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Heart muscle repair using adult stems cells  (Source: National Institutes of Health)
Ignorance and fear threaten progress in science and technology's most promising areas

Imagine a new invention so important that it single-handedly revolutionizes our lifestyles, transforms society, and makes possible a lifestyle we could previously only dream about. But it has a dark side. It kills hundreds of thousands of people. Each year. Would it still be worth it?

Actually, the invention I'm thinking of already exists -- the automobile. Indispensable to modern life, but a major cause of accidental death around the world. When the internal combustion engine was first developed, some nations very nearly banned it outright. Wiser heads prevailed, and decided the advantages outweighed the risks. Luckily so, or we'd still be driving a horse and buggy.

Fast-forward to present day, where the fields of biotechnology and genetic engineering (GE) are starting to develop. No other research has more potential to better our lives and protect the environment. Biotech isn't just a single advance or invention, but thousands of them -- many more Earth-shattering than the automobile. And while nothing in life is risk-free, biotech means a future society that is safer, not more dangerous.

Countless medical cures depend on biotech ... but that's just the start. Imagine new organs grown directly from a patient's own stem cells. The end of genetic diseases and birth defects. Ultra high yield food crops that need no pesticides, or that can be grown in salt water. Bacteria engineered to purify water, or to destroy toxic waste, or to produce biofuels from sewage and other wastes. Grass engineered to never need cutting -- I'm personally rooting for this one myself. Protective levees built not with concrete, but with a packet of seeds. New fabrics, building materials, adhesives, detergents, plastics, dyes, that not only work better, but can be produced with fewer raw materials and less dangerous byproducts. A one-time treatment that stops tooth decay for life. Machines that "heal" themselves. Even the potential to extend life itself, slowing or even preventing the aging process. Name the problem, and the future of biotechnology has a solution for it.

But the same mindset that nearly blocked the automobile now threatens again. Groups like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club have entire divisions dedicated to ban genetic engineering, and lawsuits by these groups have already slowed progress and drained billions of dollars away from future research. European Green Party members regularly lobby for legal bans, sometimes successfully.

The problem isn't limited to "liberal" special interest groups either; many conservatives consider it an ungodly "tampering with nature." Stem cell research in the U.S. has a rocky history, and scientists in Britain recently recently dodged an outright ban on human-animal embryo research, considered critical to finding cures to a wide range of diseases.

Food safety is often used to engender these fears. But are natural foods safer? Created randomly by nature. that's exactly what these foods are -- a random mix of chemicals. Some good, some toxic. Potato skins contain the deadly poison solanine, known to cause birth defects, and in high doses, death. Apple seeds and almonds contain cyanide. Arsenic is widespread in many foods. Pepper, cinnamon, and many other spices contain known liver carcinogens. Celery contains carcinogenic furocoumarins. But this is just the tip of the iceberg ... nearly all "natural" chemicals have never been tested for long-term effects. For instance, a single cup of coffee contains over 1000 different chemicals, 95% of which have never been the subject of even one scientific study. Roughly half are estimated to have at least some long-term carcinogenic potential.

Some believe natural foods are better because humans have "evolved" to them. But our modern staple foods were not in the diet of a hunter-gatherer; they've only been eaten for a few thousand years. Evolution works far slower than this. And since plants evolve also, many of these "natural" chemicals weren't even around a million years ago.

When we can tailor-design food species, they become safer, not more dangerous. Carcinogens, toxins, and allergens can be removed. Vitamin and nutrient content improved. Even meat can be tailored to be healthier, with less artery-clogging saturated fat.  Food designed this way will be extensively tested, a safety check not required for "natural" foods.

Is it risk free? Of course not ... but it's less risky than eating what we already do. Our children will see a future of miracle cures, cleaner land, air, and water, safer foods and a lifestyle we can only dream about. That is, unless we deny them this by allowing ignorance and fear to guide our actions.

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By Moishe on 9/5/2007 2:38:14 PM , Rating: 2
Hope I can put this into proper words... First, I agree that GM should be done and progress should be made. Period.

The only problem I have and have always had with this kind of discussion is the list of miracles that can happen, if only we would get out of the way. It's like a play on emotions.

