The future of the biosphere and its immortal evolutionary Tree of Life, not only for the other species of the biosphere, but the wellbeing and very genetic future of humanity ourselves is going to be irreversibly affected by the new genetic technologies being developed. We are already causing types of genetic transfer which do not occur under natural circumstances.
Little heed is ever given by the proponents of uncontrolled genetic engineering to the simple qualitiative consequences of such actions. The ecosystems of New Zealand have been ravaged irretrievably by such horizontal transfer of genes in the form of introduced species. Runaway horizontal transfer alone has the potential to reduce biodiversity to a few rampant weedy species. The implications for runaway horizontal tranfer of genes carries similar implications in terms of new disease vectors and the destruction of many non-target species by engineered factors designed to provide resistance to major pests.
Gene manipulation techniques are advancing exponentially and raise a host of ethical issues which could either promote the very flowering of evolution or reduce both us and the span of biota to an evolutionary wasteland - a robotic nightmare. The capacity of society to make advance ethical decisions is being seriously undermined by the rapid scale of these initiatives and the fact that large trans-national corporations are making very major monopolizing plays for the world agriculture and seedstock markets to try to out-manoeuvere one another and the consuming public they should be under covenant of good office to serve. This situation begets risk , misadventure and terminal failure in a cumulative way which makes the immediate threat of nuclear holocaust look secondary and transient by comparison.
These issues have to be tackled in a new way through advance ethical debate, so that society has the chance to at least conceive of what these decisions are getting us into, before they are foisted irreversibly upon us. Science has no intrinsic ethics, because it is the study of how natural or physical phenomena occur and thus provides no conclusions as to what sort of world we should create. Genetic technology is one step further on the road to ruin - economic exploitation with winner-take-all profit as the motive of greed. Science is as capable of embracing futuristic mechanistic fantasies as it is the verdant living world of complexity and diversity. Traditional religious prerogatives are likewise prone to the folly of engineered design in the perfection of a universe designed to protect the male reproductive imperative, and apply archaic reasoning of divine order to a new and evolving world of chaos, quantum uncertainty and complexity.
We need to call a moratorium on further runaway exploitation until the living people of the planet, we who are responsible and must take responsibility for the future unfolding, can come to terms with a consensus ethics of diversity which will leave room for the future of evolution in the mechanistic onrush of gene tech. Without such a soul of humanity, the future of society and the very unconceived diversity of this planet may fail. If it does, humanity will be doomed to a cul-de-sac or to frank extinction.
The many dimensions of genetic technology listed in this article span a variety of key ethical issues, each of which is perhaps a unique watershed. Here are just a few illustrative examples:
Genetic technology involves great promises but also great potential risks. It is time to fulfil our appointment with our own coming of age in the universe and address these issues ethically as a whole society.
Politics and Ethics of Genetic Technology:
As a primer to the politics and ethics of gene technology a variety of reference articles are included to give a variety of perspectives on this issue. To understand the positions of the proponents of various points of view, it is often very important to consider where the particular person stands in the economic and political game. For example Jimmy Carter has, since his period as president taken initiatives for world peace. He has also recently accused opponents of genetic engineering of using protection of world biodiversity as a cover for unreasoning opposition to the advance of a new genetically-engineered 'green revolution', driven by extreme environmentralists. It is necessary to understand that as a millionaire peanut farmer, his words may not carry the same values as his positions on disarmament, because his vested interest is very close to home. Likewise industry proponents have a great deal to gain financially and personally from their political support of genetic engineering, so their words have to be taken with commensurate caution, especially when they make statements undermining the veracity of democratically-elected consumer populations.
These are the CENTRAL ISSUES around which the Genesis of Eden revolves!
Currently many of us live in societies which promote individual rights and allow individual choices concerning reproduction, however China operates population laws and policies which could be used to control population for attaining political ends. Canada, Australia and Sweden for example have an atrocious record even recently despite apparently being enlightened societies.
