What Are Some Interesting And Fun Facts On Genetic Engineering?


2 Answers

Anonymous Profile
Anonymous answered

Scientists have genetically engineered glow in the dark cats...

Julie S Profile
Julie S answered

In the Genetic Modification (GM) debate, genetic engineering has received an
enormous amount of attention. Support for this emerging technology, which has
come from many public and private organisations, from the global Life Science
industry and from many scientists, has been very well resourced - in terms both
of money and of scientific research and expertise. The opposition, originating
from environment and development NGOs and a number of scientists, academics and
activists, is much less well resourced. But its unexpected strength of numbers
- a groundswell of opposition coming from the ‘general public' - has
significantly affected GM Research and Development, particularly in Europe, has
put GM on national political agendas, and made the contest resemble the
Lilliputians against Gulliver more than David against Goliath.

Like previous collections by the same editors, Recoding Nature is
an important contribution to the relatively small literature of critical
perspectives on genetic engineering. It has the usual advantages and
disadvantages of edited collections. Although the broad range of issues,
perspectives and expertise - approaches range from thoroughly academic to
‘grassroots'- is refreshing and useful, coverage is not always comprehensive or
cohesive, in terms of style, content or argument; and there is some overlap -
between topics and with the editors' previous collections. But authors cover
areas (food safety and gene flow for example) more thoroughly than before and
introduce important topics and approaches (indigenous and third world
perspectives for example) that have previously received little space.

The book seems to be aimed primarily at an academic audience, predominantly
in the social sciences. Of its four parts (GM culture and politics; Ecology, GM
food and organics; Human genetics - the future; Biocolonialism to activism), at
least two are of direct relevance to Rural Society readers. The first
chapter (by the editors) places the topic in an historical and epistemological
context, with a useful exposé of the symbolism associated with genetics and the
DNA code. Another introductory chapter discusses the policy and legal
environment surrounding GM technology in Australia and the weak use of the
precautionary principle in regulating the release of genetically modified
organisms (GMO's). The two chapters in the second part are in the natural
sciences but are accessible to non-scientists. The gene flow chapter does an
excellent job of presenting scenarios of environmental spread of GMO's. The food
safety chapter similarly provides an excellent picture of potential GM health
problems, and dispels the myth of the ‘experiment' that has been conducted with
the release of GM food in the US (an ‘experiment' lacking design, method,
informed consent, data collection and analysis).

The fact that this collection on genetic engineering includes as many
experts on organics as on GM agriculture perhaps indicates the importance to
the debate of the oppositional binary between GM and organics. The chapters on
the organics industry present interesting and well-informed accounts of the
binary, but could have done more to deconstruct or critique it. The analysis
seems to treat GM as intrinsically bad, regardless of context, ignoring the
insight in the discussion of the organics industry that institutional, economic
and legal frameworks are important in the development of any agricultural

The Human Genetics part of the book offers some interesting and useful
perspectives and covers many of the major issues in this area, without
presenting anything fundamentally new. The human genomics chapter, although it
digresses into a lengthy discussion of globalisation, does present a useful
analysis of the role of the genomics effort in maintaining a biomedical
approach and its connections with globalisation. I felt that the chapter on
direct-to-consumer genetic testing chose to critique one of the most benign
applications of genetic testing that I have yet heard of (one that positions it
with iridology and blood group diets).

The third part of the book presents interesting new perspectives and topics.
Its excellent first chapter, although based specifically on Maori culture and
beliefs, raises important general issues about potential transgressions of
indigenous cultures and belief systems. The chapter on commodification of
native flora discusses the difficult issues associated with bioprospecting
without, in my view, adequately explaining them (I have yet to come across an
article that does). The last chapter discusses resistance to GM in Asia.

As a biologist, I was concerned about a number of mistakes,
misinterpretations and misnomers in relation to the science of genetic
engineering. Chapter 3 mistakenly links horizontal gene transfer to asexual
reproduction (p. 55). Chapter 11 links forensic DNA evidence to ‘criminality'
genes; but the link is weak, this evidence being more usually based on
non-coding DNA sequences. Finally, a GM model of health (Chapter 9) is a poor
description because it suggests gene therapy (genetic modification), which may
be an extension of the biomedical approach, but is secondary to (and
potentially undermines) the development of new diagnostics and pharmaceuticals,
which is the major thrust of current human genomics work. In addition, some of the
less academic chapters make empirical statements without reference to
supporting literature or with over-reliance on web sites and unpublished

I was also disappointed with the negative (rather than critical) stance of
many of the chapters, a stance launched by Mae Wan Ho's provocative
introduction. The GM debate has been characterised by polarity and polemics.
The entanglement of public science with private interests in the development of
genetic technologies has rightly cast suspicion on the endorsement by such
science of the technology (Krismky, 2003). On the critical side, that GM is now
a rallying theme in a range of campaigns, from opposition to industrial
agriculture and technoscience through to the anti-globalisation movement, has
made opposition to it a symbol of resistance and social criticism. GM is
constructed as a ‘danger worth attention' (Douglas & Wildaver 1982), its
risks accentuated. I believe that the current reductionist and culturally
distorted views of genetic engineering (from both sides) mars the academic
debate, and that ‘lumping' GM in with a range of ‘evils' reduces the
sophistication of the critical analysis of GM technology and of its place in
current trends.

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