Reflection and Enemies of Promise In the last three decades, a great advance in genetic research and biotechnology has occurred. Max Born said in his essay, “Reflection,” “But suddenly, about three hundred years ago, an explosion of mental activity occurred: modern science and technology were born. Since then, they have increased at an ever growing rate, probably faster than exponentially, and are now transforming the human world beyond recognition” (209). Similarly, Michael Bishop said in ” Enemies of Promise,” “We live in an age of scientific triumph.
Science has solved many of nature’s puzzles and greatly enlarged human knowledge” (237). Both scientists have written their essays before the present controversies over genetic engineering and the biotechnology research, but it is amazing how true their predictions are, considering the number of protests and fears generated by these researches. The genetic engineering science has always been in the human mind since the famous French scientist, Mendel, discovered the genetic dominant characters in some plants in the 16th century, and he started cross changing the characters to get strong plants with fast growth and more production.
Nowadays after discovering the DNA by the American scientist James Watson “. . . that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material” (138), genetic engineering became a matter of interest for many scientists. Every scientist is trying to use a new method either on plant or animal to increase its production. Some of these new methods are being used already, and many of the foods that people eat now are mass-produced through many methods of the genetic engineering to feed world’s overpopulation.
The world population is increasing tremendously because of medical progress. “Medicine has overcome most plagues and epidemic diseases and it has doubled the human life span within a single generation: the result is catastrophic overpopulation” (Born 209). Because of the increase in population the demand for food has also increased such as in India and China. Also the decrease of the water resources, because of earth’s dryness, as worsened the food production situations as in different parts of Africa. Therefore, population increase and earth’s dryness give very good reasons for scientists to do their research on developing a new technology that will provide human needs. There is no doubt that science and technology play important roles in human lives, and as Born said “science has become an integral and most important part of our civilization, and has social, economic, and political functions. (209) Before discussing whether the biotechnology and genetic researches have a good impact on human lives, first, it is better to consider what they have to offer. For example, in plants, biotechnology provides the types that have the same genetic character like the original plants but also, survive with little amount of water, have a self-defense mechanism against insects and can grow faster under the normal condition. In animals, biotechnology has improved and increased the production of milk and meat.
As a result, a higher production of food resources, to feed the world’s overpopulation at cheaper prices, has been achieved, so any fear about this is unrealistic. In spite of such successes, some methods have bad side effects on humans, for example, the insecticides, used in killing plant’s pests such as arsenic, proves to be a carcinogenic material. As in the essay, “Elixirs of Death,” by Rachel Carson, “Arsenic was the first recognized elementary carcinogen ” (9).
Also, some scientists use female’s hormones to give faster growth to chickens and cows, and to get more milk from cows. This method proves to have bad side effects on men and on women. But nowadays, with the new genetic engineering techniques they can provide the same quality with methods that are not harmful, however, some people still have justifiable fears. More fears of those new products that are being displayed every day in the markets are developing. The fears come from many aspects; one is the safety of those methods on human race.
The fear increased after a disease called “mad cow” affected genetically engineered cows in Britain and that disease got transmitted to humans, causing deaths of many people. Nobody knows till now the extent of the spread of that disease and whether it has a reliable treatment. Probably, some of the genetically engineered crops or animals may transmit any kind of diseases that will be discovered later, and may be fatal to human race. Such fears can be genuine and justified.
Another fear is the fast spread of the biotechnology that may eliminate the natural way of plants and animal reproduction, and human food in future will be completely genetically engineered. In this case, some countries that do not have this technology will depend on the other countries, which will be a new method of colonization. Also, any disease that occurs to these genetically engineered corps or animals will be widely spread and may cause extinction of such crops or animals. And those that do not have that disease will be highly expensive.
For example, after the spread of the “mad cow” disease in Europe, farmers had to destroy thousands of diseased cows trying to eliminate it. The prices of meat, milk, butter and cheese showed a significant increase. Some countries, like Netherlands, which depend on exporting cows showed a high drop in their economy in the last three years, and the United States started screening people traveling from Britain for fear of bringing “mad cow” disease into this country, according to Dan Rather in CBS news.
Some of the fears of the side effects of biotechnology are not proven yet, but some problems caused by “mad cow” disease are realistic and justified. In spite of that, people should understand the need for new food technology, and the scientists’ reasons behind these researches, and stop blaming scientists for the destructive effects as Born said, “Though I have not taken part in applying scientific knowledge to destructive purposes . . . I feel my own responsibility” (Born 212).
Instead, government regulation should make it the job of the FDA department to make sure of the safety of these methods. In addition, the scientists should be ethically educated, so they do not cross their limits in an attempt to achieve their personal goals and fame, but should be within the safety limits for the human beings. So, genetic and biotechnology researches should continue till they get the best results which will have proofs of no bad side effects that may result in further justified fears.