Like when M.J. Fox was in that little battle of words with someone who did not support harvesting stem cells from fetuses. I remember being shocked at the claims that it was anti-stem cell people that are preventing people like Fox from being healed. It may or may not be true. As with anything I really don't like people making claims of new magical benefits without any real way to know if or when those things will happen.

Frankly I believe that technology will indeed advance and we will have better and better things. It's inevitable but for most things it's also unknown how or when.

I think a good way to sum it up is this: If one nation/culture stands in the way of progress some other one WILL take the initiative and the first nation will lose. So a wise policy, in general, is to be proactive. Moving, searching, and exploring will always be scary and dangerous, but it will yield the most returns. Movement balanced with caution will ensure that things get done and progress is made without having to fear shoddy work or worldwide damage.

Only a fool would believe that they can truly stop all progress.

RE: interesting...
By masher2 on 9/5/2007 3:17:51 PM , Rating: 2
"I remember being shocked at the claims that it was anti-stem cell people that are preventing people like Fox from being healed. It may or may not be true
A valid point. However, while stem cell research may or may not enable Fox to be cured, biotechnology in general will one day allow a cure for Parkinsons. It may not be in Fox's lifetime, and it may not stem from (ahem) stem cells. But a cure does exist, and only biotech will give it to us.

RE: interesting...
By Moishe on 9/5/2007 4:09:09 PM , Rating: 2
I've always been shocked at governments turning down free food from the U.S. because it's GM food... that's just nuts and I wager that the folks on the ground dying of starvation have no say in it.

I say bring on the GM corn tortillas and let's choose life over death.

RE: interesting...
By Murst on 9/5/2007 4:38:26 PM , Rating: 2
biotechnology in general will one day allow a cure for Parkinsons. It may not be in Fox's lifetime, and it may not stem from (ahem) stem cells. But a cure does exist, and only biotech will give it to us.

Sorry, but I gotta call you on this. There is absolutely no guarantee. You'd be the first to point out such a statement if the thread was not something you would agree with.

If a cure for Parkinsons is possible, for all we know it may already be available as some extract in a plant in the amazon or from a fish swimming off the coast of iceland. Sure, it may come from biotech, but insisting that it is the ONLY way is completely inaccurate.

RE: interesting...
By masher2 on 9/5/2007 4:48:41 PM , Rating: 1
> "for all we know it may already be available as some extract in a plant in the amazon or from a fish swimming off the coast of iceland"

If you study the pathology of Parkinson's, you'll see that, while we may find new chemicals useful for treating symptoms or slowing degeneration, a true cure is only likely from gene therapy. No chemical compound (either natural or synthetic) will erase the damage; new cells must be created in certain regions of the brain.

RE: interesting...
By Murst on 9/5/2007 5:00:53 PM , Rating: 5
Masher, just so you know, I did study Parkinson's.

However, that really has nothing to do with the point I was trying to make. The best thing I ever got out of bio and chem (and really any science) is that it is almost certainly foolish to assume something is not possible.

I'll leave you with a quote from arthur clarke:

When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong

RE: interesting...
By masher2 on 9/5/2007 5:19:29 PM , Rating: 2
Certainly anything is possible in theory, just as we may find a plant extract that will allow us to live forever. But the chances of either are incredibly unlikely.

As I'm sure you know, we've been very succesful with finding useful drugs from nature, because many plants use similar chemical pathways as does the human body. For instance, a drug to speed the repair of burn damage is just enhancing a process the body already does naturally. So finding such a drug in nature isn't that unlikely.

But instructing the body to regrow new cells in the basal ganglia? As far as we know, no such pathway exists, much less a natural chemical to do so. Obviously, our understanding could be incorrect, but its definitely a problem of a whole different magnitude.

RE: interesting...
By Murst on 9/5/2007 5:52:16 PM , Rating: 4
As far as we know, no such pathway exists, much less a natural chemical to do so.

The "natural pathway" most certainly exists. How do you think the cells got there in the first place? There is a TON of research going on right now in this field. It seems there's a new discovery almost every month of an enzyme that triggers nerve/muscle cell growth. All of these things are natural. As far as I know, we have not been able to bio-engineer any enzyme yet to perform some new function in our body.

