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TECHNOLOGICAL OPTIMISM

By John Newberry
  

The power of science today is a bewildering concept to many people, too foreign to be understood or accepted. Yet, when one searches deep they may understand that seemingly impossible forecasts from scientists may actually be true and far less scary than they once seemed. The lack of understanding always creates fear and paranoia but today, scientist and optimist alike, want to open the eyes of the non-believers and non-acceptors.

Genetics may be the answer to many problems of today. Genetically modified organisms may be the precursor for the curing of cancer. Food shortages may be brought to a halt and rejuvenation may not only be a dream for the human race. None of this will be possible though if genetic engineering is allowed politically bashing and misrepresentation. There is a multitude of political parties forever seeking to demolish the use of these biotechnical revolutions including that of Ralph Nadar and the Green Party and other political and environmental groups.

The first genetically altered food to be field-tested was a tomato in 1987. It was genetically manipulated to withstand the effect of a certain virus that was destroying many tomato crops. The scientist, Roger Beachy, added in discussing the procedure "Two genes, that's all I added. Two genes among maybe 50,000.?Gorner, Kotulak; 2) Since this successful experiment, the last thirteen years have led to many new discovers including the mapping of the human genome and DNA sequence. This is a relative new idea, spanning only a decade and a half but it has the potential to rebuild many century old practices that have extremely detrimental effects to the environment and ecosystems.

There are many genetically modified organisms (GMO) or food products already in use. Since Roger Beachy's experiments, soybean, potatoes, canola, flax, and cotton, among many others are in use today. GMO have been used in certain products including cheese, milk, oil, squash, and yeast (and many more) without any complaints for many years. There were no ill effects and people have yet to load the bandwagon to disrupt the progress of these products. Sixty percent of all processed foods contain GMOs. Action groups complain about the dangers of these procedures but the scientist, pharmers, and genetics specialist know exactly what they are and are not putting in these crops. They know much more about the genetic make-up of the plants now compared to 10 years ago.

Genetically engineering is not a game of chance. Researches understand the effects certain genes will have upon the product. Each gene has specific uses and is used in specific ways. Critics of gene therapy have the same complaint, "we don't know the health risk involved?yet gene therapist understand the impact one or two changes in the genetic make-up will have. These added genes, for example a corn was made that had one extra gene (an insecticide) to ward off or kill the European corn borer (an insect that eats the plant). Although this is an insecticide and is produced by the plant, it is completely harmless to humans. It also decreased the amount if outside insecticides being used. Therefore it cost the grower less and the outside insecticides have less negative impact on the surrounding ecosystems. It is estimated that over thirty percent of the corn grown in the United States has this extra gene and there have been no harmful effects reported.

The complaints about these altered foods are in many ways common complaints about food in general. One complaint is that of new allergies that will effect the general population. This can be easily tested and is. A Pioneer Hi-Bred soybean with a Brazil-nut protein added was abandoned after test because it proved to cause allergic reactions. This is a necessary risk that we take. This possibility of allergic reactions was tested and rejected. The regulations are being followed and poor products never make it to the market. It is a simple process because only one or two genes are being transferred into the new gene. Using control groups it is easy to test the effects a single gene will have on the general population. Problems can be easily pinpointed because there is little mystery in the modified organisms.

Societies in general react to new technologies in negative ways. All possible research cannot be done before a product is released. Many dangers will take years to understand. Society should use a cost/benefit analysis. When the benefits outweigh the costs it is a good product. Society has reacted the same way to other new technologies of the past. Planes, trains and automobiles for example, it took time for these inventions to evolve and many lives were lost, but could we possibly do without them today. It is estimated that in fifty years the earth will be a shelter for over 9 billion people. The technological advances are necessary if we want to feed this amount of people and have the ability to cope with mass disease and plague. This 50 percent increase could have negative effects if new technologies are not taken into consideration. (The Ohioline)

The common themes of many scientists are that GMOs could have harmful effects in the future. There is little clear evidence to support the opinions of these scientist that predict the worst. There is no doubt that in the thirties and forties scientists of the same mentality were against nuclear research and usage. Biotechnology and more research in the biotechnology field are the only possible positions. It seems irrational to allow the "what ifs?to stop research and technology that could be the answer to hundreds of social problems that we encounter on a daily basis.

Foods are not the only example of how this biotech revolution can be used. People can be positively manipulated as well. Research is still in the early stages but it will no doubt be completely understood in the near future. In many petri dish experiments, worm like creatures have been manipulated to live 50 times their normal life spans. Many experiments are in constant progression to understand the life spans of humans. Is this idea really as unethical and immoral as people claim? In the last hundred years, through breakthrough medical advances, the life expectancy of humans has more than doubled. Thirty-seven years as the average life span to seventy-six years is a significant number that will still be improved upon. This number has grown because of evolution in the medical field and because of understanding the body human body. The intricate heart and brain surgeries Doctors do today were once unheard of and impossible.

