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Friday, 11 July 2008

Enegineering as a bad word or where genetics is getting us

Two articles on two genetic engineering problems. Human embryos and invasive plants. My comments below are pretty long so I won't bother you with some more. I just want to state: I don't hate genetic modification as a science, I hate their use, because I see the huge potential for corruption it gives.

Engineering by Scientists on Embryo Stirs Criticism

Published: May 13, 2008

Researchers in New York have created what is believed to be the first genetically engineered human embryo, which critics immediately branded as a step toward “designer babies.”

But the researchers, at Cornell University, say they used an abnormal embryo that could never have turned into a baby.

“This particular piece of work was done on an embryo that was never going to be viable,” said Dr. Zev Rosenwaks, director of the Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell hospital. He said the purpose of the work was stem cell research.

That did not stop some from criticizing the work, saying that the techniques being developed could be used by others to create babies with genes modified to make them smarter, taller, more athletic or better looking. They also said there should have been more public discussion.

The Cornell scientists put a gene for a fluorescent protein into the single-celled human embryo. The embryo had three sets of chromosomes instead of two.

After the embryo divided for three days, all the cells in the embryo glowed, Dr. Rosenwaks said. He said the goal of the work was to see if the fluorescent marker would carry into the daughter cells, allowing genetic changes to be traced as cells divided.

The research was presented last fall at a meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. But it received virtually no attention until last weekend, when The Sunday Times of London published an article after the work was mentioned in a British government review of related technology.

Dr. Rosenwaks said the research was approved by a review board at his medical center and was privately financed, so it did not violate federal restrictions on research involving human embryos.

Doctors already put foreign genes into people as part of gene therapy to treat diseases. But those genetic changes generally cannot be passed on to future generations because they are made to only certain types of cells in the body, like blood cells or muscle cells. Genetic changes made to an embryo would theoretically be heritable if the embryo became a baby.

A spokesman for the National Institutes of Health said the Cornell work would not be classified as gene therapy in need of federal review, because a test-tube embryo is not considered a person under the regulations.

Dr. Mark A. Kay, a gene therapy expert at Stanford University, said the Cornell work did not represent a huge technological advance because the scientists used a modified virus, a common gene therapy technique, to ferry the gene into the embryo.

Dr. Kay said genetic modification of embryos could be useful scientifically, as long as it was not used to make designer babies. “I personally don’t see anything wrong with using these embryos and gene transfer techniques to study important aspects of human development,” he said.

Scientists in Oregon reported in 2001 that they had produced a baby monkey containing a fluorescence gene from a jellyfish. They did it by genetically modifying a female’s egg before it was fertilized, rather than modifying an already fertilized embryo. source

My comment: Well. I personally don't see anything THAT wrong with designer babies, though I do have a problem with glowing babies /though just imagine how hot it would be to have sex while you glow in the dark or be in a club and glow/. I mean, what's wrong with making your baby taller or blonder? Ok, as a not so tall person I don't see the use of being tall- being smaller give you some good bonuses-your clothes are smaller and you can put more of them in the washing machine for example. But anyway, you want a taller baby, have it! What's the difference between engineering the baby or finding him/her a tall daddy. It's more or less the same.

I think it's more important to have that discussion for our sake than for the babies sake. Because it's important to understand what do WE consider pretty/useful/nice and WHY so that we don't end up with exotic people tall 3m, with purple hair and 3 legs. I don't have problems communicating with such people and I believe people will eventually accept anyone /after they accept women and non-white, non-black or non-asian people as equal/. What I do mind however is to have 90% of the babies blond. Or something like that. Loosing genetical information and uniformising the population are not stuff I consider useful for us, like a civilisation. Quite on the contrary. They are dangerous as they bear the possibility of stagnation. And they are totally not cool.

That's why I find it more important to discuss our options and see what is acceptable and what is not. For example, if possible, should you give more hands to your child to make it more skillful? /Another question is can the brain manipulate more limbs than the original plan, but I guess it can/ Some people would say it's an abomination going to far from the human as a specie, but i consider people weighting more than 150kg to be just as disgusting. Yup, they can be very nice people, but I just don't think our body was designed for so much weight. Anyway, what I want to say is that the norm is unclear and people should be very well aware what they are doing and is it useful or not. It's a conversation we must have and have it in an honest way. Nature is great, but if we can modify something, chances are we will, the question is to what extent and in what direction we should do it.

New Trend in Biofuels Has New Risks

Published: May 21, 2008

ROME — In the past year, as the diversion of food crops like corn and palm to make biofuels has helped to drive up food prices, investors and politicians have begun promoting newer, so-called second-generation biofuels as the next wave of green energy. These, made from non-food crops like reeds and wild grasses, would offer fuel without the risk of taking food off the table, they said.