Also, you also need to keep in mind that we do not have to find a cure in order to rid the world of something. For example, I believe it is highly likely that it is possible to prevent Parkinson's, especially considering that the disease is almost exclusively found in older people. For all we know, preventing Parkinsons could be done completely naturally.

RE: interesting...
By masher2 on 9/5/2007 6:18:08 PM , Rating: 1
> "There is a TON of research going on right now in this field. It seems there's a new discovery almost every month of an enzyme that triggers nerve/muscle cell growth"

Wouldn't you class this as biotech research, however? Even if one accepts the premise of a natural chemical specific enough to trigger nerve regrowth in only a tiny portion of the brain, we're not going to be able to identify, isolate, and produce it as such without continued advances in biotechnology.

RE: interesting...
By rsmech on 9/5/2007 7:23:43 PM , Rating: 2
we're not going to be able to identify, isolate, and produce it

This is a question I have always had. Why do we need to replicate something found naturally? I understand that higher concentrates of some substances are more beneficial, but why can't on many of these things just eat them in their natural form? You don't need FDA approval on an apple or carrot or such. The drug company also can't charge me for every raspberry, apple or grape I eat from my own yard either.

RE: interesting...
By masher2 on 9/5/2007 7:50:24 PM , Rating: 2
A good question. Consider the cancer drug Taxol. Its found naturaly in trace quantities in the bark of the Pacific Yew tree. Using natural taxol would have meant harvesting massive amounts of bark, destroying hundreds of thousands of trees each year. Not only did this make the drug prohibitively expensive, but it meant largescale environmental damage and the eventual extinction of the tree species itself.

So while nature gave us the drug, biotechnology made it practical. It took decades to work out a synthesis method for taxol, but now we can manufacture it cheaply and safely, without the need to clear-cut massive amounts of forest.

RE: interesting...
By Murst on 9/5/2007 8:36:28 PM , Rating: 3
Of course it would be classified as biotech. Any form of duplication using bacteria or other methods (other than direct extraction from its natural environment) would fall under that umbrella.

However, that's completely different than what the purpose of your blog was. I seriously doubt your aim was to promote the usage of bacteria as a method of reproducing a protein. This has been deemed acceptable by the vast majority of the people in the world, and I have never heard of any government attempting to restrict it.

Your blog was, most likely, aimed at the more controversial methods in today's medicine. Cloning, stem cell research, embryonic research.. all of these can provide huge insights into the physiology of all animals (humans included). Theoretically, it will be possible to cure many diseases once we have a good enough understanding of the subject. If this is not what you were aiming at, then I apologise.

However, as much as it bugs me when people argue against the latter forms of biotech by using crazy arguments, I also cannot stand it when people argue that these are the ONLY ways to solve a problem. Both extremes, in my opinion, are completely wrong.

RE: interesting...
By rsmech on 9/5/2007 9:29:38 PM , Rating: 3
I was going to say I know that there are many exceptions and this is one of them. But I'm sure many people can name many vegetables, fruits, or herbs that are beneficial. Harvest a crop is normal, no large scale environmental damage. Yet they synthesize properties of these. An onion has beneficial properties so why synthesize it, just give them an onion.

RE: interesting...
By greenchasch on 9/5/2007 9:48:08 PM , Rating: 2
What "beneficial properties" does an onion have?

RE: interesting...
By rdeegvainl on 9/6/2007 2:47:02 AM , Rating: 2
It tastes good on my burgers and that makes me happy by releasing endorphins into my system???

RE: interesting...
By glitchc on 9/6/2007 3:25:37 PM , Rating: 2
It also lowers cholesterol

RE: interesting...
By rsmech on 9/6/2007 8:26:55 PM , Rating: 2
Take this as you wish, I just used it as an example but I remember hearing a news blurb on the radio about how one doctor found that an onion help rid some staff infections which normal antibiotics couldn't. My point was there are many other natural things my doctor doesn't prescribe, he gives me a pill someone made money from instead of adding something to my diet.

RE: interesting...
By Grast on 9/5/2007 6:38:09 PM , Rating: 2
While I agree with Gene Research and GE, I believe that certain illnesses willing never be cured after the fact. Rather like all other plagues in history, a vaccine or Gene recequence will prevent the development of the illnesses.

