Biotechnology: Have we gone too far?

Since the late twentieth century until now, there have been many rapid developments in science and technology, particularly in the field of biotechnology. It has influenced not only engineering but also many social sciences. Society has become more dependants on the myriad products available. Products ranging from supermarket goods to industrial chemicals are mainly produced by the process related to biotechnology. Furthermore, the benefits of this field in medical application are huge. Biotechnology also serves in wastewater treatment. These facts have raised many concerns about scientists have gone too far. There are negative opinions about some biotechnological advances such as gene cloning and stem cells technology from religious groups. Also, experts are alarmed by the fact that biotechnology has been altering some staple food, for instance, the genetically modified rice, which might bring some unknown risks.  However, there are huge benefits that biotechnology has been giving to society. Millions of people can have a good access in modern medication. Biotechnology-based chemical industries are gradually replacing conventional petrol-based chemical industries. This essay asserts the positive aspects of biotechnology and concludes that we have not gone too far in it.

DNA, where the genetic information is stored

DNA, where the genetic information is stored

 

 As seen in many technological developments, biotechnology also has benefits and drawbacks. Some argue that the biotechnological improvement could create problems that have never encountered before, such as the case of Parlodel. It is a breast-milk lactation suppression drugs that is later found causing heart attacks and strokes (Department of Health and Human Services, FDA, 1994 cited in Cranor, 2003). Those people who are pessimistic believed that many products of biotechnology are harmful. One example is the novel pest control in farming. Geneticists have inserted the toxin gene from Bacillus thuringiensis into the cotton and corn crops to defend against insects (Anderson, 2005). It has been found that the toxin also killed ‘innocent’ insects such as butterflies. Another issue is about the safety of many genetically modified (GM) foods. No one can predict precisely the outcome of this food on the human health. The reason is the genes that are inserted or modified in this food will retain and could affect the biochemical reactions within human body in almost infinitely possible ways, either giving positive or negative outcomes (Grunwald, 2004). Grunwald also illustrates the case of DDT (1,1,1,-Trichloro-2,2-bis(p-chlorophenyl)ethane) to shows the risks of new invention. No one realized the harm of this chemical, which was used as a pesticide in mid-1900s. Similarly, the ban on CFC’s started in 1990s after it had been used for many decades. He metaphorically describes the research and application of new technologies such as biotechnology as ‘experiments’. It can be well prepared but the results cannot be anticipated.

 

On the other hand, many proponents claim that biotechnology has a lot of benefits and that future research is essential. Rather than eliminating it, several solutions are suggested in applying biotechnology with less harm. The risk of using products such as GM foods could be reduced if one of the approaches is used (Cranor, 2003). The case study of hazardous chemicals problems in last century shows that governments have to control the use and the disposal of these chemicals in order to protect environment. For the case of GM food, government must impose the certain regulation to ensure the safety of the foods before they are consumed. Also, the society needs to be aware on the risks of GM food. In addition, the industries have to inform the consumers of any adverse effects.

 

Golden rice, one of the GM foods

Golden rice, one of the GM foods

 

Some experts claim that the GM food would help in reducing malnutrition in poor developing countries. The GM food could contain a higher amount of nutrition than the natural ones. For example, golden rice contains more vitamin A. Several strategies to apply biotechnology for obtaining social benefits are mentioned in the study of Brazilian agricultural development (de Castro, 2004). The regulation against the use of GM food should be revised to allow the poor countries to access it.

 

In addition, Cortassa (2002) lists a large number of benefits that biotechnology has given. Using the technique of metabolic engineering, scientists have developed the biotechnology to reach levels where human can manipulate the metabolisms in many living organisms’, particularly microorganisms to optimize the production of certain beneficial highly valuable products. For instance, using metabolic engineering, scientists have successfully inserted a certain gene that allows yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae to ferment xylose for ethanol production, where in the past this yeast can only ferment glucose. This allows the ethanol production from lignocellulosic materials, such as wood and waste paper. Moreover, genetically modified yeasts now produce the hormone insulin, which is used for diabetic medication, in the more efficient way.

 

It is obvious that biotechnology has provided a lot of advantages, which are able to outweigh its drawbacks. In order to overcome the disadvantages, a cautious approach in new technology like biotechnology is essential (Cranor, 2003). In this approach, the government should impose several strict regulations about products of biotechnology. For instance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has employed a premarket laws for transgenic crops. Furthermore, the social understanding and control are beneficial to allow the optimized approach to this issue.

 

Even though every biotechnology has several inherited risks, the research is inevitable. It is a human nature to develop better standards. Rather than arguing that scientists should proceed in biotechnology, the good risk management should come to the front on each discussion (Cranor, 2003, de Castro, 2004). Governments should impose strict laws on the research and application in biotechnology. Several sequential laws have to be followed either by industries or distributors to ensure the public safety. In addition, the public also need to be aware.

 

In conclusion, biotechnology has not gone too far. The benefits from this field are numerous. Although different opinions have risen due to the different perspectives and point of views, the advancements of this promising field is inexorable.

                                                         

References

Anderson, C.E., (2005). Biotech on the farm. The Futurist 39 (5), 38-42.

 

de Castro, L.A.B. (2004). A strategy for obtaining social benefits from gene revolution. The Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research 37, 1429-1440.

 

Cranor, C.F., (2003). How should society approach the real and potential risks posed by new technologies? Plant Physiology 133, 3-9.

 

Grunwald, A., (2004). The case of nanotechnology. EMBO report vol.5, special issue.

 

Cortassa, S., Aon, M.A., Iglesias, A.A., Lloyd, D., (2002). An introduction to Metabolic Engineering, p.8-17, World Scientific, Singapore.

 

 

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