Given the vastly increased knowledge of human genes which is resulting from the Human Gemone Project and its competitors, there is a major danger of eugenics being used on a national basis to eradicate genetic characteristics which society considers undesirable, and possibly with them essential characteristics for our survival. Society has never found the visionary mind easy to accomodate to and many counter-cultural aspects of our genetics could come under attack in the spirit of Brave New World. This could in turn knock out key evolutionary potential for our evolutionary fulfillment in conscious awareness in future.
The problem of eugenics is becoming ever more complex and severe as genetic testing gives us more and more genetic knowledge and advance knowledge in utero of the potential problems an individual possesses. The insurance industry and the high costs of modern high-tech medical care are coming to place an effective eugenic bias on the thinking of even so-called free-societies, because people can no longer afford the costs of supporting individuals with genetically endowed deficits.
Right: Utopian eugenics movements often of a racist bent are springing up on the internet with visions of combining eugenics, cloning and germ-line engineering to produce the super-race. God pulling himself up like Frankenstein by the bootstraps of his own DNA. "We in the genetics movement are not interested in competing against Adolph Hitler or Karl Marx for some miniscule little 1,000 year reich. We are interested in competing with Jesus Christ and Buddha for the destiny of man. Eugencs manifestto - Prometheus (James L. Hart)
Genetic testing and insurability:
Will people with genetic anomalies be able to survive financially in a future free-market world? Changing financial pressures could irreversibly undermine the current free reproductive attitudes of democratic societies and alter our personal rights of reproduction. Pressures to remove undesirable genes, such as those for ulcerative colitis could become a futuristic nightmare of free-market economics, if insurers refuse to cover genetically disadvantaged offspring.
Germ-line manipulation to correct genetic diseases also raises the spectre of potentially authoritarian societies cloning a super-race of genetically-engineered humans. To what extent do we genetically engineer the human race itself? While some peole believe that cloning should be permitted, either as a personal freedom, to not bar any form of human knowledge and discovery, or even on religious grounds of man perfecting himself in the eyes of God, there are extreme dangers for the future if we do not establish clear ethical guidelines for such germ-line engineering.
The continued fertility of the human species is founded on sexual recombination. This is also our fundamental alturism in the face of personal mortality. To change this scenario opens the greed for personal immortality leading back to the parthenogenic regime of bacteria. Sexuality is essential to preserve antibody diversity and resist the co-evolution of parasites and diseases. Our evolutionary survival into the future depends on retaining the genetic make up which brought us into cultural existence in evolutionary time. If the nature of the human genome becomes a non-ecosystemic engineered identity, we are likely to become the ever-more artificial and robotic products of our own mechanistic fantasy. The master race concept is a phoenix which continually rises from the ashes, as Nietzsche has shown in Hitler. Already writers are speculating on the prospect of the human genotype dividing into separate worker and master lines based on cloning and other genetic technologies.
Although defenders of cloning allege that it will only ever be a minor player in the human reproductive scene, totalitarian systems have by no means been eradicated from the Earth. As soon as the technology becomes facile for cloning, the extremes of economic inequality are likely to lead to a rash of poverty-stricken surrogate mothers raising cloned infants to term. Articifial wombs have also been used to successfully raise other mammal species. Given the gross inequalities of free-market capitalism, the non-democratic basis of trans-national corporations and a variety of unscrupulous leaders, the way remains wide open for gross social abuse of cloning to empower the rich to become cloned genetic masters over a cloned slave force, much as the non-reproductive worker bee attests in biology.
Reproductive and Germ-Line Engineering:
Associated with genetic technology is a complementary reproductive technology, which has very significant implications for the human evolutionary future. The increasing use of high tech solutions for infertility, such as in-vitro fertilization, raise the spectre of whole generations of humans having to continue to depend on such technologies to maintain their reproductive continuity. This process began with the Caesarian section, but has accelerated to new limits with IVF. Society needs to explore more fully the evolutionary implications of reproductive technologies, which may over time result in a human gene pool which is ever more dependent on reproductive technology, just for humanity to survive. In the event of any social breakdown, this could leave a future human population ever more vulnerable to reproductive collapse.
