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Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Robt Mann <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 30 Dec 2006 11:42:20 +1200
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text/plain (6 kB) , text/html (8 kB) , Schubert_Oct_2002.pdf (49 kB)

		MannGram: Theory and Ethics behind gene-tampering

				L R B  Mann
				       Dec 2003   rev. Jan 2007

	Not only practising gene-manipulators but 
also a much wider range of scientists should 
speak out for much stricter control of 
gene-tampering because it is based on dud 
science.  And even those unconcerned with science 
as such should be concerned at the ethics of the 
gene-tampering trade.
	Prof Richard Strohman has pointed out, in 
a sporadic small series of articles in Nature 
Biotechnology, many defects in the Lego model of 
biology which 'informs' the gene-tampering trade. 
Dogma long refuted is crucial among the axioms of 
the gene-jiggerers, e.g
*  "one gene one protein",
*  "only 4 letters in the DNA code",
*  "insertion of genes from another kingdom by 
illegitimate recombination is equivalent to 
*  "randomness becomes utmost precision as we 
slam in synthetic nucleic acids by weapons-grade 
*  "seen one redwood y' seen 'em all - especially 
once we've patented & cloned lo-lignin sequoia";
*  etc etc. 

	The main characteristic of this set of 
slogans is that they are scientific drivel.  The 
Schubert Letter (Nat  Biotech  Oct 2002 p. 969 - 
attached) would alone serve to refute them.
	The main general scientific answer is 
that nature is far from random.  The idea that 
slapping in  -  randomly!  -  a few genes by 
radically unnatural processes will have more 
predictable effects than offering a whole genome 
of 10^4 - 10^5 genes in cross-pollination is 
wrong for the main reason that it assumes natural 
crosses to be random or nearly so.  A top-level 
affirmation of this assumption was stated by main 
Monsanto-connected gene-jockeys Roger Beachy et 
bulk in their 'enraged' response (Nat  Biotech 
Nov 2002) to the Schubert Letter:-
	' The reality is that "unintentional 
consequences" are much more likely to occur in 
nature than in biotechnology because nature 
relies on the unintentional consequences of blind 
random genetic mutation and rearrangement to 
produce adaptive phenotypic results, whereas GM 
technology employs precise, specific, and 
rationally designed genetic modification toward a 
specific engineering goal. '

  	The immediate response to this furphy is 
that there's almost nothing random in nature.  We 
know, admittedly, v little about the natural 
barriers to error in traditional breeding; that 
does not prove they're unreal or random.  A 
gene-jockey of plants, Prof Patrick Brown, has 
made this & related points at
	What is so precise, specific, or rational 
about GM as done so far?  The answer is, very 
little indeed.  Its outcomes are inherently 
unpredictable.  The tiny minority of target cells 
that both survive and have incorporated somewhere 
in the genome the desired gene cassette will, in 
general, also develop other unforeseeable 
properties, e.g deviant metabolism generating 
toxins or allergens.
	Indeed, the assertion of Beachy et al. is 
refuted by the known figures on frequency of 
unexpected mutations in GM-bastards compared with 
mutation rates from breeding.

	The more fundamental general answer is 
that nature is extremely orderly.  It is complex, 
but not like a bowl of alphabet soup; nature   - 
especially life  -  is systematic.  This should 
be agreed by all scientists, even atheists; of 
course, us theists ascribe the systematic order 
to design, but those who resist belief in design 
will, I hope, agree nature to be systematically 
orderly.  If you think, like Dawkins & Peter 
Atkins, that nature is just the result of the 
outworkings of physics & chemistry, then you 
could fairly easily assume that even random 
insertion of 'cassettes' would be no more likely 
than traditional breeding to cause harm.  If on 
the other hand you believe (to take a specific 
case) that an apple is not just a random 
collection of biochemicals but a creation of a 
benign Creator, and that Grandmother Smith in a 
Seedknee suburb was a humble agent of that 
Creator (selecting a new mutant that had arrived 
according to His rules), then you will contrast 
such natural processes with the overwhelming of 
natural barriers to slam in viral promoters 
joined onto synthetic approximate copies of 
bacterial genes by biolistics or by modified 
T-plasmids - violent processes expected to 
disrupt the target genome.  Breeding entails 
natural protections from error which are 
overwhelmed by gene-tampering.
	 I tend to think it is on this level that 
the issue really turns.  For those who think so, 
re-reading of Genesis 3  may be salutory.    

	In a culture that has largely turned away 
from the religion that gave rise to its legal 
principles, the ethics of gene-tampering is in 
drastic need of fundamental review. 
Gene-jiggering has already sucked in $10^11, and 
still only a few corporations have produced 
anything saleable (except those selling the 
enzyme kits etc for the gene-tampering expts). 
The science behind this commercial frenzy is 
junk; the Lego model of biology never looked 
promising and is now known to be wrong.  Proper 
biology points to the Schubert Letter, and in 
response a gaggle of Monsanto stooges intones 
'enragedly' the moronic atheistic rubbish quoted 
	Never in the history of science has a 
family of "technologies" been developed, and 
deployed in many organisms, based on such junk 
science as stated by Beachy et al. 

	But the ethical appraisal of GM is even 
more backward.  The most dangerous technology of 
all history blunders on, little understood by 
venture-drongos and by ethicists.  The good 
scientists like Pat Brown and David Schubert are 
crucially valuable.  The Union of Concerned 
Scientists should emulate its anti-nuclear 
activism of the golden Kendall era.  Go to it, 
	Much more importantly, If the human has 
no duties to a higher power, how can selfishness 
& greed be curbed?  The religion that gave rise 
to the code of ethics claimed to be implemented, 
if imperfectly, in British & USA legal systems 
had better get involved in renewal of ethics.  It 
is an embarrassment to Christians that a bishop 
(of my denomination) contributed scarcely at all 
to the Royal Commission on GM, flagging away 
opportunities to discuss ethics in public 
hearings.  A minor powerHarpie has set up tiny 
sandpits with pompous titles 'Interchurch 
Commission' etc but has produced nothing 
significant.  As an Anglican I have said for 
years that the churches are the sleepers in the 
movement for control of GM.  I hope & pray they 
will take GM much more seriously.