But now, biologists and botanists are warning that they, too, may bring serious unintended consequences. Most of these newer crops are what scientists label invasive species — that is, weeds — that have an extraordinarily high potential to escape biofuel plantations, overrun adjacent farms and natural land, and create economic and ecological havoc in the process, they now say.

At a United Nations meeting in Bonn, Germany, on Tuesday, scientists from the Global Invasive Species Program, the Nature Conservancy and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, as well as other groups, presented a paper with a warning about invasive species.

“Some of the most commonly recommended species for biofuels production are also major invasive alien species,” the paper says, adding that these crops should be studied more thoroughly before being cultivated in new areas.

Controlling the spread of such plants could prove difficult, the experts said, producing “greater financial losses than gains.” The International Union for Conservation of Nature encapsulated the message like this: “Don’t let invasive biofuel crops attack your country.”

To reach their conclusions, the scientists compared the list of the most popular second-generation biofuels with the list of invasive species and found an alarming degree of overlap. They said little evaluation of risk had occurred before planting.

The biofuels industry said the risk of those crops morphing into weed problems is overstated, noting that proposed biofuel crops, while they have some potential to become weeds, are not plants that inevitably turn invasive.

The European Union and the United States have both instituted biofuel targets as a method to reduce carbon emissions.

The European Union is funding a project to introduce the “giant reed, a high-yielding, non-food plant into Europe Union agriculture,” according to its proposal. The reed is environmentally friendly and a cost-effective crop, poised to become the “champion of biomass crops,” the proposal says.

A proposed Florida biofuel plantation and plant, also using giant reed, has been greeted with enthusiasm by investors, its energy sold even before it is built.

But the project has been opposed by the Florida Native Plants Society and a number of scientists because of its proximity to the Everglades, where giant reed overgrowth could be dangerous, they said. The giant reed, previously used mostly in decorations and in making musical instruments — is a fast-growing, thirsty species that has drained wetlands and clogged drainage systems in other places where it has been planted. It is also highly flammable and increases the risk of fires.

From a business perspective, the good thing about second-generation biofuel crops is that they are easy to grow and need little attention. But that is also what creates their invasive potential.

“These are tough survivors, which means they’re good producers for biofuel because they grow well on marginal land that you wouldn’t use for food,” Dr. Howard said. “But we’ve had 100 years of experience with introductions of these crops that turned out to be disastrous for environment, people, health.”

Stas Burgiel, a scientist at the Nature Conservancy, said the cost of controlling invasive species is immense and generally not paid by those who created the problem.

But he and other experts emphasized that some of the second-generation biofuel crops could still be safe if introduced into the right places and under the right conditions

The Global Invasive Species Program estimates that the damage from invasive species costs the world more than $1.4 trillion annually — five percent of the global economy.

Jatropha, the darling of the second-generation biofuels community, is now being cultivated widely in East Africa in brand new biofuel plantations. But jatropha has been recently banned by two Australian states as an invasive species. If jatropha, which is poisonous, overgrows farmland or pastures, it could be disastrous for the local food supply in Africa, experts said.

But Mr. De Greef said jatropha had little weed potential in most areas, adding: “Just because a species has caused a problem in one place doesn’t make it a weed everywhere.” source

My comment: Lol, that was very funny to read. Deny and deny. States of denial. And what's even more funny is that the home of GMo plants is banning GM biofuel plants. I mean, any contradiction here? You can soil you're neighbour's plantation and make him pay Monsanto for using something he never wanted on the first place, but on the other side, you hate to see what the stuff are doing to your Nature? Hmmm. Ok, leaving the negativity.

The point is clear-each of those plants should be considered if it safe for each region that considers growing it. There should be a genuine risk assessment and if it's ok, then a permission should be granted. The problem is also clear:who's going to risk assess? Because obviously this organisation will be VERY important. Which should read- easy to corrupt. And if it's easy to corrupt who's going to monitor it and make sure we won't wake up in a field of giant reeds or whatever? This is a very possible situation btw. Consider normal grass and how annoying it is when you try to grow something else than grass. You take the roots out, it grows again. Your plants can die from 10000 things, the grass survives. It can be fought, but it's annoying, exhausting and in the end, it's hard. So, we should be very careful with that!

2 comments:

The Pagan Temple said...

Was there a link to the story about the "designer baby"? I'm just wondering why I never heard about this until now.

Denitsa said...

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/13/science/13embryo.html?ref=science

This is the story from NYTimes.