Re: GM angst

From: Robert J. Bradbury (
Date: Mon Jul 17 2000 - 02:12:09 MDT

On Mon, 17 Jul 2000, Damien (the scarecrow) Broderick wrote:

> Is this gibing really all that needs to be said, in reply to the concern
> that remixing genes in ways not pre-tested by millennia of natural (or
> indeed human) selection and broadcasting them everywhere in industrial
> quantities might have horrible consequences?

Your concern is noted Damien. However look at it from the perspective
of the protein folding problem -- genes produce these funny little
proteins that have very specific shapes and functions. I would
imagine that the probability that our inter-species transfers producing
some dangerous combination is so vanishingly low that it falls way
below the probability of the interspecies transfers that nature
does every day will cause a problem. In other words, our activities
are (thus far) likely to be noise in the system. I've got plans
that will change that but I've got plans for failsafes as well.

The best example I can think of for human created problems is
chemicals similar to hormones (dioxins and their ilk). The situation
here is that you are only dealing with a few dozen atoms that happen
to have a similar enough shape to molecules nature has chosen to use
for signals, that false signals are received or valid signals are blocked.

Once you bump up the size and shape of the molecules (to proteins)
the probability of unanticipated reactions should decrease significantly.

Its like asking if you have 40 random things pulled out of the
drawers in your home and I go to another draw and pull something out
and add it to the pile of 40 things, do I get a bomb? There is probably
some combination of things in your home that will produce a bomb but
my chances of discovering the right combinations by accident are very
very low.

Another analogy would be -- what is the proability if you pick an
average man or woman off of the street and spend a day with them
that you would actually enjoy the experience enough to want to mate
with them and produce offspring?

> Even without a brain, a scarecrow might notice some of the nasty field
> effects mentioned in Greg's cautionary post about spreading anthropogenic
> chemical novelties into the biosystem (hormone analogues poisoning
> developmental pathways, etc etc).

Yes, but the hormone analogues are products of the chemical industries,
not the AgBio industry. If you want to balance the debate you need
to discuss how many new chemical molecules are invented each year
(some of which must surely escape into the environment -- something
the Greens are starting to notice vis-a-vis the drug industry) vs.
how many new organisms are produced and released?

Lord, what kind of studies were done on the effects of Viagra
flowing into the water supply of animals or even humans?
The mind boggles...


This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Mon Oct 02 2000 - 17:34:45 MDT