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Playing God The Horrors of Genetic Engineering
IVU News 2-97

Biotechnology can now cross animals with plants, leaving the vegetarian confused. The scientific world today has the power to alter the very fabric of nature, not only by transferring characteristics between plants, but by cross-altering animals, plants and human beings. Genetic engineering, which is without ethical limitation, has a serious impact on the environment of animals and plants. It violates our relationship with the natural world. Most people believe that animals have a right to live their lives free from human interference with their original genetic structure. Also, animals can never serve as models of human disease because they are much too different. But scientists still keep trying after all, the human transplant market is worth well over $6 billion per year!


Biotechnology in recent years has been progressing by leaps and bounds. It represents a quantum leap in the exploitation of animals, allowing humans to move genes from one species of animal into another totally different species. Scientists and biotech companies in some major countries of the world want to create new animals which will produce more and better meat, give valuable products such as wool more easily, and have organs that can be used in human transplants. And it doesnt stop there: many of the genetically modified crops now being field-tested in the United States and around the world could not only have a devastating Jurassic Park type impact on the global eco-system, but could also hit agriculture-based third-world economies dependent on cash crops. Genetic engineering is a one-dimensional reductionist science which ignores the wider dynamics of life systems.

Genetic engineering primarily involves the introduction of genes containing DNA (dioxyribonucleic acid) procured from humans or animals into the cells of bacteria, yeast or other animals. One of the outcomes is termed a transgenic animal. These transgenic animals cannot be bred by natural/traditional selection or artificial insemination.

Donor females are given hormone injections and hormone-impregnated sponges are also inserted directly into their reproductive tracts, so as to make them produce lots of egg cells. This process has been termed super-ovulation. The eggs are then artificially inseminated either manually or surgically. Next the embryos are collected by further surgery or slaughter. The embryos are then injected with foreign DNA containing genes for preferred traits, and then transferred into foster mothers, again by surgery. It takes 80 donor and recipient animals to produce just one transgenic cow if everything works perfectly, which is very rare. Once the transgenic animal has been produced, its suffering begins: for example, non-porcine genes have been added to pigs, producing animals with gastric ulcers, liver and kidney disorders, lameness, damaged eye-sight, loss of co-ordination, susceptibility to pneumonia and diabetic conditions.

Genetic engineering research is most often carried out on animals such as mice, pigs, sheep, other farm animals and fish, as well as on plants such as tomatoes, tobacco and corn.

Vegetarians around the world are seriously wondering whether the food they are eating is actually vegetarian. In the case of the Flavr Savr tomato, as they are usually called, the tomatoes are genetically altered by introducing genes from a fish, the Arctic flounder, so as to reduce freezer damage and give them a longer shelf-life, to make them ripen longer on the tree while remaining firm at the time of picking and transportation, and to make them bigger and tastier as well. No layman can tell the difference between Flavr Savr and a normal tomato, which is primarily why staunch vegetarians want the altered tomatoes labelled.

Other such experiments with vegetables include chicken genes introduced into potatoes for resistance to disease and to increase shelf-life and size, tobacco altered with mouse genes to reduce impurities, or with a gene from fire-flies which makes the leaves glow at night. Some biotechnologists go to such lengths that playing around with the genes of animals becomes a game for them. This might result in some ghastly creature produced just to satisfy someones whims and fancies. Scientists in the U.S. have bred a mouse called the oncomouse, which has been genetically engineered to develop cancer and in due course to die a slow and painful death. The first oncomouse was bred in 1981; yet 15 years later a cure for cancer still seems to elude scientists. Genetic engineering on mice does not stop there. A mouse specially created to lack an immune system has been used to grow human organs, such as ears, externally and even internally. The absence of an immune system ensures that the mouse will not reject human tissue.

photoScientists make a look-alike mould of a human organ, such as an ear, with biodegradable polyester fabric or other polymers. They then transfer the bone/muscle cells into the form and transplant it on to the mouse. When ready, the organ is grafted from the mouse, who somehow manages to remain alive after the ear is removed.

Similarly, scientists have managed to grow liver, skin, cartilage, bone, ureters, heart valves, tendons, intestines, blood vessels and breast tissue with such polymers. But if the idea of reversing the experiment (replacing the mice with humans) were contemplated, people would call it blasphemous. There is no thought for the animals involved. The extent to which these experiments will go is uncertain. A change will only come about when scientists acknowledge the animals right to live a normal healthy life without man tampering with their genes.

Pigs are also grown transgenically so that their organs can be transplanted into humans. Transgenic pigs were first produced in 1985. Scientists have succeeded in making the required organs in pigs capable of producing human cells. These proteins, they hope, will trick the human immune system while transplanting the organ(s) so that the recipient does not react to the foreign tissue.

Another example is that of sheep which have been injected with hormones bioengineered to cause wool-shedding so as to produce the so-called self-shearing sheep. This is done in Australia where, unfortunately for the sheep, the climate is mostly hot and sunny. As a result, some sheep experience an increased rate of abortion. Where on earth will it all end? Talking of sheep, Welsh mountain clone sheep are living proof that life can be created without sperm. A scientist at Rosalin Institute created them by fusing a cell grown in the laboratory with an empty sheep-egg through a spark of electricity. Imagine growing a sheep in a lab dish! Ironically, when pondering about doing the same with human beings, scientists find it unethical.

In another bizarre experiment, Indian scientists at the Nimbalkar Research Institute, Phaltan, Maharashtra, have created, by artificial insemination, an animal with the head of a goat and the body of a cow. This animal grows fatter faster and the volume of meat is therefore increased.

Scientists claim that they can and will make genetically altered animals that will help cure human diseases and illnesses. Transgenic research has been going on for nearly 20 years, but it still has not cured a single human illness, although illnesses such as diabetes, blindness, lameness and cancer (among others) have all been produced unexpectedly in animals subjected to these ridiculous experiments. Genetic engineering going to lengths such as these is a symbol of consumerism gone berserk. Is it really fair that animals and their environment should bear the brunt of our insatiable curiosity?

[Reprinted from Compassionate Friend published by Beauty Without Cruelty, India]

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