A new key ethical question is human germ-line engineering. Because gene therapy is relatively unsuccessful, requiring mass uptake of DNA by whole tissues of cells, the original declared taboo on germ-line engineering has begun to crumble. Germ-line engineering gives promise to those with deadly genetic deficiencies that they could have healthy offspring. But with it germ-line engineering brings the potential to make an immortal mistake, which may not be able to be undone. It also has very deep implications of rthe evolutionary stability of the human genome. Extensive genetic manipulation of the human germ-line could lead to humanity itself becoming unviable through its native versatility being designed out of the system. A deep and penetrating ethical discussion needs to take place in human society about this issue.
This is really the knife in the water of gene tech. We simply don't know how much the individual genes making up the human genome are interactive. Articles are already appearing suggesting that in 20 years we will no longer need dentists (dentistry magazine) because future humans will be engineered to have flawless teeth. However we have no idea how much such changes could subtly or grossly change the nature of other characteristics. For example a sexually imprinted gene for mothering inherited through the father also has subtle effects on body size and other aspects of physiology and behaviour. We could lose a variety of essential characteristics such as imagination, visionary or even psychic facilities which are extremely hard to quantify. Furthermore there are immediate eugenic implications which are sinister and serious. Where will society draw the line in attempting to engineer out 'undesirable' characteristics in bringing about the genetic conformity of "Brave New World"?
Foetal and Stem Cell Transplants:
Foetal cell transplants are an area fraught with ethical and religious implications. Foetal tissue, because it is far closer to the totipotent germ cells and has not established antibody specificity, is ideally suited to adapting to new tissues and has the growth potential, as young cells, to repair tissues more effectively than differentiated adult cells. Yet the use of foetal cells raises ethical and religious concerns about the use and killing of human foetuses to provide cell and gene therapy for aging or diseased adults. While abortions continue, there is likely to be sufficient foetal material and foetal cell transplant remain perhaps one area where concern has held back useful developments.
Gene therapy raises the promise of correcting genetic diseases such as muscular distrophy, Parkinsonism and certain forms of mental retardation which plague a small proportion of the human population. It is advances such as this which are used by the proponents of genetic technology to justify many of its excesses in the name of sweeping palliative progress, however the track record of gene therapy is so far a very mixed blessing. In many cases it may simply prolong a degenerative process rather than arrest it and can carry with it severe consequences, because of the intervention process, for example direct injections of cells or genes into brain tissue. Getting additional genes to take in the nuclei of existing cells is an ongoing problem. It is unlikely that gene therapy will ever prove as effective as pre-natal genetic testing and the avoidance of offspring with such deficits. Neither does it generally cure the germ line but leaves the problem unresolved for the next generation. Gene therapy is likely also to remain a relatively expensive technology, which needs to be compared with simple public health measures such as discouraging smoking for effectiveness as health policy.
Xenotransplants are another field which has been heralded as a triumph of genetic technology. The idea of having endless replacement organs from pigs or sheep, possibly engineered to carry human cell-surface antigens, available for ready transplant into humans is a crutch many middle-aged people long to see arrive, as a last ditch defence against physical deterioration. However xenotransplants carry significant risk of spreading animal diseases to humans and facilitating the adaption of alien pathogens to become human epidemics. HIV appears to have been a monkey virus which evolved into a much more virulent form on adapting to human tissues. BSE also arose from interspecies transfer of infectious prions. The permanent association of human an animal tissue in a significant proportion of the human population inevitably creates and evolutionary testing ground for such pathogenic nightmares. The last two years have seen continued concern about the endogenous retroviruses present in all pig varieties, which illustrate this risk, although the virus involved appears to be relatively quiescent.