I have an idea. Lets start a mass eugenics program and weed out all the bad DNA. Hey it worked for the Spartans and Star Trek.....hehehe


RE: interesting...
By Xietsu on 9/23/2007 3:06:07 PM , Rating: 2
It didn't work for the Spartans, that's why they had to keep killing their progeny off. You can't tailor genes based upon murdering people. Only if you actually manipulate the alleles that produce adversity can you make progress in this regard. Although, maybe there's some magical natural enzyme that would do this. Lol. Just poking in satire at Murst.

RE: interesting...
By dever on 9/12/2007 3:12:56 PM , Rating: 2
An interesting point that I've never heard in the media frenzy that surrounded Fox. A brain surgeon working with my wife (a nurse) said that Parkinson's disease at Fox's age is typically caused by drug use, not by genetics. (Admittedly, third party, but a source I trust infinitely more than any media outlet I can think of.)

As for the article, it's uncharacteristically hyped for Masher.

RE: interesting...
By Spivonious on 9/5/2007 3:47:41 PM , Rating: 2
So, fast forward into the future. No diseases, no tooth decay, nothing ever needs fixing, food can be grown for pennies in one's own house.

So we've just put 90% of the world out of business. What now?

RE: interesting...
By Master Kenobi on 9/5/2007 3:56:25 PM , Rating: 2
Same thing that happened when many factory workers got replaced by machines and robots... You get skills to perform more advanced jobs. If not you wither away and die. I'm ok with that.

RE: interesting...
By saiga6360 on 9/5/2007 4:05:11 PM , Rating: 2
No need for dentists? Sounds like heaven to me. Then we can focus on something really important, like building a better iPhone.

RE: interesting...
By Kuroyama on 9/5/2007 4:07:24 PM , Rating: 2
Well, we could have one of those sci-fi futures in which the rich have everything and the poor are useless flotsam getting drunk in poverty.

Or we have a sci-fi utopian future, i.e. we all become couch potatoes because money will practically grow on trees and we won't have anything better to do than spend out entire lives mesmerized in some virtual world.

I suspect the latter is more likely.

RE: interesting...
By Moishe on 9/5/07, Rating: -1
RE: interesting...
By Moishe on 9/6/2007 8:21:28 AM , Rating: 2
people have no sense of humor :)

RE: interesting...
By arazok on 9/5/2007 4:22:43 PM , Rating: 1
You watch the standard of living sky-rocket?

The Industrial Revolution was supposed to make everyone poor and unemployed, it didn't. It freed people up to do things other then farm food 24/7.

In Canada, our government at all levels spends some 50% of it's revenue on health-care. Most of that is on treatment for chronic disease like Cancer, Diabetes etc. Imagine the benefits to everyone if you could eliminate those? Cut my taxes by 50%? All those doctors and nurses, who are typically intelligent people, would go to be other things - researchers, engineers etc. Perhaps we could finally move to a 4 day work week.

What I'm hoping for is the discovery that genes or some other curable source exist for criminal behavior, pedophilia and stupidity. Imagine a society free of murder, dirty old men, and that dumb ass driving 30MPH in the fast lane.

RE: interesting...
By porkpie on 9/5/2007 4:14:18 PM , Rating: 2
Only a fool would believe that they can truly stop all progress
Then there are a lot of fools out there. Maybe they won't block progress forever, but they'll alreading slowing it down enough where you and I won't see the benefits.

Sure, they may not get biotech banned in China. But the US and Europe are the big markets. If biotech products are banned there, thats going to dry up 95% of the market, and the research dollars as well.

RE: interesting...
By Moishe on 9/6/2007 8:24:23 AM , Rating: 2
The research will happen in countries with less regulation and/or done by people with fewer qualms. I agree that it will slow the research down and I really think that's a shame.

To balance that out though, science in itself is not the ultimate king and there are "human" matters (like ethics, morality, etc) that should have some influence.

By PresidentThomasJefferson on 9/6/2007 11:43:26 AM , Rating: 2
Great article.. Using human embryonic stem cells injected into the spinal cord of rats, researchers at the University of California Irvine & other universities have been able to cure paralysis in rats (rats that had their spinal cords bruised/damaged into paralysis were once again able to walk, run, hop, etc).

