IT HAPPENS ONLY IN INDIA,
GREAT JOB MR. PARMAR
it is good to eat as many as vegetables and fruits (totally vegetarian), but my aurvedic doctor asked me to stop eating every...
THE BIOTECH CENTURY·Jeremy Rifkin·Penguin Putnam Inc, New York·$24.5
WITH the 21st century being projected as the biotech century, proponents and opponents have often been engaged in a war of words on various issues -- scientific, environmental, genetic, sociological or ethical. While the Industrial Revolution is being criticised with hindsight, the possible effects of the rampant use of biotechnology are being discussed even before the revolution has actually begun.
A number of developments have led to a concern for progress being made in biotechnology research. It started with the unraveling of the genetic code and the assignment of characteristics to a particular gene. This knowledge made possible the transfer of desirable genes, even among species. Boundaries respected by nature are no longer sacred and suddenly nothing seems impossible. Through cloning, multiple "Xerox" copies of organisms are possible. Further progress has led to cloning of the now-famous sheep, Dolly. Testing for various diseases in the foetal stage also brings along with it the possibility of having designer babies.
A handful of biotech companies have spent billions on patenting genes and genetically-modified organisms. This has led to a mad scramble to patent world's genes -- microbial, insect, plant anima or even human. Suddenly, biotechnology is the new messiah, capable of providing solutions to problems in agriculture, better environment, production technology and healthcare systems.
Keeping these developments in mind, Jeremy Rifkin, president of the Foundation on Economic Trends, Washington, has chronicled the history of biotechnology, the various options, the outcome of such usage and also where it stands today, thanks to the genetic revolution aided by the invention of computers.
Rifkin describes seven strands that go into the making of the biotech century -- availability of genes, patenting, mapping of human genes, genetic basis of human diseases, globalisation, use of computers and the assumption that these developments are compatible with nature.
Bioengineering companies are setting the pace for the biotech revolution. Agricultural scientists are introducing new pest-resistant crops. Indoor agricultural production is being made practicable with the introduction of tissue culture.
A new concept called pharming is being introduced where animals are being used to produce pharmaceutical products, like anti-cancer drugs. In animal husbandary, animals are reared to produce hyper products. Cloning animals to produce organs for human transplant is a distinct possibility. Test-tube babies are now pass, custom-made babies are conceivable and attempts to grow the foetus outside the womb are underway.
The book stresses the need to comprehend the various pros and cons of biotechnology. It states that the new technology is not a fait accompli, but just an option. Environmental fallout cannot be ignored. As evidence suggests, engineered plants are not as harmless as it seems. Moreover, once let loose on the soil, the plants cannot be recalled. The same applies to genetically-engineered microbes, which, given their size, are even more difficult to retract. Xenotransplantation of animal organs -- pigs, for instance -- into humans could allow the transmission of animal viruses and diseases into humans.
The author warns that the search for perfection could be a serious ethical issue facing the coming generations. The possibility of "knowing your child even before it is born" could pose unending dilemmas -- to terminate the pregnancy in case of a defect or allow the foetus to be born. In the quest for perfection, the gamble could prove difficult. According to Rifkin, genetic discrimination could be a serious problem in personal or professional relationships. Would an employer like to employ a lady at risk of developing breast cancer 10 years down the line? Would a man be willing to marry knowing that after years of marital bliss, the chances of his wife developing cancer is high, or vice versa? In other words, ignorance is bliss.
The book gives a relatively dispassionate account of the possible outcome of the gene revolution. For a biotech researcher, it is an excellent resource book. For the uninitiated, an eye-opener. The author urges the reader to thoroughly examine the repercussions of this technology since the revolution is likely to affect every aspect of our lives -- personal lifestyle, our professional life and the perception of the world around us.