by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted November 5, 2007 in Genetic Engineering
Genetically engineered mice captured everyone’s imagination and paranoia last week. First, supermice were created that are able to:
Run longer and faster
Eat 60 percent more food but not gain weight
Have a longer breeding life
Then, news of mice genetically engineered to have brain neurons that can fluoresce in 90 different colors amazed everyone. These “brainbows” are the result of four color-producing genes and will make it easier to study neuronal circuits. In this Science Friday podcast, Ira Flatow interviewed Dr. Jeff Lichtman, one of the researchers who developed the Brainbow technique. (Click play to listen.)
Not everyone is thrilled with the idea of transgenic animals. In the US, animal rights activists vandalized UCLA scientist Edyth London’s home and caused extensive damage. She and her colleagues conducting research on animals have been harrassed and threatened with violence for years. In the UK, animal welfare groups want researchers to find other ways to conduct research even as the number of genetically engineered/modified (GM) animals used in British laboratories continues to increase.
UK GeneWatch director, Helen Wallace, predictably came out against genetically engineered supermice as well. She first warns us against the creation of superhumans, moves on to animal rights, then suggests that we’re wasting money on genetics research “in a world where many diseases are neglected and people cannot get the medicines they need.” Bryan Appleyard’s assessment of supermice is much more pragmatic (and snarky).
In what could be a direct response to Helen Wallace and other animal rights activists, Ian Wilmut and Roger Highfield write in After Dolly: The Uses and Misuses of Human Cloning:
Every time I hear calls for blanket curbs on genetic technology, I think of the heart patient who died waiting for a transplant as animal rights protestors championed the rights of xenograft pigs, or the mother forced to watch her son suffer because fundamentalists took legal action to prevent her from having what they call a “designer baby” (a technique the relies on embryo selection, not genetic modification, as this pejorative label suggests). Abandoning a particularly “dangerous” technology wholesale can kill, maim and hurt future generations by preventing that technology from doing any good at all. Society has to weigh the opportunities to help and make sure that it does not miss important new opportunities because of fear of new knowledge. We should be prepared to change our views and judgements in the light of new discoveries.
How have your views and judgments changed lately?
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