That's pretty amazing results (and that was back in 2001-2004) --not sure if human trials have begun yet though.

It's funny that stem cell opponents often say "there's no advances in embryonic stem cell research" as if they're unaware or ignorant of the results ('if u repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth' it seems to them)

Not gonna get involved
By Master Kenobi on 9/5/2007 1:29:23 PM , Rating: 3
I dont like to get involved in this subject of discussion, but it would seem to me that logically if you want to eliminate "world hunger" you would engineer crops that can be planted into these hard to grow areas to boost production of food. You could also engineer the crops so they contain the essential nutrients for a proper diet allowing you to grow more of specific crops and not having to worry so much about variety.

Just a logical assumption from this sort of advancement.

RE: Not gonna get involved
By mdogs444 on 9/5/2007 1:34:18 PM , Rating: 3
But you also mess up the balance of nature. There are always good and bad things about particular areas of the globe and each ecosystem.

Mother nature has a way of fighting back....always.

RE: Not gonna get involved
By Master Kenobi on 9/5/2007 1:39:32 PM , Rating: 2
True enough, might trigger a population boom or extinction of animals in the area. Which could lead to other problems as well.

RE: Not gonna get involved
By hellokeith on 9/5/2007 2:00:19 PM , Rating: 5

Also keep in mind that the major cause of world hunger is socio-political issues. The US alone could eliminate hunger in Africa by removing domesitc farm "don't grow" subsidies and ship the excess over seas. But corrupt African military and politicians do not care the issue is solved, and so we are where we are. Genetically modified crops will not have a great deal of impact when the men with machine guns take all the food.

RE: Not gonna get involved
By glitchc on 9/6/2007 3:34:53 PM , Rating: 2
It takes two hands to clap though. Perhaps the US should consider supplying the region with crops that the indigenous people will consume. Planting wheat in an African country where the staple food is something entirely different (aka yam in Nigeria), and then complaining that the population is incompetent when a) the wheat is not being consumed or b) the crop is not surviving due to inhabitable climate is a poor way of solving the hunger problem.

You cannot expect people to change what they have been eating for generations and what they have been accustomed to. I agree with the corrupt nature of the African govt, but equally corrupt is the US govt for continuing to sell arms to both sides of the conflict.

Face it. Stability in African countries is never in the interest of the govt or the big industries that sponsor it.

RE: Not gonna get involved
By Schrag4 on 9/10/2007 12:17:50 PM , Rating: 2
"You cannot expect people to change what they have been eating for generations and what they have been accustomed to."

I gotta call you on this. If I was starving to death I wouldn't care what I was eating, as long as it had nutrients. I think the discussion here isn't about replacing a nation's food supply but rather feeding those whose bodies are literally eating themselves because there's no food at all. I can guarantee you that nobody, NOBODY who's starving to death will turn down a different culture's food.

RE: Not gonna get involved
By arazok on 9/5/2007 2:35:03 PM , Rating: 2
What messes up the balance of nature is trying to grow crops in dry, unfertile, areas by pouring tons of fertilizer or animal waste on it, then dousing it with all your available fresh water, followed by 4 tons of chemical pesticides.

I'd think that a GE crop designed to produce high yields with minimal fertilization and watering would be far easier on the environment then present methods. Mother nature would be proud.

RE: Not gonna get involved
By Ringold on 9/5/2007 2:44:35 PM , Rating: 4
I'd think that a GE crop designed to produce high yields with minimal fertilization and watering would be far easier on the environment then present methods.

I think that's getting at a good point. Clearly, we've been screwing things up for other species ever since we learned to walk. Short of mass suicide... the more we advance our methods the better off we are, and the better off we are the less need we have to pillage the environment in the environmentalists view. Even better, it may become cheaper to use GM products than it would be to do things in an environmentally unfriendly way.

The other guy saying it could have consequence.. uh, yeah? Getting out of bed has consequences -- you're depriving millions of dust mites of their primary source of food. We act on cost-benefit analysis, and it's more or less an open and shut case here.