and its Impact on Food, Medicines and Biodiversity:
New genetic species can now be created by the tranfer of genes between organisms in ways which go far beyond the natural mechanisms of gene transfer. This could bring profound advances, both providing tailor-made organisms to fight disease - for example monoclonal anti-bodies to fight a specific cancer, or bananas which provide hepatitis B vaccinations (New Scientist 21 September 1996), but it also brings profound risks. The greatest danger is the runaway transformation of our natural foodstuffs into engineered varieties which have so many subtle changes that they render our evolutionary heritage defunct or lost. There is vast risk of the loss of natural varieties and the replacement of natural diversity by engineered varietes of low or zero diversity, which have lost or irreversibly changed the viable living characteristics for ones which can only be maintained by artifical technological means. The terminator gene also promises to be the death knell of biological immortality for all commercial varieties, effectively rendering our bread basket infertile, excpt by the grace of transnational corporates like Monsanto - a perilous and foolish situation.
Many genetically-engineered products have also resulted in needless risk of infectious antibiotic resistance. Flavor-saver tomatoes do not ripen because their natural rotting to facilitate seed sprouting has been disabled, but these also carry an antibiotic resistance gene used simply as a marker during the cloning process to identify the successfully-engineered strains. By growing such crops on a very large scale, the risk of the dissemination of this gene back into the wild through viral exchange becomes multiplied.
Antibiotic resistance, because of unwise practice, particularly in vetrinary use, has almost exhausted the supply of effective antibiotics with the emergence of a new multiply-resistant strain of staphlococcus and potentially worse still, bubonic plague. While infectious antibiotic resistance happened through mismanagement of antibiotics, resulting in plasmids with multiple resistance factors in a single bacteria, a whole new era is dawning in which we are creating similar mistakes by design. It has become almost routine to include antibiotic resistance genes as markers, however this means that genetically-engineered foodstuffs frequently contain the genetic information to disable critically important medical agents.
Genetic Technology, Biodiversity and Evolution:
To what extent do we mechanise the natural environment with genetically-engineered organisms? What is the logic of giving up the natural tomato, which does contain the natural rotting genes which trigger the fertilization and regrowth of the species seeds, and replacing it with patented varieties which cannot rot naturally because they have become defective? How will the world remain robust to environmental change over time if the vast majority of the organisms on which we depend are defective genetically modified organisms unable to survive without human intervention? This means that any mild astronomical event capable of disrupting social organization could terminate all human life on earth, because our food plants have become monoclonal genetically defective organisms and cannot survive the period of disruption and the only natural varieties were lost in the failure of a germ plasm bank in the crisis. Although monoclonal culture is not exclusive to genetically modified strains, these are generally of very low diversity because of the bottleneck genetic manipulation requires.
Even granted the prospects that genetic engineering can provide new horizons for humanity, it is still essential to preserve biodiversity so that we have the full repertiore of genetic diversity to draw from in future. Currently virtually all genetic maipulation is done by the transfer of existing genes from one organism or tissue to another. Although genes can be engineered, there is no practial prospect of engineering genes de novo from their DNA sequences because of the inherent complexity protein-folding problem (Sci Am. Jan 91, See also Shape is All NS 24 Oct 98 42). This means that it is almost impossible to compute from a raw DNA sequence the likely three-dimensional properties of a protein translated from this sequence. Furthermore the genes in living organisms produce proteins which have co-evolved with the other genes and their proteins to produce the allosteric enzymes and multi-molecular complexes we call tissues and organelles with sensitive feedback relations which guarantee sensitive regulation. Natural evolution and genetic algorithms generally are one of the most efficient methods of parallel computation, which can never be matched by the tiny number of specific design changes achievable in a laboratory by genetic manipulation. Destroying our genetic diversity is thus utterly detrimental to the future of genetic technology as well as to our own prospects of survival.
