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A Perspective on Genetic Engineering

Dr. Moneim A. Fadali, M.D.

As the global economy moves from industrial technologies to biotechnologies, the building blocks of life have become goods and wares. Genomes and chromosomes, genes, DNA's double helix, along with junk bonds, stocks, commodity money (yen, dollars and marks) are now legitimized currency for Wall Street, the stock market and megacorporations. Movables and articles to exchange, trade in, traffic, hoard, withhold and monopolize. With each seeking his or her own commodity, imagine what could happen! Laying human's self-centered mind and uneven hands on the nitty gritty, creation's bricks and mortar, fiddling, restructuring, redesigning, configuring, blending, mixing, transferring, downsizing, oversizing, demonizing, dedemonizing, merging and inventing new forms of life. A tempest in the cosmic web. The great tumult stirring up, rattling and unnerving four billion years of natural evolution, compressing millennia of wonderwork into seasons, trimesters and deadlines.

With genetic engineering for an epicenter, biotechnology stands to become a hefty $75-$100 billion industry, within the next five to ten years (The Kiplinger Washington Letter, vo1.72, no.31, p.1, 1995). A lure and a bait not lost on the avaricious reckoning of a notorious powerhouse, the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association. It weighed in dangling inducements and waving enticements while threatening to go overseas if its wishes are not taken as commands. Ever susceptible to benefactors' largesse and bounty; always vincible to intimidation by patrons, corporate sponsors and body language of the new party bosses, the U.S. Congress did what it does best: heel and cave in to special interests. And the new hymn played in the hallowed chambers, an amendment to the ditty of pseudopatriotism: "The U.S. cannot afford to lose out in the genetic engineering race." While the band was playing, the fortune seekers sang, the tempo quickened and rapid deregulation followed. Genes in waiting, frightened, defenseless, a lucrative prey to be plundered and ravished at the discretion of the indiscreet. All dandy, all legalized, the ominous scroll has been tendered and handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court. 1980, a leap year, in Diamond vs. Chackrabarty, the venerable niners established patentability of any living thing "under the sun made by man,"

Here we are, new gene combinations can be owned, and the living vectors in which they are introduced can become private property. Transactions of the deadly kind. The Patent Office opted for an ad libitum interpretation of the Supreme Court landmine decision, including cells, microbes, plants and all animals on its newly revamped menu. Wonder and ponder. Discern your countenance. Blush, and, in contempt behold the new age and dare entertain the open-ended question. What about us? Ourselves? Well! Well! Lawyers already did their contemplation and research. And, here it is, a legal opinion: "Lawyer George Annas argues that there is nothing to prevent cloning enthusiasts from pursuing patents for genetically modified embryos." Buddy, embryos are us. Remember? And you thought you were safe in your abode! Hah! Like "the house that Jack built", your progeny will be remodeled. And when you navigate the wilderness, you reminisce, and you recall the rustic and bucolic; your heart aches and yearns, and your vocals thunder, "Beware." Beware, but they might not hear you. Wayfarer, the unthinkable has become lawful, acceptable, doable. So, where shall we go from here? And, what is on their agenda? Plenty, plenty, weird stuff, snafus, terrorism at the molecular level, piracy within the sacred walls of living cells.

All genes are viewed as venues and vehicles for new products; the ecosystem is in for unprecedented savagery and abuse; cells and genes of indigenous people, the desperados and descamizados are glittering diamonds and pearls to be had by the moguls of the new age supertechnology. The unholy flame has arrived, and the race has begun to lay claims on cell lines and DNA patches, samples and patterns. The profiteers are now launching columns of well-paid gladiators armed with lethal microweapons aimed at other humans, other animals, plants, other lives, life itself, piercing, nipping, slaying, womb and bosom.

Seated on the bleachers eyeing the depressing scene, gathering evidence, the Rural Advancement Fund International (RAFI) accuses some scientists and companies of certain industrialized nations of committing acts of "biopiracy". God! God! Imagine that! Biopiracy!? Pirates of our times do not have to brave the seven seas or even walk a mile. RAFI is planning to take this most serious matter to the International Court of Justice at the Hague. Does RAFI have the resources and the stamina? Will it get a fair hearing? And if the verdict is "Guilty", will governments of mighty nations and the CEOs of supermighty global corporations heed and listen? But, you can do something about it. Now. Don't sell your genes.

