Enter man into the 21st century. It seems that as a species we have really come into full stride in the past two hundred or so years. Our technologies have progressed to the point that they are now so potently powerful that they are threatening our very own atmosphere. In the worlds of Bill Mahar we now have the power to precipitate mass death from the skies, the ability to move mountains, the prestige and intelligence to strap a man to a rocket and fire him to the moon. In short, we have tamed this planet as our ancestors sought to do so since the first time a man picked up a pointy rock and used it to hack down a tree. We have become the god that forges our own destiny, a collective god that can seemingly do anything if its mind is put to the task. Yet this god falls short of his humanitarian duties, for a large population of the world still dies in quiet starvation, children are still born with horrifyingly debilitating diseases of the likes of Prader Willie Syndrome, childhood leukemia and Down’s Syndrome. The strangest part of this tragedy is that the tools to fix these problems are almost fully in our grasp, but rather than dawn the full mantle as Gods of our own destiny, we squabble about the ethicality of such things as stem cell research, gene therapy and reproductive cloning. Like the late and great Norman Borlaug, we should actually stand up and do something, rather than archaically leave things as important as human lives in the hands of cruel and unfeeling fate.

I would now like to take a moment and address an argument that has come up in every discussion that we as a class have had over this subject, and that is the argument of playing god. This argument bugs me very much for two main reasons, first of all one actually has to believe in god for it to hold any validity at all. I personally do not believe in an all powerful celestial being who has nothing better to do than hover above one arguably insignificant planet for all eternity judging our every gurgle and twitch. Therefore, how can one be playing god, if for a moment we suppose there is no god? Secondly, I feel this is an argument that many make out of lack of a more logical one. It is much easier to say, “I disagree with curing children with Down’s Syndrome because I feel this is something that humble humans shouldn’t tamper with” than to say “I disagree with curing children with Down’s Syndrome because I am too ignorant and selfish to be able to understand what they and their families have to go through everyday just to keep them alive.” While perhaps a little melodramatic, I feel that both of those statements are the same results wise…being that neither attitudes achieve anything. Under the same logic as those who say we are playing god, the argument can be made that man is playing god with each new discovery that gives him a one up over all other beasts. The first time a man picked up a pointy stick and skewered his rival was an “act of god,” the first time a man planted crops to eat rather than chase wild animals all year was an “act of god,” man was playing god when he discovered and used the antiseptic and fever curing properties of Willow bark, yet none complained that this was a “slippery slope” that would lead to something “evil.” So I feel we have established here that man has been “playing god” for quite some time, and being that this is nothing new and that we have been giving ourselves unfair advantages over Mother Nature (who I must say is quite the cankerous bitch…), changing our very own genetic make up for the better is just the next logical step in this progression of events. Also, it is inevitably going to happen, so why not be the best at it when it does, rather than leave all the spoils of such a powerful tool to countries such as China and Russia? That would just make poor Regan and Nixon do a back flip in their graves.

Now that I have that little rant out of the way I would like to focus on the three main forms of genetic tailoring starting with therapeutic cloning through the usage of stem cells. Personally, I feel that this form of genetic engineering has more potential and applicable use than all the others, for at its very foundation is the possibility of irradiating essentially every human ailment that has plagued our species since the dawn of time. With stem cells, a soldier loosing a limb would no longer be a life changing injury, for a new one would be ordered up in no time, something that I feel not only war heroes deserve, but all people. With stem cells, a broken neck would become something as fixable as a broken finger, with stem cells we would be able to grow new sheets of skin for severe burn victims, and on top of that, the skin would be their very own rather than something foraged form a cadaver or an artificial skin vat. This might be a narrow minded view point, but I really see no down side to a firm knowledge of stem cell research, for the perceived down sides (dead babies and the like) do not really exist and are just constructs of an ignorant (or brilliant..?) right wing media. The future of medicine is going to be strongly influenced by the usage of stem cells (both adult and embryonic) and I feel we would only be shooting ourselves in the foot if we were to turn our backs on it for pseudo “ethical” reasons and leave the gold mine of possibilities both financially and sociality to more ambitious countries of the likes of China and Japan.

