Gene Editing, GMOs, The Vatican and Quran
Last updated on January 31st, 2018 at 06:45 pm
Gene editing has emerged one of THE debates of the 21st Century. As suggested by the term, gene editing involves deliberate alteration of an organism’s genetic sequence. The results of this artificial process? A new genetic template which codes for desired target proteins. As you might know, proteins are the organic materials that make up a host of cellular and sub cellular parts, notably enzymes that are the regulators of all functions cellular.
With manipulation of DNA, the stuff which carries the blueprint of life, new life forms can be ‘created’ infinitum as dictated by human needs of the day. Such manufactured life forms, products of this process of genetic engineering, are collectively referred to as genetically modified organisms (GMO).It is in this act of playing god — through ‘creation’ itself and subsequent possession of the power to literary decide what lives, how what lives exists and what doesn’t live — that within lies the ethical questions that blight this otherwise novel branch of science.
Germs, Guns and Steel
Human progress through the ages as best illustrated in the bestseller Germs, Guns and Steel has theoretically been reliant on the acquisition — followed by some level of consensus — and finally application of knowledge. This knowledge, technology, value lies in it enabling of the remoulding of nature’s course in a way that enhances the survival and propagation of the human species.
Gene editing and the broader practice of genetic engineering hold the promise of unraveling solutions to a host of human plights. Especially so in the 21st Century, when new global realities like the 4th Industrial Revolution demand a paradigm shift from yesterday’s solutions. As a result, 21st century heroes will therefore be the ones with the verve to venture and sail uncharted waters; fueled by a healthy dose of unsettled spirits yearning to get out of comfort zones; and grounded by a smattering of audaciousness in their readiness to leave home on the 21st century voyage to the new world .
Yet, in the way of these progressive forces, stands a more than healthy portion of ‘why’ which counters the forward march. With the emerging feild of gene editing, so healthy is this serving of ‘why’. So much so to cause indigestion of the mind, especially when ill digested matters like the ethics of gene editing are part of what’s on offer.
The Vatican & Quran
In 1987, way before global warming was a pet subject, before the works of Jeffery Sachs and co at The Earth Institute concisely captured in the Harvard professor’s acclaimed book Common Wealth : Economics for a crowded Planet were given the time of the day, the Vatican set the tone on genetically modified organisms and by extension gene editing. The Vatican asserted that genetic engineering went against the moral laws of society. Further afield, some Islamic scholars have controversially drawn parallels between some Quran verses and scientific discoveries like the 46 genome human sequence. Controversially, as their work was obstinately not to offer moral backing to the science of genetics but rather in mockery- for lack of a better word.
In Africa, the debate has been whether GMOs are the cure to the continent’s recurring and exponential hunger problems as exemplified by the recurrent droughts that raved the horn of Africa. This has snowballed to mini-debates surrounding the modification of genomes for food such as concerns over the implications of such a move ( intensified agrochemical use, ‘loss’ of exotic indigenous flora, issues of intellectual property rights and health concerns). Proponents of the application of technologies like gene editing to agriculture have been quick to point out the dividends of a hunger free Africa: a chance to fix societal structural problems like elusive peace and chronic socioeconomic under development.
Gene Editing & Good Old Choice
The lands north of the Sahara have cleverly skirted around some of the above issues thanks to the old trick called choice. Choice is premised on the sacrosanct concept of an individual’s autonomy central to neoliberal thinking Choice, is the underlying dogma of all things that the 20th century gave to man from democracy, to capitalism, to all rights and freedoms human. As a result, GMO’s regulated they are, but the decision on consumption is left to the consumer guided by religious dispensations, other persuasions and the information on food labels.
Nonetheless, thanks to 21st century realities, even in these empowered societies where choice lives on unlike say at the Horn of Africa where survival relegates choice, lack of critical consensus on many facets of gene editing challenge viral acceptance of this technology. As we speak, the monkey still rides on the back of gene editing.
Truth is for the genetic engineering debate to be settled somewhat, the 21st century society needs to came out in an equivocal unshaken voice and vouch on the health safety of genetically modified organisms and gene editing. Simply put, the world needs a biblical, if you like Quran-like truth, to hide behind as it to marches on forward in a quest to deal with some of the same issues that guns, germs and steel theory tried to counter: Disease and hunger. Only that this time, no child, woman or man is to be left behind.