Biotechnology has existed since ancient times, but we continue to consider biotech discoveries to be on the cutting edge of science. Biotech research ranges from the genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, such as cereal grains that are resistant to diseases and insects, to the nutritional value of a 3D printed apple, to the ability to create a “designer baby” by pre-selecting the genes of its DNA.
Many see biotech as harnessing a great new good that could one day feed a hungry population on Earth more efficiently, or develop ‘nutriceuticals’ that will improve human nutrition simply by virtue of the foods we consume. Along with that set of hopeful promises, many people worry about the biotech industry because there are so many unknowns around the result or long-lasting effects. Human cultures often hold belief systems that do not make the acceptance of ‘tampering’ with nature an easy thing to consider. Ever since Mary Shelley penned the very first science fiction novel at age eighteen (1818) – Frankenstein, or the New Prometheus – humanity has considered and reconsidered its ability to show foresight in its quest to understand, control, and then alter natural systems. The field of biotechnology is a wide one, but most Canadians will connect with its applications in agriculture, pharmaceutical production, and an emerging group of products that we call nutriceuticals.
Since biotech practices are already common worldwide – and this has been so for centuries – it does not make a lot of sense to simply state that the practices are wrong, immoral, unethical, or dangerous. This does not mean that humanity should be fully accepting of any and all biotech practices without openly debating the costs, implications, and potential effects of introducing our own desires on natural systems. Biotechnology can be incredibly controversial and is tied to the field of bioethics, which determines what is ‘tampering’ with nature, or is unsafe or unnecessary, and what is a technological advancement for the betterment of humankind.
Related Issues and Topics:
- Science, technology and human health;
- Economic implications of health care;
- Controversial genetic research (embryonic and stem cell research, animal testing, patenting DNA, genetic intervention and modification, preservation of genetic material, genetic information privacy);
- Longevity and life preservation measures;
- Controversial medical interventions (plastic surgery, in vitro fertilization, euthanasia, abortion);
- Epidemic and pandemic prevention and response;
- Disease control (AIDS, virus control, immunization);
- Birth control and maternal and child care;
- Pharmaceutical industry (Big Pharma, marketing, testing, control);
- Food and drug management, testing and marketing;
- Alternative health practices;
- Genetic modification of organisms to suit human ‘needs’;
- Biological systems as ‘factories’ to mass produce certain compounds;
- Cloning of animals for desired traits;
- ‘Gene patents’, the genome as property, intellectual property rights;
- The role of governments and the people in biotechnology regulation;
- Ethical issues surrounding genetic manipulation of organism
(Information from Manitoba Education, Grade 12: Global Issues)