Just a few hundred years ago, if a harvest went bad, people starved and died. As simple as that, we no longer allow a harvest to go bad in the present. Unlike our ancestors we are no longer restricted by the arability and quality of the soil when choosing where we want to life, but rather we are restricted souly by the constraints that we allow society to place on our brilliant collective mind that has turned a weak bipedal primate race into the rules of this planet. We now have the ability to alter the very genetic foundation of living organisms, because of this we are now able tailor anything from plants to livestock to better thrive…anywhere. As Norman Borlaug realized, transgenic crops can offer a very real solution to world hunger. This potential that GM crops offer remains exactly, a potential, due to the fact that a large multitude of people cry out that these crops are unnatural and because of that are dangerous to our health and environment. First of all, I would like to say that yes, these plants ARE unnatural, which is why they are so adaptable and robust in their growth habits. They are made to be plump, hardy and god knows whatever adjective we want to splice into them. This doest not mean that they are dangerous though, first of all it is nothing that people haven’t been doing for thousands of years. People have been selectively breeding desirable traits into plants and animals since civilization took root in Mesopotamia. Did the Romans cry out when broccoli, cross bread two faced genetic Frankenstein half cauliflower and half brussel sprout, was introduced into their diet? Obviously not, and GM crops are just the next step in this progression of man altering his food options to maximize its benefits. What takes nature thousands and thousands of years to adapt to can be done in a laboratory in just a matter of months. Rather than bend to the inalienable apatite of pests or poison our water supply with toxic chemicals designed to kill them, we can now elegantly create an organism like BT corn, an organism superior in every meaning of the word to its natural cousins. With genetic engineering we can now control what was left to chance in the past.

It is true that by introducing a superior genetically modified organism into the world will alter the biosphere in ways that we do not fully comprehend, but I feel that these effects can be controlled, monitored, and are far outweighed by the sheer volume of food capable of being produced. What is more important to you, preventing something that has a very slim chance of taking over an ecosystem, or feeding the hungry stomachs the entire world? I am shocked when I see groups like Green Peace mucking about in fields destroying bountiful harvests. I feel that these people are just ignorant over privileged Westerners who arrogantly assume that it is a feasible option for the entire world to eat a trendy organic and locally grown diet such as theirs. News flash, the third world only eats organic and that practice is not really working for them. Despite my deep seated loathing of Monsanto, if they have a safe product to offer these people that will solve the problems caused by an arid environment and allow for these people to break the cycle of poverty their local climate has chained them to, then let them. Who cares about their motives if they are doing what nations havnt been able to figure out a solution to for decades?

But why stop at crops? Although it is still mostly the makings of a science fiction novel, humans altering their own genes for the expression and masking of certain traits will be a reality in the next few decades. When asked the question “if you could eradicate all genetic disorders from the human gene pool, would you?” my answer was with out hesitation a resounding YES! I feel that no one, despite the “diversity” it might bring into the world, deserves to suffer a life ravaged by muscular dystrophy or Prader Willie syndrome. I have heard the arguments made that this is just a slippery slope leading to an Aryan “new world order” or the equally ominous question “what is next?” but honestly these arguments pale in strength when one looks at the benefits, both socially and personally, of having these disorders removed form the gene pool once and for all. If one were to ask anyone suffering from a genetic disorder if they would like to be cured, I doubt many would refuse. It is true that things like def culture would become the stuff of history museums but honestly I really don’t care. I feel that giving the gift of hearing offers co many more benefits and possibilities at leading a successful life than def culture can. I feel the same about anything that inhibits an individuals social acceptance and success in the world, diversity be damned if it comes hand in hand with a price tag of human suffering and misery. Give me Gattica over that any day!

I’m sure by now you’ve noticed I haven’t talked much about reproductive cloning and there is a reason for this. Of all the possibilities offered by genetic engineering I have the least to say on this subject due to reason that I see the least applicable use in reproductive cloning. In an already over populated world I am not sure it is wise to bring more people, scientifically or naturally, into being. I am not very knowledgeable on the possibilities of reproductive cloning so I will not speak of it is if I were.

It seems in the end that there are very few arguments that stand logically against the practice of any sort of genetic modification. If you believe in human dignity, then I’m sure you will agree with me in saying it is not dignified to starve, suffer from cystic fibrosis or life forever in a wheel chair with a catheter dripping slowly into an all to visible bag. Genetic engineering, through stem cells, gene tailoring and GM crops offers a solution to these less than desirable qualities of life and promises humanity a more dignified existence on this planet. In memory of that old Mr. Borlaug and the countries now industrialized due to his innovation, lets save the world hand in hand with Monsanto or who ever is willing to help.