Flies and worms are living increasingly longer and longer in the laboratories. People should not be so shocked. The old way of thinking about senescence is being challenged by many scientist and biologist and to our growing surprise and excitement these experiments should work for humans as well. (Kluger, 1) The idea of bringing this research to a halt is bewildering when it is the only proposed solution to many of today's problems. If life spans can be adjusted and lengthened, rejuvenation is possible. Life threatening diseases can be halted and cured. Aids and cancer are certainly curable with this new technology. The mentally and physically handicapped can be helped and their disease prevented in the future.

These issues are very difficult to digest and are still uncomprehendable to many people and societies. Even many students on the University of Georgia campus are completely unaware of current procedures and processes that have changed the direction of science and possibly medicine. The question that now should enter people's mind is how to regulate and conduct the future experiments of this biotechnical revolution.

Many groups like that of Ralph Nadar and the Green party want a complete halt in the biotechnical field. Citing environmental hazards, and undetermined effects of the new possibilities. Others want stringent controls on companies marketing and using the new research and products. Then another group wants no government control, therefore allowing revelations and conclusions of these experiments to come about as soon as possible. There should be no doubt that the last possible solution should be the desired regulations. In theory, no regulations at all would be the best possible solution. Lassize faire.

We should have the same aspirations of the last two generations. The last fifty years has been a world wind of creations. The next twenty-five years can triple the amount of new understanding and innovations that the past half-century provided. The way to help the environment and to lesson the use of nonrenewable resources is not to bring technology to a halt but catapult it into the next dimension. Therefore bypassing the need for these ancient types of resources. There are over fifty types of resources that have not been implemented due to lack of research. Funding by governments should heavily fall into the education category as well as science and research development.

Ethical and moral issues are often the most difficult challenge for the new research. People are scared of the unknown. People crave the "norm?and fear the lack of understanding. Yet, people must remember these are the same feelings people had during the industrial revolution and during times since the 1930s. If this new research is brought to a halt by these religious organizations or by governments, the United States will fall from it's spot as world leader.

Other developing and first world countries will not halt their research and development. China and India's desire to be the new super power of the third millennium is stronger than the United States desire to remain the super power. They will continue their progress and the United States will loose many scientist and researchers who will continue their progress in these countries that offer compliance to their wants and demands.

New education grants and loans should lean heavily on the United States? Universities. The government needs legislation that pushes for immediate research and development. It is necessary to have researchers and scientists schooled in these areas. Independent companies should be regulated, but allowed much freedom for safe and necessary experiments. With the federal government and outside and independent companies diving deep into these new technologies, probes can be sent in every direction to find the safest and most efficient results.

The reading I have done in the last month has opened my eyes to many areas of science that I had no idea or knowledge. It is possible that this lack of knowledge could continue for another decade or more. This should not be the case. People need to realize the dangers facing us in the near future. Positive propaganda in needed to relax the fears of society and to encourage more tests in this new field of study. If some scientists are correct, there will be no future if we do not change now. It is quite easy for me to ignore this warning. It seems so distant and foreign to many students that I have shared this new found knowledge.

The most difficult part of the necessary changes will be to let the necessity of research and study to be widely known and felt. Many parties want to choke the progress for more selfish reasons than only the protection of the environment and of people. ?/span>We are at a pivotal point and action needs to be taken now. It is much easier for the parties screaming the negative aspects of genetic modification. The public is gullible and hears the emotional cries of the green party and the public does not always use their rational sense. The government needs to take this opportunity to ignore the screams of the irrational majority and use good judgement for the future of the United States. Republicans and democrats alike understand and have resources that can explain this new research and the possibilities of future problems and positive actions.

The government could quickly overcome the irrational concerns by passing legislation, quickly, in favor of mass amounts of genetic research. The general public would be hushed by this and would follow the trend of government and realize that this research is necessary and safe. Unfortunately the government has another option. They too can jump on the bandwagon, using this tactic for their next reelection and term in office.

There is a multitude of unanswered questions in our near future. We can only hope that a cure for cancer and other terminal diseases can be found. Birth defects and other health problems can be neutralized through genetic engineering. World hunger and malnurishment can be dealt with in third world countries. There is an uncountable amount of new creations and possibilities in this new research. We can only hope that our future will utilize the positive aspects of genetic engineering. We never improve the future by moving backward and ignoring any newly found discoveries. Positive, forward thinking is our only hope of enjoying the next centuries.


Works Cited

Allred, J. (2000, January). Ohioline. Genetically Modified Foods not only Safe but Necessary. Available: Http://ohioline.ag.ohio-state.edu/gmo/faq.html

Baertsche, S. (2000, January). Ohioline. GMO Frequently Asked Questions. Available: Http://ohioline.ag.ohio-state.edu/gmo/a2.html

Ford, Peter. (1998, June). Wary Europe Enters Biotech Age. Christian Science Monitor, pp. 1+.

Gorner, Peter and Kotulak, Ronald. (1990, April 9). Gene Splicers Putting New Food on the Table. Chicago Tribune, p. 1+.

Kluger, Jeffrey. (1996, November). Can We Stay Young. Time, pp. 88+.

Pelanda, Carlo. Notes. August-September, 2000.


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