Terminator Technology and Exorcist:
The advent of the terminator gene and its avid snapping up by Monsanto spell the death knell for biological immortality of our food, medicinal and commercial species, the very ones upon which we depend for our survival. Although there have been selectively bred varieties of oranges and grapes and several other plants exist as vegetative cultivars which lack seeds and have to be grown vegetatively, the terminator gene represents an irreversible transition to 'throw-away life' dependent on private patent and continued domination by corporate giants such as Monsanto to keep us all alive. This is an end-game scenario for human existence. It's danger can not be underestimated or blurred in the utopian vision of another 'green revolution'. We have existed for 3000 million years in an unbroken germ line, humanity and all our symbiotic domestic species alike. Terminating this immortality of the germ line, through the worship of winner-take-all intellectual property rights and corporate greed, is far more dangerous in the long-term than the immediate risks of nuclear holocaust. Its implications affect not only all of us, but all of our descendents into the future. It is an unspeakable outrage that US capitalism and its offshoot in trans-national corporations such as Monsanto have been allowed to initiate and possess this technology and such intellectual property rights without any democratic ethical decision-making process by the human population concerning its future.
I hereby call for a complete moratorium on any use of terminator genes until a world referendum has been called on the technology and a free decision made democratically by the world polulation on who should hold intellectual property rights on any process with interferes with the germ lines of humanity or interrupts the natural viability of the germ line of the species upon which we depend for our welfare and survival.
A newer technology called "exorcist" now aims to clean up GM varieties by executing a genetic process which deletes the genetic modification genes as the organism reaches maturity. This would both enable the organism to survive as a non-GM variety and render many GM varieties apparently safer, since they should not be expressing the modified gene at maturity and would thus be 'organic' as food. However there is a potential risk here of a dangerous penetration of 'exorcist' strains into the organc market with subsequent failur of the GM represson causing serious undetected transfection.
GM and World Poverty
The implications for the future of evolution generally remain bleak unless much more stringent efforts are made to protect biodiversity and our future evolutionary potential. The likelihood is that our natural endowment of evolutionary diversity will be permeated by a smog of genetically-engineered changes which are not the product of natural selection, but artificially intorduced factors which could contaminate natural species by horizontal transfer and sexual recombination - genetic pollution. These come in a whole variety of forms from supermoths through superweeds to new viral ourbreaks of diseases never before seen.
Fears have ben expressed that GM DNA may be able to enter gut bacteria and thus move with other organism's chromosomes, possibly eliciting genetic pollution including antibiotic resistance.
The ecological penetration of Bacillus thurigensis into our food plants is illustrated in anticipation in this Sept 95 article from Scientific American (150) involving tomato 1987 (1998) tobacco 1987, potato 1989 (1995) cotton 1990 (1996) corn 1992 (1996) rice 1993 and sunflower. Dates are experimental and anticipated commercial (parentheses) developement. The implications of such a wide dissemination of this toxic crystalline protein into an environment which needs pollinating insects and its effect on both the food plants and its possible transfer to other species are still not fully explored.
One of the most contentious issues in genetic engineering is the runaway use of genetically-modified foods in our common diet. The US, because it has been a principal financial beneficiary of the chemical and biological engineering industry's advances, has been very slow to recognise the potential disadvantages of a technology which has made it rich.
Europe has shown a more mature ethical viewpoint, which has treated with great caution the invasion of our natural foodstuffs by unnecessary genetically-modified varieties. The food industry has faced continued problems over pesticide and other contaminant residues in food. Although natural substances can also be toxic, this concern reaches new and unforseeable implications with the advent of an unrestrained variety of subtle genetic modifications of our foodstuffs, many of which are unnecessary and quite un-called for from the consuming population.
On many fronts this battle is being fought by the most unethical political subterfuge imaginable. Opponents of genetic engineering are discredited in the media by industry proponents as ignorant 'luddites' opposing the beneficent march of the next 'green revolution', following those of selective breeding and agri-chemicals, a revolution which is aired as essential to feed the burgeoning population next century. This is however frought with deceit because, rather than undeveloped populations caring for the natural diversity of food plants and retaining and preserving types which are well-adapted to their conditions, they will become serfs of a feudal economy in which they can only hire out season by season the opportunity to mature patented terminal disposable gene stock, which has no hope of long-term survival or local protection, because of terminator genes.
