Paul P. Mealing

Check out my book, ELVENE. Available as e-book and as paperback (print on demand, POD). 2 Reviews: here. Also this promotional Q&A on-line.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Genetic engineering is not an evil conspiracy

There is a lot of hysteria about GM foods and genetic engineering in general, yet it’s a path to providing benefit to all of humankind in the same way that all the scientific endeavours of the past 2 centuries have done for anyone living in a Western society. It’s true that science and technology has also provided us with military advances that could literally destroy the planet, but the technology that drove 2 world wars in the last century also gave us accessible air travel, computers and satellite navigation and communication, albeit the last are really consequences of the Cold War.

I’ve just finished watching Brian Cox’s BBC series, The Human Universe, and, in the last programme, he extols us to value knowledge for its own sake and not just to deliver economic gains, and to raise science to an enlightenment subject in education. He doesn’t use the term ‘enlightenment’ but I do because not enough people realise how enlightening it is and has been since the time of Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler.

In a recent episode of Catalyst, they provide a mini-doco (9 mins long) on the work of Prof David Craik, which promises breakthrough developments in medicine for the whole world using genetic engineering techniques.

I’m not sure if the programme can be accessed outside Australia, but essentially Craik has worked in the area of ‘cyclotides’, which are cyclic peptides found in nature. Cyclic peptides aren’t broken down in our bodies so we can use the structure on other peptides allowing us to deliver specific ‘drugs’ to combat specific diseases. This is molecular engineering, but we can also use plants as 'factories' to create these drugs and deliver them in their seeds to third world countries (genetic engineering).

The general public is very ignorant about the role of bio-molecular science and how the world can benefit from these interventions. Instead, genetically modified crops are seen as an evil conspiracy by corporations to control the world’s food production. The truth is that humanity has been genetically modifying crops for centuries - well before Darwin’s theory of natural selection - by artificially selecting genes in both crops and domestic animals. Almost nothing we eat hasn’t been genetically modified from its natural habitat due to human intervention.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, very few politicians are science-literate, and many see science as a servant to economic policy and nothing more. The truth is that only science can save humanity from itself. As Brian Cox reminds us (more than once) we are ‘special’ and possibly unique to the universe, in that we can appreciate the much bigger picture of the whole universe and understand our place in it. We are the only species on the planet that has the ability to transcend our origins, and, arguably, we have an obligation to pursue that, and we can only do that through science.

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