Sunday, May 8, 2016

Genetically Modifying Organisms -- A Not So New Practice

When we think of genetic modification, we usually imagine scientists carefully inserting genes into cells in a laboratory setting. But in reality, humans have been engaging in genetic modification for thousands of years -- science has only made the process easier and more direct. Consider the case of dogs, which humans have domesticated from wolves.
A wolf.
Some of the many breeds of dogs.

Wolves have been shaped by natural selection, but dogs have been shaped by humans. Many dog breeds look very different from their lupine ancestors, which can only be explained through careful breeding and selection for particular qualities by people. Sometimes this was done for practical purposes, such as herding or hunting. But in other cases the main concern was aesthetics, such as in poodles. Dog shows are essentially competitions in which animals are graded according to which have been genetically modified the 'best.'
Alba, the glowing bunny, an art project by Eduardo Kac.

So is it really different when we directly plant genes into organisms? Not really. Alba had a jellyfish gene that made her glow green under the right conditions. Yet some would say this is "playing god" and that any genetic modification is wrong. The truth is that humans have been playing with genetics for millennia, and will continue to do so. As long as we avoid abusing the animals, such as by creating animals whose genetic makeup causes them undue suffering, there isn't anything immoral about the practice. (Provided we also avoid the traps of eugenics.)


Fraser, Carolyn. "Dog Breed Chart Learn The Different Breeds." PetPictures. 17 Feb. 2016. Web. 08 May 2016

"Gray Wolf - Pictures, Facts, and Map." National Geographic Kids. National Geographic. Web. 08 May 2016.

Kac, Eduardo. "GFP BUNNY." KAC. Web. 08 May 2016.

Levy, Ellen. Defining Life: Artists Challenge Conventional Classifications. PDF.

Vesna, Victoria. "BioTech + Art Lecture Part 1." UC Online. UCLA.Web. 08 May 2016.

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