Entire consuming populations are accused by the industry of being ignorant of the marvels of scientific advance and governments have been encouraged to treat their own democratic electorates as hostages to the greater wisdom of the technological giants. This is Brave New World incarnate. Genetic engineering is touted as the technological utopian solution to world poverty, without which future poor will starve. This rhetoric is very far from the truth. It is double think. It is scientific totalitarian oppression in action. It needs to be arrested by a broad-spectrum ethical debate getting to the sould of the human condition.
The actual facts are that Monsanto, starting as a chemical company, has cornered a very significant portion of the world seed production industry and is intentionally marketing varieties designed to secure the continuity of its chemical industry by making roundup-resistant and similar varieties which can be used only with its own proprietory herbicides or pesticides. The development process is generally undertaken in secret with no advance ethical consideration (under plea of commercial sensitivity), the developed product is then forced on to the market and regulators lobbied by the industry giants on the basis that it will further the economy and that it will provide a strategic advantage for US-based growth industries.
Regulators have been blatanly pressured into the position that it it practically impossible and too expensive to continue to discriminate between engineered and natural varieties, despite an exponentially growing market in organic foodstuffs in response to the continuing industrial pollution of natural food. A key issue is the full and complete labelling of all retail food products to let the consumer know just which components are genetically-modified. The mixing of modified and non-modified foods at source and the myth of substantial equivalence - the idea that a genetically-engineered variety is not really different from the natural (then why was it modified?) has been used as a smokescreen to excuse the un-restrained inclusion of modified food into the human product chain without declaratory labelling. This is a fundamental abrogation of the democratic rights of the consumer. We are clearly able to lable to distinguish artificial food additivies from natural food, so the excuse that labelling is too expensive, or an impossible task, is clearly an anti-democratic intiative from the venture industries to force their products on the population.
In fact moves are afoot to make a whole spectrum of very substantially non-equivalent foodstuffs including potatoes containing toxins from the African clawed toad to inhibit soft rot. This kind on non-biological function for a gene in an alien species is not substantial equivalence in any shape or form and constitutes the addition of a poison not currently cosumed by humans into central stape foods. The same situation apples to all herbicide-resistant and Bt-toxin possessing varieties. Similar attitudes prevail toward the introduction of genes from other plants not consumed as staples such as potatoes with a lectin from jack bean know to inhibit the immune system.
Many genetic modifications of food stuffs have subsequently proven to be unfortunate and damaging. The case of the Brazil nut protein genes illustrates how difficult it is in practice to tell whether a modification is 'substantially-equivalent' or not. Testing for carcinogenic potentialities of foodstuffs can take up to 20 years, simply because of the intrinsically statistical nature of such investigations. Humans are converging from a vast spectrum of dietary species in the gatherer-hunter phase to depend on ever fewer key species, which assume a disproportionate role in the diet. Soya beans are an example which, because of their high-protein content, permeate a vast variety of foods, from bread to many processed items. The use of unlabelled genetically-modified soya beans thus has a very pervasive impact on the whole human diet in civilized countries. Society needs to be able to make major qualitative ethical decisions as to how it wants to go about such transformation of its core foodstuffs. This is not happening. Venture industries and intellectual property rights are driving the entire process in secret and then through lobbying once the products become commercial. This is fundamentally anti-democratic and should not continue.
The Pusztai Saga
New Zealand GE Issues
High-tech Engineered Products:
One of the more promising areas of genetic-engineering is in the restricted use of high-tech products to create new medicines and vaccines. These products do provide quite new and revolutionary potential for society and medicine and certainly deserve quite separate considereation from the modification of normal foodstuffs. However they also have very significant potential problems, if the modified varieties escape, or recombine, through pollen, or viral transfer, with their non-modified equivalents. Great care needs to be exercised to contain such varieties and prevent their escape into the wild.
