Help - Search - Members - Calendar
Full Version: Another Genetics Dilemma
America's Debate > Archive > Assorted Issues Archive > [A] Science and Technology
Google
Wertz
Dr. Austin Burt, a biologist at Imperial College in London, has recently come up with a scheme for eradicating some of the world's most pernicious diseases, such as malaria and West Nile disease. He proposes the use of cutting-edge genetic technology to make entire species of disease-carrying insects extinct.

The technique involves introducing Homing Endonuclease Genes (HEGs) into, say, the mosquito population. HEGs are special genetic sequences found in the DNA of many species. They are one of a number of "selfish" genetic elements which exploit genetic processes to replicate themselves. They can also be used, apparently, to create genetically unstable third-generation offspring. In other words, the grandchildren of two genetically altered adults will not survive. Dr. Burt suggests that a mosquito species could be driven to extinction within about twelve generations - or, given the short mating cycle of mosquitos, less than one year.

Should his proposal be put into practice, the most likely target (or first target) would be malaria mosquitos, members of the genus Anopheles. Every year, 1.5 - 2.5 million people die from malaria - mostly children. To eliminate the Anopheles mosquitos would essentially be to eliminate malaria. Most people, I imagine, would say that, if a disease like malaria could be eliminated, why not? Especially as other species of the mosquito family (Culicidae) would be able to fill any empty ecological niches.

My concern would be with giving humans the god-like power to annihilate entire species at will. Why stop with malaria? Why not use the same technique against tse-tse flies or the carriers of the West Nile virus? If we begin removing species for medical reasons and such a technique becomes an increasingly acceptable option, what's to stop us removing potential disease carriers or merely annoying creatures such as fleas or ticks? And what's to stop us from using this techniques for financial, rather than humanitarian, reasons? Why not use HEGs to eliminate crop pests, for example?

Once we have established the precedent of consciously playing god by eradicating an entire species, what's to stop us from taking on more and more pests, for whatever reason? Should we take this first, god-like step or should we seek other solutions to diseases like malaria? Or is it worth risking the consequences if we can indeed eliminate a killer of millions?
Google
Abs like Jesus
I don't think those in control of such programs would stop at mosquitos but rather continue as different rationalizations for the slaughter of another species presented themselves -- regardless of how questionable such action might be.

I think it goes beyond just having the power to do it, though. I can't help but think of Chaos Theory and that butterfly bit: a butterfly in Peking flaps its wings causing a thunderstorm in New York days or weeks later. Who's to say what the ramifications of such action would be?

To simplify, think of that whole Circle of Life bit from The Lion King. Eliminating what appears to be a threat (a minor one at that) could very well present us with another, presently unknown threat. It is in many ways our exposure to diseases such as malaria, spread by organisms like mosquitos, that allow our immune systems to evolve and continue to protect us.

I don't think humans need to be "playing God," and certainly not on such a large scale. Beyond that, I think such action would have deleterious effects on humanity overall. unsure.gif
Victoria Silverwolf
I have very mixed feelings. I would support such an effort if there were very strong evidence that there would not be any unexpected effect on the ecology as a whole (as Abs quite rightly points out.) This would probably prove difficult, but I think it would be possible.

I don't have much of a problem with the whole idea of "Playing God" -- this is sort of the definition of science and technology, which I believe to be the noblest efforts of the human race. (The arts, including literature, would be a very close second place.)
Julian
This is nothing new, ever since we emerged as a dominant species we've been selectively breeding the ones that are useful to us, and at best ignoring all others.

If you think that we can only make species extinct within twelve generations by deliberate action, especially if we perceive they pose some kind of threat to us, or the unintended consequences of apparently unrelated action, go to your local natural history museum and look at the stuffed remains of the Passenger Pigeon, the European Lion, the Dodo, the Thyclacine, Sabre-toothed cats, Irish Elk, etc.

Ever since the lifecycle of malarial parasites was first discovered, we've been trying to eliminate Anopheles species, as we have with the Aedes mosquitos that spread Yellow Fever. The fact is, only now, with genetic engineering, will it be possible for us to do so without gross effects on the rest of the ecosystems they inhabit (remember the effects of the DDT we sprayed on every tropical pond or puddle we found?).

Certainly there should be research to ensure that the genetic 'bullet' only hits the intended target - just as there should be more research to ensure that GM food plant do not have unintended effects on other plant and animal species (the reason Europe has generally opposed GM foods to date) - but let's not pretend that, should we ever be able to take out disease vectors without unintended consequences, we'll hold back for the sake of the poor little mosquitos.
Hugo
What effect would this have on the bat population? Many unanswered questions here. Jocelyn Elders said it best "People gotta die of something". Not sure if that is an exact quote.
Amlord
Talk about opening Pandora's box...

The ramifications are staggering, even if done with a noble purpose.

I am against Man playing God.
Julian
QUOTE(amlord @ Apr 10 2003, 07:16 PM)
Talk about opening Pandora's box...

The ramifications are staggering, even if done with a noble purpose.

I am against Man playing God.

