Most human-caused extinctions have been unintentional—side effects of activities or policies that gradually led to declining population and annihilation. But some extinctions have been planned and intentional. Smallpox was intentionally eradicated in 1979. It was a virulent disease, fatal in about 30% of cases. The World Health Organization reports that: “Prior to 1960, smallpox ranked … Continue reading Engineering Extinction: CRISPR, Gene Drives and Genetically-Modified Mosquitoes
In the film Jurassic Park, scientists use fictional biotechnology methods to re-introduce dinosaurs to the earth. According to the plot line, intact dinosaur DNA was found in the fossilized remains of mosquitos. The fictional scientists were able to re-introduce that DNA using cellular and genetic materials from close evolutionary relatives of the dinosaurs.
Proposals to regulate and limit the use of new technologies and medical procedures are regularly introduced in U.S. state legislatures, but no procedure in American political life is more controversial than abortion. At present, women in the United States have the constitutionally protected right to make their own decision about whether to end a pregrancy through abortion.
Farmers throughout the world are facing new challenges, and this is especially true for farmers in developing countries. In Bangladesh, rising seas inundate precarious agricultural lands. In sub-Saharan Africa, people face unprecedented drought. In China and India, farmers face changes resulting from shrinking glaciers that no longer stabilize the flow of river water and may not be relied on to provide water for other crucial services. While skeptics resist the notion that biotechnology might help to address these problems, efforts are already under way. Flood-and drought-resistant varieties of rice and other staple crops are under development. Some of these new varieties have been field tested, and promise to be valuable for producers who face changing environmental circumstances.
Most of the time, when we pay taxes we don’t get to direct the use of our money. Vegans are taxed to support programs that benefit beef and milk producers, creationists are taxed to support research on evolutionary theory, libertarians are taxed to support public schools and roads, and pacifists are taxed to support our military. Sometimes conscientious objections to public expenses become political footballs, as when irreverent art is presented as a reason to curtail public support for the arts, or when apparently arcane research is displayed as a reason to curtail public support for research in the sciences or humanities.
In the struggle to distinguish ourselves from others, genetics offers some comfort: unless you have an identical twin, your genetic code is absolutely unique. No other human being has ever carried the same genes you carry. Your genetic identity automatically distinguishes you from everyone else who lives and from every human being who ever has lived.