Why is important to bring critical eyes to bear on challenges associated with biotechnology? Consider what Mike Schmidt wrote in Science recently (Science 331(6023):1387 (18 March 2011)):
“The genetic revolution is well under way in microbes and invertebrates. It’s even enjoying great progress in mice and moderate progress in rats. The real progress in these organisms has come not from the ability to read their genes; rather, it is a result of our ability to write them.
Improving modern treatments, including pharmaceuticals, based on genetic differences is certainly a valuable addition to our medical toolbox. But I predict that the advent of genetic manipulation in humans — whether in embryos or in adults, whether transient or permanent, whether purely genetic or epigenetic — will be considered the real beginning of the genetic revolution.”
This echoes Arno Motulsky, who wrote in the early days of biotechnology in the same journal that “I consider novel reproductive technologies as a more human activity than making babies in the usual way” (Science 185 (4152):661; 23 August, 1974).
I am convinced that the radical transformation biotechnology has begun to visit upon every aspect of the relationship between humans and our environment has been underestimated by all but perhaps a very few science fiction writers. And although there will be some perils and pitfalls along the path, the results to date have been unambiguously positive, and the promise overall seems strongly to the good.
Unfortunately, policy makers all too often seem unaware of the policy prerequisites required for this revolution to flower fully. Too often they have been seduced by a neo-luddism peddled by professional protest groups opposed to biotech for a variety of reasons, ranging from the well-intended through thoroughly misinformed and misguided to the downright pernicious. We will bring light to these dark places.
We will undertake to explore some of the implications of governmental policies that aid or inhibit the advance of this revolution, in both the biomedical/pharmaceutical space, and in agriculture and the environment, and we will make recommendations as to how the necessary and desired transformations may be accelerated. Watch this space.