Biotechnology by Ricky Irwin

This week’s lecture and reading on the practices and ethics of biotechnology presents the idea that just as art provokes and even thrives on controversy, science often creates even a larger clash of ethics versus progression, morality versus innovation. While examples have been given where biotechnology is used in an artistic direction, much of its focus currently resides in industries such as medicine, food and agriculture. The earliest examples of biotechnology, or genetic engineering, were of course in the food industry, to manipulate the genetics of organisms and agriculture to better and more efficiently feed the public, with techniques like transplanting genes between species. One example of research done in biotechnology with animals is the attempt to put a human gene into a pig heart to allow for transplants into humans, which has yet to see success.

In 1992, a very controversial patent was given for the “Oncomouse”, a laboratory mouse genetically engineered at Harvard to make it more susceptible for cancer, for cancer research. The logic behind the patent was for the ethically-offensive science to be “assessed by weighing up the suffering of the animals.. against the benefits to mankind said to be conferred by the invention.” This opens up the controversial argument of where exactly the human species should stand against the rest of the animal kingdom. I think that even though our species is overwhelmingly dominant on this planet, there’s also a certain responsibility that comes with it, to make sure that no suffering is inflicted upon animals just for our own gain.

In “Leonardo’s choice”, Carol Gigliotti expresses that all animals “possess intrinsic worth” and that artists should only utilize biotechnology in eradicating such animal abuse, and making aware both the dark implications and realities that biotechnology currently holds in the world. One such artist is Heath Bunting, who genetically modified a seed into a “SuperWeed” which is resistant to herbicides, in an attempt to threaten the profitablity and usage of herbicides.

We also talked about cloning this week in lecture, a field of science almost more steeped in controversy than biotechnology. I found it very relevant considering I had just read an article on the first extinct cloned animal, the Pyrenean ibex, or bucardo, through a process involving the frozen skin of the extinct species. The cloned animal died only a couple minutes after birth, but it is still a monumental achievement in cloning and will undoubtedly lead to more significant breakthroughs. However, is it ethical to clone an extinct animal? The only issue I can see is the “playing God” aspect of its nature, which is bound to offend a good portion of society, but the main issue I think needs to be considered is the practical aspect of cloning extinct creatures. Can they even adapt to the increasingly-changing conditions of our climate? How do they fit in with the food chain of their natural habitat, if it even still exists? With global warming transforming the basics of nature with growing speed, its hard to imagine a clone of an animal that lived long ago in much different conditions, faring well.

7 Responses to “Biotechnology by Ricky Irwin”

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