 'value' that I hold dear; one of which I'm not consciously aware.

Thanks for the reply
 
 

 
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