Then cancel your medical insurance biggrin.gif
nileriver
even if it could cure birth defects and other forms of medical problems in alot of people, i think right now humans are to stupid to work with it on any grand scale. at best play god with types of low level plants, insects, until we actually fully grasp something that simple. but just because america has decided to not use it(i wonder) that does not mean other countries wont either..

and on to a human side, my step-mother died of brain cancer, its genetic in the family. my step brother may develope it someday, to rid stuff like that with genetics would be nice, but as of now, i think people are to early on the science.
unabomber
I don't think we should be doing major things like this until we get it down to an exact science. and even then we shouldn't use it to wipe out entire species for any reason.

QUOTE
Every year, 1.5 - 2.5 million people die from malaria - mostly children.
yet this many (and probably more) are born everyday. I am kind of against things that save more lives. the world is overpopulated as is, 2 million every year out of 6 billion and rising each year is small. yes, death is bad, but it is also natural, and needed (seeing as for now we are stuck on this ball of mud)
Ultimatejoe
Actually, lower infant mortality rates usually lead to lower birth-rates; so saving young lives is a zero-sum excercise in terms of global population. However, tampering with an eco-system and biodiversity to achieve this is at best an EXTREMELY risky proposition.
Google
moif
The idea that simply removing an entire species from the eco system will some how make life better for us is so monumentally stupid that I am severely disappointed in my humanity. To think that I belong to a race capable of such staggering stupidity is just so depressing that I almost hope these idiots get the go ahead so they can hasten the end of the eco system and end the global tyranny of primates.

Any ten year old can tell you that life works because it maintains a balance. When you remove a species from that balance, you tip the scales and this will affect all the other creatures in the food chain.

Its bad enough that we have already killed off thousands of species in the last century, and that every free ranging large animal, whether they live in the savannah, the rain forests or the arctic is now an endangered species.

Do we really need to be destroying a species simply because we believe that it will do some good? Since when did mankind ever demonstrate the ability to see the long term effects of its actions well enough to continue to make the same mistakes again and again and again?

Enough already! This planet is a damned mess and its about time we did some cleaning up. We don't need to get rid of any diseases, it won't stop people dying!!!
Greenring7
Until man can create *something* from sheer *nothingness* by act of will, man is not CAPABLE of playing God.

Genetic science is just the process of building a better mousetrap. When I was going to fly to Senegal, I was looking at over $250 of vaccinations/perscriptions.

If we could destroy the malaria parasite, wipe out typoid, yellow fever, menengitus, hepatitus, etc. we'd be better off. Hell, I heard they even have a chicken pox vaccination now. To think, I'm only 20, and I have scars from the chicken pox....

-Robert
Abs like Jesus
You're not thinking grand enough, Greenring.
QUOTE
If we could destroy the malaria parasite, wipe out typoid, yellow fever, menengitus, hepatitus, etc. we'd be better off.
Only through a myopic lens would we be better off. Sure, those would be a few less hassles we would have to face as far as illness, but it says nothing about the effect it would have on the development of our immune systems or on the entire ecosystem for that matter. While these illnesses are inconveniences to our species, little black clouds if you will, these illnesses and other inconveniences have their silver linings on a bigger stage.

The world isn't here just for us to enjoy and control anyway we see fit. We are but a single member of our ecosystem and have no business trying to tinker with nature in such ways. While we may find ourselves capable of doing it, it is virtually impossible to foresee the devastating effects such actions could bring. blink.gif

While you may view genetics as "building a better mousetrap," we would be wise not to forget how often we are both the builders and the mice.
Mrs. Pigpen
QUOTE(Abs like Jesus @ Jun 15 2003, 02:10 PM)
You're not thinking grand enough, Greenring.
QUOTE
If we could destroy the malaria parasite, wipe out typoid, yellow fever, menengitus, hepatitus, etc. we'd be better off.
Only through a myopic lens would we be better off. Sure, those would be a few less hassles we would have to face as far as illness, but it says nothing about the effect it would have on the development of our immune systems or on the entire ecosystem for that matter. While these illnesses are inconveniences to our species, little black clouds if you will, these illnesses and other inconveniences have their silver linings on a bigger stage.

The world isn't here just for us to enjoy and control anyway we see fit. We are but a single member of our ecosystem and have no business trying to tinker with nature in such ways. While we may find ourselves capable of doing it, it is virtually impossible to foresee the devastating effects such actions could bring. blink.gif

While you may view genetics as "building a better mousetrap," we would be wise not to forget how often we are both the builders and the mice.

It's okay Abs. You're right...We ARE the mice, and nature has a way of working around mouse traps. We also have vaccines for hepatitis A and B, yellow fever, typhoid, and meningitis C. Anti-oxidative drugs are very effective to combat malaria.
santasdad
Doesnt sound like much of an idea. I am, however, in favor of destroying all human life to make way for a hyperspace bypass.
Jaime
QUOTE(santasdad @ Jun 20 2003, 11:02 PM)
Doesnt sound like much of an idea. I am, however, in favor of destroying all human life to make way for a hyperspace bypass.

Please try and be constructive in your posts sad.gif
This is a simplified version of our main content. To view the full version with more information, formatting and images, please click here.
Invision Power Board © 2001-2021 Invision Power Services, Inc.