Genetic engineering, good idea, bad idea?

You may not know it, but human beings have been genetically engineering crops and animals since prehistoric times.  What originally started as selection for beneficial characteristics – such as a higher yield for crops, or individuals which were smaller and less pointy (and therefore easier to manage) in the case of animals,-  has now reached delicate and global proportions.  Whilst this was originally applied to species upon which we still rely for food and secondary products such as milk, wool and honey, the same species manipulation now also encompasses breeding programmes for endangered species which would have long died out without the efforts of people to selectively breed them to boost a wild population, such as the peregrine falcon, several species of seahorses and orang utans.

Recently there was a newspaper story about scientists releasing modified mosquitos into the wild, so as to curb and eventually bring down the numbers of these insects, in a bid to control the spread of mosquito bourne infectious diseases.

So, what are your thoughts?  Should an individual be responsible for making this kind of decision to try and postitively enhance our environment? Do you think that decisions such as this should be included in political debates and be put to a public vote?  Is too much environmental control a bad thing?  If you had the ability and chance to change another species primarily to benefit mankind, would you, and what would you choose?  If you are for some species manipulations but not others, where do you define the line?

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2 thoughts on “Genetic engineering, good idea, bad idea?

  1. Wow! What a big question. Where do I start to think about an answer? I agree that mankind has in the past been manipulating the world of plants and animals in a small way for human advantage. Has this always been a good thing? On the whole yes, but there may have been some changes (my knowledge of them is not good) where damage may have been done to the environment as a result of trying to improve our lot. But then again, more species have become extinct than are alive today without the intervention of humans, so what do we really mean by genetic engineering? Selective breeding on the scale of the hunter/gatherers as they became resident farmers is not quite the same as taking genes from one creature whether plant or animal and putting it into the gamete of a completely different species to in effect create a new being. Using jelly fish genes to make other creatures glow in the dark may be clever but is it really necessary just to prove some scientist can do it?
    Having thought about it some more as I have been typing this, has lead me to the conclusion that perhaps Mother Nature knows better than we do what is really good for us and we should leave it to her. Take the volume of humans now alive on this planet. They need to be controlled. OK it is a nice thought to cure every disease and never have a baby die and to live for more than our three score years and ten, but why should it be so?
    I do not intend to expand this comment into the metaphysical debate of the reasons for our taking human form, but maybe we are not intended to stay here for protracted lengths of time and famine and disease are ways of keeping our sojourn on the Earth relatively short if not always sweet.
    In answer to your questions: 1. Public debate is good if the right people are interested i.e. the ones who will be affected by the results, not just the well educated people who think they know best what the rest of us need. Referenda usually fall well below expectations because people cannot be bothered to take part or do not understand fully what is being asked of them. Politicians think they speak for their constituents but this is rarely the case so we should not trust them to make the decisions for us, therefore some debate is necessary. Not an answer I know, but I am a mugwump. 2. I am all for a simple life and find modern inventions, wonderful as they may be, not always in our best interests. If there is a near extiction event tomorrow, it will not be the genetic engineers who survive, it will be the campers who live off the land, so I would not be tempted to change anything, enough has been done already.

  2. I think any time you take nature out of the experiment (ie like not just cross pollenating, or choosing one animal to mate with another) you leave the world in danger. Things are how they are because nature is pretty good at the job. We’re NOT! We’re probably the worst thing to happen to the planet ever.
    I would argue that the money wasted on growing ears on the backs of mice and turning cows luminous green, would be better spent on other things…..like saving the planet from becoming a huge poisonous swamp, or covered in “grey goo” (look that one up, truely frightening!). Stop messing with things in my name is the message I always try to put across!

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