RE: Not gonna get involved
By Kuroyama on 9/5/2007 3:33:19 PM , Rating: 4
If potatoes, grain and/or rice are made to grow with extra vitamins, low water needs, and high pest + disease resistance then it would be a major boon for everyone. Obviously for the arid poor areas of the world, but also on the environmental front if it allows us to reduce out agricultural footprint (i.e. use less land, less fertilizers and less water).

Having said that, plants have a way of doing unexpected things. Since you live in the south I'm sure you've seen Kudzu. Originally brought to the US as an ornamental plant, then used in South to prevent soil erosion, but now a nearly impossible to eradicate vine from hell. Some disease resistant, bug resistant crop we come up with could easily end up a nearly impossible to eradicate Kudzu type plant, and in a worst case scenario if it were to overrun farms instead of just trees then it could have very detrimental effects on the humans and the environment.

I actually think GMO foods will be beneficial. But we should be very careful not to shoot ourselves in the foot. I know you and many are adamantly anti-regulation, but in terms of a cost-benefit analysis I think a regulatory regime which is pro-GMO but also carefully pro-safety will be important. Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) may be a large enough behemoth to think long term (or not), but without strong regulation I don't doubt that some start-up will be so enthusiastic to get their product to market that they will screw up the world with their super duper fast growing plant, soon to become the next generation Kudzu super-weed.

RE: Not gonna get involved
By porkpie on 9/5/2007 4:10:50 PM , Rating: 2
Since you live in the south I'm sure you've seen Kudzu....
Kudzu is hardly an ecological disaster, especially contrasted with how much benefit we've gotten from planting crops in areas where nature "didn't intend" them to be.

Stories of super plants taking over the world are pretty silly. If technology can make a plant, it can kill it even easier. I'm sure GE will eventually have some sort of unintended consequences, but they'll be a billion times smaller than the benefits we get from it.

RE: Not gonna get involved
By Kuroyama on 9/5/2007 10:48:49 PM , Rating: 3
"ecological disaster" was an exaggeration in the case of Kudzu. But it is not hard to find true ecological disasters that we have no idea how to control. Perhaps the worst of those being

Chestnut blight: the US has gone from 3 billion chestnut trees (once 25% percent of the trees in the Appalachian Mountains), to less than 100 large trees now

Other obvious examples include Dutch Elm disease, various Asian Beetles currently eating through our forests, swamp grasses overrunning major freshwater lakes worldwide, etc.

These are all organisms that are under control in their native environment, but even with out current technology we don't know how to control them, despite being able to examine countries where they nature keeps them under control. How much less likely is it that we'll be able to control a GE crop without even a place to look at where nature's fixed the problem. It's much easier to make something destructive, even if accidentally, than to reverse the process.

RE: Not gonna get involved
By Kuroyama on 9/5/2007 10:50:15 PM , Rating: 2
ha ha, bad typo. "even with out current technology" was "even with our current technology"

RE: Not gonna get involved
By porkpie on 9/6/07, Rating: -1
RE: Not gonna get involved
By Kuroyama on 9/5/2007 10:55:20 PM , Rating: 2
where nature "didn't intend" them to be.

I said I support GMO crops, and although I didn't discuss it I also agree that various global crops have been very beneficial. My intent was to point out the potential downsides and the need to be very careful about what we introduce (i.e. my point about being pro-GMO while also being pro-regulation). And FYI, my dad is a horticultural consultant and formerly an Arboretum manager, so I know firsthand both the wonderful plants we can get around the world, but also the trouble they can cause.

RE: Not gonna get involved
By grenableu on 9/5/2007 3:13:29 PM , Rating: 5
Mealy-mouthed phrases like "the balance of nature" are just FUD. The balance of nature says that we shouldn't be cultivating crops and farm animals at all, that we should go back to rooting for roots and berries like our ancestors did. That starvation, disease, and being eaten by wild animals should be the primary means to limit our population.

You want to go back to that, feel free. If not, stop talking about the "balance of nature"

RE: Not gonna get involved
By porkpie on 9/5/2007 4:17:26 PM , Rating: 2
Study paleobiology and you'll see there is no "delicate balance" to nature. The planet survives giant asteroid strikes and ice ages. A region is a desert in one age, a forest in another, and then its under 500 feet of water in the next. Billions of species of plants and animals continually go extinct, making room for new species to form and move into their ecological niches.

