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

From: ed leitz <edleitz@hotmail.com>
Date: Fri Apr 06 2007 - 10:14:18 EDT

Hi Karen and Mary,

I agree with Mary that genetically modified organisms are a topic that
usually interest students however they are often full of misconceptions.
Unfortunately their perceptions are driven by what they see on TV, read in a
magazine or hear a parent or friend say. I have found that most of out time
in class on this subject is spent on clearing misconceptions. I took a
class a year ago with a professor from the University of Rhode Island on
genetic engineering. I will say that he also worked with a couple of
biotech companies and had personally developed a few genetically modified
plants himself (he developed a cross between a scallion and garlic that was
easy to work with like a scallion but tasted like garlic, he called it the
Italian Scallion), so I am sure he was a supporter of the idea, but one
thing he kept coming back to in the class was that there has never been any
study or work done showing that organic foods were any better for you than
any other food. He was a strong supporter of companies having data to
support their claims. I mention all of this because I believe it gets at
the heart of the problem in that no one is completely sure of the long term
health risks or benefits of the genetically modified organisms.

The video showed the work being done with the golden rice and the addition
of beta carotene to teh rice. I also thought it was an interesting point
that many people in the third world countries who are lacking the vitamin A
also have many other health problems that could lead to their inability to
utalize the vitamins they would be receiving. Just like many of the ideas
presented in this video series this one will be an important part of our
future and something we will all have to learn to live with. It is also a
topic that still has many uncertanties and will need much more research and
study in the future.

Lastly, on the topic of animals I would have to say that I disagree with
Karen when it comes to genetically modified animals for food. I personally
do not believe that animals have the same rights as humans. The idea of
animals producing more and healthier milk, or meat that is better for you, a
low cholesterol egg, or the many other possibilities could have a tremendous
impact on out future. Obviously there needs to be monitoring of the work
and ethics committees overseeing everything but as Karen stated that we have
been selectively breeding plants since the time of Darwin, I beleive we have
been doing the same with plants. Look at what we do today with the
different species of dogs and all the cross breeding and new breeds being
created. I believe that genetically modifying animals in the lab is just a
way to speed the natural process of the evolution of many of these species.


>From: "Karen Blaustein" <kblaustein@haverhill-ps.org>
>Reply-To: Discussion list for REDISCOVERING
>To: "Discussion list for REDISCOVERING BIOLOGY"
>Subject: Re: [Channel-talkbio] Unit 13 : Genetically Modified Organisms
>Date: Wed, 4 Apr 2007 14:19:26 -0400
>Greetings Mary and Ed,
> Selective breeding has existed long before it was even identified
>as "selective breeding". The process of farmers breeding animals and
>plants for certain advantageous characteristics helped Darwin better
>understand the process of natural selection. However, now we have the
>understanding and technology to manipulate genetic material to produce
>desirable characteristics much quicker than ever before. While some
>genetic engineering can be beneficial to humans, we must put limits on
>cloning to prevent the social implications of human cloning to "perfect"
>the human race.
> As Mary commented genetic engineering has saved millions of lives
>by producing vaccines to treat diseases such as diabetes and prevent
>viral infections. Also, there are many plants that have been
>genetically engineered to produce desirable characteristics for both
>food production and for aesthetic purposes. As a gardener, I love to
>look at the catalogs produced by nurseries that carry numerous varieties
>of plants that come in all different colors, sizes and shapes. However,
>what exactly and how has it been modified? I would very much shy away
>from foods that were stamped genetically modified. But as Mary mentioned
>at least 70 percent of our food has been genetically modified. What
>types of modifications in the foods we eat are acceptable? These
>questions are subjective, but I think we should have more access to this
>information. Accordingly, if they were "stamped" genetically modified I
>would most likely not buy the product. It looks like we have already
>lost control over the farmers or companies notifying us what foods have
>been modified. These modifications may not be a problem, but I think
>there should be some controls on the types of modifications and give the
>consumers this information in order for them to determine if they are
>interested in buying these altered products. Personally, modifications
>in plants do not bother me, but animal genetic engineering to produce
>food is not acceptable.
> As with animals, genetically modifying humans with desirable traits
>is not morally ethical. I hope it is appropriate to assume that the
>human race will never legally approve the cloning of humans.
>From: channel-talkbio-bounces@learner.org on behalf of Mary Johnston
>Sent: Mon 4/2/2007 3:52 PM
>To: channel-talkbio@learner.org
>Subject: Re: [Channel-talkbio] Unit 13 : Genetically Modified Organisms
>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
>Channel-talkbio mailing list
>End of Channel-talkbio Digest, Vol 7, Issue 10
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Received on Mon Apr 9 09:12:17 2007


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