Use in Science  > Genetic Engineering


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Playing God?
by Keya Kamat


Biotechnology can now cross animals with plants, leaving the vegetarian confused. The scientific world today has the power to alter the very fabric of nature, by transferring characteristics not only between plants , but cross-altering animals, plants and human beings. Genetic engineering which is without ethical limitation has a serious impact on the environment of animals and plants. It violates our relationship with the natural world. Most people believe animals have a right to live their lives free from human interference with their original genetic structure. Also, that animals can never serve as models of human disease -- just because they’re much too different. But scientists still keep trying -- after all, the human transplant market is worth well over $ 6 billion per year!


Biotechnology in recent years has been progressing in leaps and bounds. It represents a quantum leap in the exploitation of animals, allowing humans to move genes from one species of animal into another totally different species.


Scientists and biotech companies in some major countries of the world want to create new animals that produce more and ‘better’ meat, give up their valuable products such as wool more easily, and have organs that can be used in human transplants. It doesn’t stop there... many of the genetically modified crops now being field-tested in the US (and around the world) could not only have a devastating Jurassic-Park type impact on the global eco-system, but also hit agriculture-based third-world economies dependent on cash crops. Genetic engineering is a one-dimensional ‘reductionist-science’ that ignores the wider dynamics of life systems.


Genetic engineering primarily involves the introduction of genes containing DNA (deoxyribo-nucleus acid) procured from humans or animals into cells of bacteria, yeast or other animals. One of the outcomes is termed ‘Transgenic Animal’. These transgenic animals cannot be bred by natural/traditional selection or artificial insemination.


Donor females are given hormone injections and hormone impregnated sponges are also inserted directly into their reproductive tracts, so as to make them produce lots of egg-cells. This process has been termed ‘super-ovulation’. These eggs are then artificially inseminated either manually or surgically. Next the embryos are collected by further surgery or slaughter. These embryos are then injected with foreign DNA containing the genes of preferable traits, and then transferred into foster mothers, by surgery again.


It takes 80 donors and recipient animals to produce only one transgenic cow -- if everything works perfectly -- which is VERY rare.


Once the transgenic animal is produced, its suffering just about starts... for example, non-porcine genes have been added to pigs, producing animals with gastric ulcers, liver and kidney disorders, lameness, damaged eye-sight, loss of co-ordination, sensitivity to pneumonia and diabetic conditions.


Genetic engineering research is most often carried out on animals such as pigs, mice, sheep, farm animals, fish and sometimes, even on some plants such as the tomato, tobacco and corn.


Vegetarians around the world are seriously wondering whether the food they are eating is actually vegetarian. In the case of Flavor Savor as they are usually called, tomatoes are genetically altered by introducing into them genes from a fish, the Arctic Flounder, so as to reduce freezer damage, to enable them to have a longer shelf-life, to ripen longer on the tree while remaining firm at the time of picking and transporting and to make them bigger and tastier as well. No layman can make out the difference between Flavor Savor and a normal tomato which is primarily why staunch vegetarians want the altered tomatoes labeled.


Other such experiments with vegetables include chicken genes introduced into potatoes for resistance to disease and for increasing shelf-life and size, tobacco altered with mouse genes to reduce impurities or with a gene from fire-flies that makes the leaves glow at night. Some biotechnologists go to the extent where it becomes a game for them --- playing around with genes of animals. This might result in some ghastly creature produced just to satisfy someone’s whims and fancies.


Scientists in the US have bred a mouse called the ‘Oncomouse’ which has been genetically engineered to develop cancer and in due course die a slow, painful death. The first oncomouse was bred in 1981, yet, in the past 15 years, a cure for cancer still seems to elude scientists. Genetic engineering on mice does not stop there. A mouse specifically created to lack an immune


system has been used to grow human organs, like ears, externally, even internally. The absence of an immune system ensures that the mouse will not reject human tissues. Scientists make a look-alike mold of a human organ, say, an ear, with biodegradable polyester fabric or other polymers.

They then transfer the bone/muscle cells into the form and transplant it on the mouse. When ready, the organ is ‘grafted’ from the mouse. The mouse somehow manages to remain alive after the ear is removed.


Similarly, scientists have managed to grow liver, skin, cartilage, bone, ureters, heart valves, tendons, intestines, blood-vessels and breast-tissue with such polymers. But, if the idea of reversing the experiment (substitute the mice with humans) came about, people would call it blasphemous! No thought for the animals is involved. The extent to which these experiments will go is uncertain. A change will only come about when scientists realize the animals’ right to live a normal, healthy life, without man tampering with their genes.


Pigs are also grown transgenetically, so that their organs can be transplanted into humans. Transgenic pigs were first produced in 1985. Scientists have succeeded in making the required organs in pigs capable of producing human cells. These proteins they hope will trick the human immune system while transplanting the organ(s) so that the recipient does not react to the foreign tissue.


Another example is that of sheep that have been injected with hormones, bioengineered to cause wool-shedding to produce the so-called ‘self-shearing’ sheep. This is done in Australia, where, unfortunately for the sheep, the climate is mostly hot and sunny. As a result, some sheep experience an increased rate of abortion.



Talking about sheep, meanwhile, Welsh Mountain clone sheep are living proof that life can be created without sperm! A scientist at Rosalin Institute created them by fusing a cell grown in the laboratory with an empty sheep-egg through a spark of electricity. Imagine growing a sheep in a lab-dish! Ironically, when pondering about doing the same with human beings, scientists find it ‘unethical’!