RE: Not gonna get involved
By Kenenniah on 9/5/2007 4:17:29 PM , Rating: 2
That all depends on your definition of "the balance of nature". Yes, many people take that concept way too far, but these extremists also forget the we are a part of nature. As nature created us, it's only natural that we will have an effect on the world around us.

That being said, it does not mean we can just willy nilly do anything we want and forget about the consequences. As intelligent beings with the ability to think rationally, we have a responsibility to use some caution. So for me, the concept of "the balance of nature" means something a little different. Should we try to improve things? Most definately! But we should also be very careful to make sure that our "improvements" don't have worse side effects than they do benefits. That is my concept of balance.

The mixing of European and African bees for example had the good intentions of increased productivity. While the media as usual has blown the negative side of Africanized bees way out of proportion, it still did not work out quite as expected.

Or look at the effect that introducing just a few rabbits into Australia's ecosystem has had. While not necessarily related to GE, it does show what can happen when introducing a new species to an ecosystem.

So yes, I am all for continuing research, but tempered with caution. Balance is the key.

RE: Not gonna get involved
By Grast on 9/5/2007 6:42:53 PM , Rating: 2
Food is not the awnser. Explaining to nomad humans still living like it 10,000 years ago that having 15 babies in an area which no longer support your family is a bad idea.

I am all for tolerance. But please do not make feel bad because I know that it is stupid to have 15 children in the middle of a desert and claim I have no food.

It is interesting that we still have humans on this planet which are living in the stone age.


RE: Not gonna get involved
By dluther on 9/28/2007 9:01:20 AM , Rating: 2
Reminds me of an older Sam Kinnison schtick:

But I'm not trying to make fun of world hunger. Matter of fact, I think I have the answer. You want to stop world hunger? Stop sending these people food. Don't send these people another bite, folks. You want to send them something, you want to help? Send them U-Hauls. Send them U-Hauls, some luggage, send them a guy out there who says, 'Hey, we been driving out here every day with your food, for, like, the last thirty or forty years, and we were driving out here today across the desert, and it occurred to us that there wouldn't BE world hunger, if you people would LIVE WHERE THE FOOD IS! YOU LIVE IN A DESERT! YOU LIVE IN A F#CKING DESERT! NOTHING GROWS OUT HERE! NOTHING'S GONNA GROW OUT HERE! YOU SEE THIS? HUH? THIS IS SAND. KNOW WHAT IT'S GONNA BE A HUNDRED YEARS FROM NOW? IT'S GONNA BE SAND! YOU LIVE IN A F#CKING DESERT! GET YOUR STUFF, GET YOUR SH!T, WE'LL MAKE ONE TRIP, WE'LL TAKE YOU TO WHERE THE FOOD IS! WE HAVE DESERTS IN AMERICA -- WE JUST DON'T LIVE IN THEM, A$$HOLES!"

Nice Article, Some Thoughts
By JasonMick on 9/5/2007 4:17:23 PM , Rating: 5
I really liked this article, and agree with most of it. Despite my "pro-environment" leanings, I think biotech/genetic engineering is a great thing.

The only kind of bioengineering I am entirely opposed to is such research in contexts of creating biological weapons or creating a bioengineered organism to "kill" a certain organism, directly via predation (aka, not via pesticides/etc). The reason I oppose the latter is because it may accidentally kill off other similar species. I do think you have to be careful when bioengineering plants to produce pesticides/insecticides, as many of these chemicals are carcinogenic to humans.

But otherwise I agree that bioengineering to produce more nutritious crops, drought resistance, bigger yields, etc. is a great thing.

The only part of the article I didn't like (I did say the article was terrific, right?) was

For instance, a single cup of coffee contains over 1000 different chemicals, 95% of which have never been the subject of even one scientific study. Roughly half are estimated to have at least some long-term carcinogenic potential.

That one bit really bothered me, and seemed sort of FUD-esque, though I know where you are coming from. Many of those compounds are obviously not carcinogenic, because chemically they have almost no possible potential to cause oxidative or other DNA damage.