Genetic patenting and the Genome Project
Should a private business organization be able to hold patents on natural life forms and thus have a financial monopoly over the natural endowment? Some protection is needed for the development of specialized organisms in medicine, but how far should this privilege extend? Who takes responsibility for genetic diversity if patented food plant strains dominate commercial markets?
Intellectual property rights and the winner-take-all philosophy of free-market capitalism have grevious implications, not just for biodiversity and the rights of ethnic peoples, but for the future of all our genetic and food resources. The very concept of gene patenting has become a world political issue with the US failing to ratify the 1992 Rio Biodiversity Convention, because it wishes to keep the options open for US-based corporate giants to exploit to the maximum their venture capital appropriation of world genetic resources through gene patenting.
Genesis tells that God gave all species and the seed-bearing plants for the benefit of humankind as a whole and for all life. Patenting of natural genes or gene components, simply because they have a potentially unique exploitable use, overturns the fundamental ethics of altruism of humanity - to care and protect the Earth for all people. It abrogates the freedom of life on Earth as an immortal endowment and profoundly compromises the future of life by putting all life in bondage to intellectual property rights of the quickest exploiter of a potential resource, of the richest and the most unscrupulous venture capital exploiters in the world market.
I hereby call for a complete moratorium on the genetic patenting of any natural species, genes gene fragments, or organisms, pending an ethical decision made by the world's peoples as to how to best cherish the Earth and replenish her living genetic resources for the mutual and selfless good of all people and of the biosphere itself.
Relevant Websites About Genetic Engineering
An idea of the potential scale of genetic engineering during the next few years can be gained by Lexicon's new method for generating 500,000 different genetically-engineered strains of knockout mice, each with a different gene inactivated, sometimes in several ways, representing every structural gene in the mouse genome. These are generated themselves through genetically-engineered forms of the mouse Moloney leukaemia virus which inactivates a single mouse gene for each virus without further reproduction. Because the virus contains a neomycin resistance gene, only stem cells with active transformed genes will survive neomycin treatment. Additional genetic machinery in the virus enables the team to recover fragments of the original disrupted gene from the culture of stem cells to form a gene library. Frozen stem cells can be injected into blastocysts which will produce full knockouts when mated as adults (New Scientist 19 October 1996 22)
In-vitrio genetic selection of offspring: With the use of ultra-sonic detection of sex, an ancient practice of female infanticide has become a pernicious practice of female abortion. To what extent do we allow either parental or institutional choices to determine the selection of future human survivors?
In short - this issue covers the unfolding genetic future - what are we going to become?
These issues in a sense cannot be rationally resolved because they require prior insight to know which is the best course to take. It is also a question of free choice. Humankind is going to paint a picture of itself and all the life-forms into the future. We stand with some genetic engineers holding the brush of creation. It is up to us to make sure this painting is a rich endless unfolding and not a technological and mechanistic nightmare.
Many of the most famous names in evolutionary biology and genetics talk like nineteenth-century mechanists in a way which would make Darwin horrified. Richard Dawkins and Francis Crick express attitudes which makes one wonder if they are conscious beings or merely robots of natural selection. While I totally support the Darwinian thesis of evolutionary biology, their philosophy makes a fetish of the mechanistic thesis in a way which shows a very shallow understanding of the sentient mind. The ulitmate Tao is as much the eternal implicate order as it is the explicate order of mechanism and classical causality. We are sentient beings, not just Darwinian automata.
In short neither the hard scientists nor the old-time religions know how to handle this issue. That is why The Genesis of Eden exists. It is the key of inebriety which keeps the immortal lock from having its key stolen by the slaves of the mechanist paradigm.
The Path of the Seed requires much soul-searching and ethical insight. The insidious march of the institutions, scientific and religious will have to be challenged throughout history by the lone voice of prophetic conscience, the muse of civilization, warning against the many mechanistic pitfalls that lie ahead and dreaming of the unfolding futures and their unforseen potential unfoldings. It needs grass-roots support, democratic politics and great care to protect diversity against autocratic take-over, the tyranny of the majority and the tragedy of the commons.