Biotechnology – Simone Chen

After listening to guest lecturer, Edward Shanken’s presentation on genetic engineering, I have to say that I definitely learned a lot about glowing rabbits, or more specifically, one glowing rabbit (Alba). It reminded me just how controversial biotechnology (genetic engineering) was.

We have issues with animal rights, with morality, with the right to ‘tamper with life’.  But scientists still continue with their research despite all the complaints and criticisms they receive from pro-animal-rights, pro-organic, pro-et cetera personnel. Why? Well not only to be creative, but “for the good of humanity”.

Ever since we were able to clone Dolly in the late 1990s, scientists became ever more persistent in wanting to “play god” (don’t get me wrong, I am fascinated by the feats that scientists manage to accomplish). Nowadays not only do we have cloning to aid us in our research, we also have genetically modified bacteria (especially to help produce insulin for diabetics) and crops, stem cell research, and “pharm” animals!

My focus today (which should have been my focus last week) is on “pharm animals”. Why? Simply because they’re such fascinating creatures. They are what they are (ie. Sheep are sheep), but are also different in some way unidentifiable by the naked eye.

Look at the following picture for instance:


Other than the BioSteel (spider silk derived from goat milk) seen in class, scientists have managed to insert a whole variety of genes into different animals; some to enhance animal growth, others to create substances for us that are otherwise harder to procure, and still others to discover cures for various diseases. I can see why the former would raise concerns amongst consumers because we never really know if GM crops or meat are 100 percent safe. (The “gene modifying harms animals” argument is really just to build upon the fact that we don’t want ‘unnatural’ foods out of fear of side effects). But the latter two can really help a lot of people, given that they are effective. Take the following news for instance:

“Imagine an inexpensive cancer drug that fights the disease better than other drugs because it uses antibodies tailor-made for each specific tissue to kill the cancer cells. Origen Therapeutics’ new method involves genetically modifying embryonic chicken stem cells with human DNA and implanting the stem cells in chicken embryos. They carefully rear those embryos into mature chickens that will ultimately lay eggs containing customized human monoclonal antibodies, antibodies that could be easily (and inexpensively) collected and injected into human patients. Up until now, scientists have tried to create similar antibodies using mice or hamsters. But it was very slow and very expensive. This new way promises to be faster and cheaper.”

If the above method really worked then cancer-patients will no longer need to go through the grueling process of chemotherapy and take various medication throughout their life. Cures for other diseases could be found through similar methods, and many of the illnesses labeled as “chronic diseases” will no longer be chronic.

Then as a next step, instead of needing to take medication we could genetically modify foods to contain various substances that would boost our immune system. Thus allowing us to say goodbye to medicine and hello to “good” food!



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