In another bizarre experiment, Indian scientists at the Nimbalkar Research Institute, Phaltan, Maharashtra, have, by artificial insemination, created an animal with goat-head and the body of a cow. This animal grows fatter faster and the volume of meat has therefore increased.


Scientists claim that they can, and will make genetically-altered animals that will help cure human diseases and illnesses; well, transgenic research has been going on for nearly 20 years, and it still has not cured a single human illness. But illnesses like diabetes, blindness, lameness and cancer (among others) have all been produced unexpectedly in animals subjected to these ridiculous experiments. Genetic engineering at lengths such as these, are a symbol of consumerism gone berserk. Is it really fair that animals and their environment face the brunt of our insatiable curiosity?


Considering that "to err is human" the probabilities of a mis-judgement or mis-step or mis-reaction resulting in a catastrophe are very high. And in such an eventuality, it will be next to impossible to trick the genie (or ‘gene’) back into the bottle (test-tube).


How Far is it Ethical?
by P.H. Butani


Genetic engineering on animals is highly undesirable, unnatural and therefore unethical. Some rationalists believe that it is tantamount to tinkering with nature’s pre-planned programme. Once modified, the individual genetic ‘personality’ of the animal stands irreversibly altered. It is used AGAINST the well-being of animals rather than FOR their welfare.


Genetic engineering is highly immoral because of four robust reasons:


1. Although lower in the order of evolution animals are very much sentient beings which means that they are capable of feeling pleasure and pain in the same way as we do.


2. In the case of humans, their permission is taken for genetic engineering. Further, for certain experiments, they are paid ‘inducement money’ and in the case of failure, they are given a generous compensation. In contrast, in the case of animals, genetic engineering is done without their permission or any compensation which is patently mean and unfair.


3. Animals being speechless and defenseless, cannot run away (all escape routes are blocked), resist (they are held down), protest (they are muzzled), or lodge a police complaint nor can they move the court for redressal of their grievances.


4. There are psychological perspectives also. Like human mammals, animal mammals also develop great attachment towards their young. And when any of the young is forcibly separated from the mother, she feels sad and expresses her sorrow. Early weaning leads to abnormal behavior and pathological changes in the small intestine. Even rough handling affects their psyche. Fear of humans reduces the reproductive performance of animals. Further, in cloning of animals (say cow, buffalo, pig, rabbit, mouse etc.) multi-identical offspring are born. The mother becomes attached to her young and each offspring’s separation from her causes mental shock and plunges her into depression. Repeated cycles of this trauma leaves her heart-broken. This is mental cruelty.


Thus, the prime motive for using genetic engineering on animals is not for any real concern for or welfare of them but solely and ultimately for the benefit of man. In other words, all gains go to man and nil to animal -- it stands to lose its health, limb or life for man.


To test the validity of my views, I put the same question to Hindu Swamis, Jain Munis, Buddhist Monks and Sikh Saints. At first they frankly said that they had absolutely no idea as to what genetic engineering was. On my briefly explaining the application of genetic engineering to animals, all of them gave more or less the same answer:


The Swamiji said: "According to our Vedas, all living beings have a soul. It is an infinitesimally small part of the Universal Soul (Parmatma) seated in the heart of every being (Jiv Atma). Our religion forbids killing of any animal and exhorts to be kind to them. Now if genetic engineering causes any pain or suffering to animals, then it is definitely not right and it would be very cruel to forcibly subject them to it because as you say, it doesn’t benefit them. It only harms them. Narayan! Narayan!"


The Jain Muniji said: "We hold that all life is precious - be it human or animal. But unfortunately the sanctity of animal life is not recognized and if, during the course of genetic engineering it loses its life, no remorse is felt. The dead body is just carted away. Bhagwan Mahavir has summed up this philosophy very succinctly thus: ‘What we cannot give, we have no right to take. We cannot give life, so we have no right to take life."


The Buddhist Monk nodded his head in agreement and added: "Buddhism is essentially a religion of kindness, humanity and equality. It is against animal sacrifices. So those who do these kind of things (genetic engineering) are deviating from the right path. They seem to have only passion for experiments (Paryog) but no compassion for animals."


The Sikh mystic in his typical Punjabi-accented Hindi opined: "We accept the cyclic Hindu theory of ‘Samsara’ - birth, death and rebirth - and karma. Humans are, therefore, equal to all other creatures - big or small. Conversely, all animals are sentient beings and therefore no pain should be inflicted on them. Because who knows that in our next birth, we may be born as an animal. That is why genetic engineering should not be performed on them." To make his point clear, he added: "There may be grounds for valuing the life of a person more highly than that of an animal. But these, however, are not grounds for ignoring or devaluing the life of an animal for the simple reason that the basic characteristics (of divine life) are present to some degree in all animals."


Genesis Awards on TV


"Genesis" Awards are given to honor and encourage all those who took courage and integrity to expose animal cruelties and thus heighten the public awareness on these issues. This 90 minutes ceremony will be shown on TV three times this year, on each of the two Animal Planet and Discovery Channels, all over the nation. Mark your calendar for dates, and verify them with your local TV Guide for exact time, because the timings are confusing, and there are two separate channels. Animal Planet Channel: (1) Saturday, May 17, 7 pm PST (10 pm EST), again (2) Saturday, May 17, 10 pm PST (1 am EST), and (3) Friday, May 30, 9 pm PST (midnight EST). Discovery Channel: (1) Saturday, May 31, 3:30 pm your own local time, (2) Sunday, June 1, 6:30 pm EST, and (6) Sunday, June 1, 6:30 pm PST. You should be able to catch at least one of the six airings.