I also think that based on what you said and my knowledge of bioengineering, that it will be a long time before we start removing many chemicals from crops/etc. Its far easier to put in a good thing, like protein producing/storing genes, than it is to take out bad things, because often times an organism puts its poisons to use against threats, both predatory and microbial, which we may not be currently aware of. Also chemicals often have unknown activity even within well known organisms.

In general I think people are too all or nothing when it comes to genetic engineering. It is not a black or white topic, but a gray one, and people need to look at each particular application, and not endorse or oppose it wholesale.

Thats my editorial...

RE: Nice Article, Some Thoughts
By Kenenniah on 9/5/2007 4:26:44 PM , Rating: 2
My take on the concept of "particular substance A may cause cancer" is pretty simple. Hell, you can find a study out there that links just about any consumable to cancer, so I broke it down to a very simple idea.

If you eat food and drink liquids, you have a higher chance of one day being diagnosed with cancer then you would it you did not eat and drink. Of course you'll die of starvation/dehydration, but it is true you would very likely not die of cancer.

RE: Nice Article, Some Thoughts
By masher2 on 9/5/2007 4:35:37 PM , Rating: 4
> "That one bit really bothered me, and seemed sort of FUD-esque..."

I took that statement from research demonstrating 30-50% of all chemicals are carcinogens, whether they are natural or synthetically produced. Here's a link to one of the source papers:

The statements about coffee are taken from Dr. Bruce Ames, professor of biology at UC Berkeley, who says:
Many [people] are unaware that there are more than 1,000 natural chemicals in a cup of coffee. Only 22 of these have been tested in the standard animal cancer test, and 17 showed up as carcinogens.

RE: Nice Article, Some Thoughts
By JasonMick on 9/5/2007 5:27:39 PM , Rating: 3
Hmm, well the only comment in your article I take issue with was from someone else =D

I don't like the professor's comment, mainly because the current testing for carcinogens is rather misleading, as to their true cancer causing potential.

While there are certainly many very bad carcinogens out there, ie. Benzene, many "carcinogenic" substances, are only experimentally determined to be carcinogenic, when animals are fed highly concentrated doses, thousands of times more concentrated than those found in nature.

Often times it is not even the chemical itself that is carcinogenic then, but some chemical derivative that it produces (ie. benzoic acid, naturally occuring producing benzene).

If you studied the substances based on naturally occuring concentrations, I think that you would find far fewer than 30-50% of substance displaying significantly carcinogenic behavior.

I think studies need to put the disclaimer on their research that while carginogenic, the compound was not necessarily cancer causing at the low concentration in the studied substance.

Again, nice article, overall I really liked it.

Two sides
By Murst on 9/5/2007 1:38:51 PM , Rating: 3
There, of course, are two sides to every story.

Although I certainly would argue that we should move forward with GM foods, cures, etc, we should not do so carelessly.

For example, you've pointed out that a huge percentage of chemicals in our everyday foods are untested. However, at least we know that these chemicals are not a huge health risk at the levels we consume them. Inserting new chemicals into consumables may certainly be beneficial, but it most likely poses an even higher risk than consuming the untested chemicals in, say, a potato.

So, I think we should be pressing forward with this research (any bans on it seems ridiculous), but there should be a great deal of testing before the research matures and is released into our environment. It would be just horrible if, for example, we developed some GM'd grain that is very tolerant of weather, bugs, etc, just to see that gene spread into other plants that would end up destroying a harvest.

RE: Two sides
By IGoodwin on 9/5/2007 4:25:01 PM , Rating: 1
Just to add, the article mentions how 'most' of the chemicals in our current food is untested/analysed. If we go with only providing foods with what we know, how do we knwo that something esential is not being missed. We hardly know a fraction of the vitamins, let alone how benificial they are.

By Verran on 9/5/2007 1:57:52 PM , Rating: 4
Maybe I've been playing too much BioShock, but this makes me think of Rapture and their desire to escape these sorts of limitations.

"It wasn't impossible to build Rapture at the bottom of the ocean. It was impossible to build it anywhere else."

Pretty impressive
By greenchasch on 9/5/2007 8:52:32 PM , Rating: 2
40 comments and no one said anything to get a comment rated down. I commend you all on a very intelligent set of responses.

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