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Re: [Channel-talkbio] Unit 13 : Genetically Modified Organisms

From: Mary Johnston <mjohnston@haverhill-ps.org>
Date: Mon Apr 02 2007 - 15:52:47 EDT

Dear Karen and Ed,
    Genetic engineering is a fascinating subject and one that is just
coming to the forefront in the U.S. One of my students happened to do a
a paper recently on what was dubbed "Frankenfood". This is the name for
crops genetically modified to express certain characteristics. She cited
a statistic that 70% of our food is genetically modified in some way.
Obviously there is benefit in making hardier, disease-resistant more
productive crops. This is especially true in places where famine is
pervasive. Can you imagine engineering a food crop that would need
little rich soil and not much water and thrive in the harsh desert
conditions of some parts of Africa? This could solve many social ills.
       The use of genetic engineering has already saved countless lives.
Think about the bacterial vector that is used to make insulin to save
the lives of thousands of diabetics each day. Think about the vaccine
research and cancer research that depends on the use of recombinant DNA
techniques in order to make progress. However, I believe there is also
a downside to this research. I remember that scientists were able to
grow a human ear out of a mouse's back when I was at UMASS. While an
interesting experiment, there is the potential for abuse and
unneccessary experimentation. Often in text books you will see things
like a tomato plant that glows due to genetic recombination with the
enzyme luciferase that makes a firefly light up. Kids always think this
is cool and it piques their interest, but usually then leads to
questions like "Could we do that in a human?". I thnk there is a danger
here that if humans start engineering too much, we will try and "design"
children in the future to meet our needs. We will take away the
delicate beauty of "Mother Nature" and revert to trying to design
perfection. This should not be. Therefore, while I am a fan of
progress, I am not a fan of genetic engineering just for the sake of
seeing what will happen or to improve upon so-called minor flaws. I
hope that genetic engineering will only be used to cure diseases and
stop maladies not to engineer people and try to achieve the elusive
ideal of perfection. Let me know your thoughts.
Mary Johnston


From: channel-talkbio-bounces@learner.org on behalf of
Sent: Wed 3/28/2007 12:00 PM
To: channel-talkbio@learner.org
Subject: Channel-talkbio Digest, Vol 7, Issue 10

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Today's Topics:

   1. Re: Unit 12: Biodiversity (Mary Johnston)


Message: 1
Date: Wed, 28 Mar 2007 08:11:26 -0400
From: "Mary Johnston" <mjohnston@haverhill-ps.org>
Subject: Re: [Channel-talkbio] Unit 12: Biodiversity
To: <channel-talkbio@learner.org>

Hi Karen and Ed,
   This week's unit was biodiversity and what an expansive topic this
is! It's funny that this was the topic for the week because my husband
rented the movie "Happy Feet" and we started watching it. At the
beginning is a fairly long commercial targeted at the overfishing of our
oceans and how this is contributing to the loss of biodiversity. There
is a campaign for restaurants and even seafood companies to label their
products with a seal of approval which basically indicates that the
seafood caught met current fish/wildlife preservation guidelines. It was
good to see a big budget commercial movie that actually had a
conscience. I have thought many times about over-fishing myself because
my husband and I sometimes like to go deep sea fishing and the captain
of the boat is always using radar to target the schools of fish, so it
is essentially always a "big catch" day. Probably a large number of
people don't eat what they catch. It is more for the glory of getting
the big fish. In any case, I can see seafood prices going on the rise
as they become even more scarce or as with certain types of fish have to
be raised in fish farms because there has been so much oevr-fishing in
the wild.
      I was also thinking about the movie "Medicine Man" with Sean
Connory. This is a fictionalized account of a scientist who finds an
accidental cure for cancer while in the rainforest, but due to human
encroachment and other issues, he cannot ever seem to find it again and
his work is lost. The scientist is against anyone else coming in and
trying to "help" him because he realizes that once many people arrive,
they will start destroying the habitat and that is exactly what happens.
In the end, the cure eludes the scientist and it is a sad story of the
loss of so much biodiversity and so much hope for a cure for cancer.
This movie probably isn't appropriate to show to kids because it has
severe language in it and some students might be immature about the
dress of the native tribes in the film, but I think the general theme
fits right in with this week's topic.
       The more we explore nature, the more variety of living things we
find. These living things are a critical part of our global community.
Understanding and preserving them could prove key to many of our
unaswered questions, particularly in medical science. For example, in
recent years it was dicovered that the Japanes Yew tree can be used to
make the drug taxol which has some anti-cancer effects. If we destroy
or fragment habitats in which this organism and many others thrive, then
we are perhaps hurting our chances of saving many lives and finding
cures to diseases that plague us.
         I know that with population sizes always on the rise and the
ever increasing demand for new buildinggs and restaurants and
technology, that it seems logical for us to keep building more and more.
However, we are all familiar with the idea of carrying capacity. That
is, we reach a critical mass and then begin poisoning ourselves.
Perhaps more preservation and protection laws will make us better
utilize already developed land. For example, instead of destroying
farms to build companies and highways, let's revitalize urban areas.
They are already developed, so if new buildings are put there the impact
on the wildlife will not be so severe and it will provide jobs for
people in the local community. Our own district of Haverhill is
attempting to do this. Instead of just developing the rural part of the
city, there is a group of citizens trying to push for revitalization of
the urban areas. I think this is a great idea. Do you two have any
suggestions to the loss of biodiversity dilemma? Let me know.
Mary Johnston



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Received on Mon Apr 2 15:54:28 2007


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