In my lifetime I have experienced some dreadful dreams. I have witnessed horror pressed into massive doses of shattering jolts. I have seen agony perfected and rained on others without remorse or lament. I pilgrimed to nuclearly holocausted Hiroshima, my leavings were verse and tears. I have learned with utmost distress of the genocides of the American Indians, The Armenians, the European Jews and Gypsies. I have noted with utter despair the genocide of members of the Tutsi tribe in Rwanda and the Muslims in Bosnia. Other large-scale atrocities weigh heavily on my heart; grief-stricken, I mourn all; every one. Equally.
And, I have observed technology's train of gears, spellbinding the human perception, blinding the eye of the mind, controlling thought, replacing memory, dictating action and stunting the restless creature to a pitiable, villainous lump of inertia. From arrow to dagger to musket to rifle to guns, tanks, aeroplanes, submarines, lasers, missiles and nuclear bombs, human's will and ambition couldn't resist the bait. He used them all, sparing none. None. What do you think is going to happen with this one? Do you think he will resist, desist or abstain? Thus, talk about it we must. Warn against its horrendous potential we have to. Homicidal and suicidal, mankind might fall in the trap, and Homo sapiens might become history. Who said any species is immune from extinction'? Oh boy!

Truly, truly, biotechnology - genetic engineering in particular - is the stroke that may splinter life's chemical code, rend asunder the double helix, disrupt the formula and spoil the primordial soup.

Here are some genetic engineering products: genetic screening of individuals could disclose information about their lifespan and overall mental and physical potential, thus creating a "genetic underclass" that may be denied employment or insurance coverage. Oh! Yes! Habitually we stratify and categorize, and many feel majestic and grand peering down across the Great Divide. Now, genetic screening will do it for us, finally confirming what many have believed all along, that some. peoples' ingredients are inferior to theirs. A "Super-race" is on the cards; they talk about it; and when they do and get the means to do it, bet you, they will. "Designer babies" are being considered to fulfill dreams, expectations and ambitions of those who can pay the engineer.

The dreaded Nazi regime toyed with the ghastly malignant idea. A fixation on genetic deficits causing and explaining all, from overweight to obesity to slimness, from anxiety to depression, from sexual prowess to orientation, gentle airs, charisma, poise, bad manners, crime, alcoholism, cancer, what have you. A risk-ridden trend diverting attention from environmental causes of illness, lifestyles, abuse practices and unhealthy diets, all notoriously contributing to serious physical and mental illness. So, let it all hang out, eat all you can eat, drink to satiety, stretch and slumber; and, we will facelift, tummytuck, liposuck, pinch your waistline, slip a balloon down your voracious stomach, and shorten your redundant bowels. You are addicted to food because you have the fattening gene of desire, and we will get the silly, nasty speck out of your system. Same goes for the rest of human foibles, failings and self-inflicted wounds.

Cross-species transplants through breeding animals with human genes to overcome rejection in human recipients are very likely to transmit fatal viruses and induce malignancies. Based on ontology, philology, morphology, metamorphosis, genesis of diseases and scientific history from ancient to present, I have no doubt that cross-species transplants will disfigure, disrupt and open unseen gates of new diseases for which we have no resistance nor ready remedies. The mad, wretched practice of inserting genes from one species into the embryos of another to create "transgenic animals" has already produced moribundly ill entities with new shapes and forms beset with terribly hideous diseases. Transgenic pigs suffered from gastric ulcers, heart problems, pneumonias, kidney diseases, protruding eyes. Transgenic Iambs have diabetes and die early. Transgenic mice develop cancer all over their bodies, and miserable outcomes happen to every animal species that is subject to this sick science.

Genetically engineered organisms could create environmental chaos and may trigger new pandemics and major devastating epidemics; a real possibility based on epidemiology, bacteriology, virology and the basic scientific tenets of botany and zoology. Agricultural crops designed to grow big and resist infestations will eventually increase the use of complex chemicals. Pests will always find new ways to ensure their own survival, and the highly toxic compounds will find their way to air, water and soil ending up in our organs and very tissues. Done - I presume - with good intentions, transfer of insects, other animals and vegetations from continent to continent, from environment to environment has frequently wreaked havoc on domestic and wild life. Short-sighted, we see the immediate gain, forfeiting the big loss on the threshold and beyond.

Genetic diversity and balance within and between the species are pillars in the venerable scheme of existence. Interdependence keeps life's flow, beat and munificence. Planet's genetic pool cannot be proffered to global corporations; life's stock, bricks and mortar cannot be exchanged on the stock market.

This very serious matter deserves ample contemplation and prompt action. Surely, if we see it for what it really is, 'we will act decisively. So, for right seeing, I shall ardently work and passionately entreat. Then and there genetic research may render help to all.

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