Week #6: Biotech by Jeff Poirier

Biotechnology and genetic engineering are highly controversial topics in the arts and sciences today. The ethics of these scientific endeavors have been closely scrutinized by government, society, and academia. In Carol Gigliotti’s “Leonardo’s Choice: The Ethics of Artists Working with Genetic Technologies,” the artwork of Eduardo Kac is questioned from an ethical perspective and an artistic standpoint as well. Kac, who genetically engineered a rabbit with a fluorescent glow gene, claims that his work is meant to dismantle the anthropocentric views of society. However, as Gigliotti argues (and I happen to agree with), in manipulating the lives of other sentient beings (essentially playing the role od a diety), Kac is actually further supporting the idea that the human has the inherent right to rule over all other beings as the supreme. By some backwards logic, it would seem that Kac has developed a rationale for his experimental art that is actually quite contrary to the intuitive societal contexts. Below is an image of Kac’s GFP Bunny, the ethical questions raised by its creation have brought biotechnology into the forefront of moral debate.

 

Despite the fact that genetic engineering is a topic currently on the societal debate table, it has been in use in industry for quite a long time. For example, produce have been engineered to grow larger and more numerous. They also have been infused with genes that protect them from natural predators more efficiently. The debate about whether or not feeding the masses with “mutant” produce is an acceptable practice has been raging for some time. The arguments against the engineering often depict the practice as unethical and ill-intentioned. Below, a stern-faced, masked scientist injects a glowing green solution into a vegetable.

 

Obviously, the arguments in favor of genetically engineering fruits and vegetables include economic prosperity for the agricultural sector, increased yield of food, and an overall more efficient industry throughout the world.

                One of the campaigns staked against the genetic alteration of foods is the relatively young “organic food” craze. The companies that supply “organic food” claim that it is the most naturally raised and processed products available. Thus, their products are healthier, better for the environment, and better tasting (of course…). These claims are questionable. However, the stance against genetic engineering in this organic industry is clear.

The debate between engineered food and conventional food is well laid out here: http://www.youarewhatyoueat.biz/page1/page1.html

                Biotechnology and genetic engineering are scientific fields that have the ability to aid humanity in so many manners. However, the ethics and standards of practice in these industries must be seriously addressed as a society soon, before they become too powerful and detrimental. In response to Kac’s controversial genetic art, I would argue that utilizing genetic engineering for art is unethical. Surely, a human altering the genomes of other beings for seemingly futile gains reinforces the idea of anthropocentricism, not combats it like Kac attempts to rationalize his project with. I believe that genetic engineering is a science that can be such a positive influence in society, but it must be used sparingly and only for the most important gains. Fighting hunger and famine is a serious societal concern. One man’s God complex is not.

Below is a funny video that is sort of related to mutations and such (it’s a stretch):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9iIgQN5uZE

-Jeff Poirier

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