For the good of mankind
As many of my peers, I have fallen for the brilliantly scary game of Resident Evil. Ever since the movies came out, zombies took a step back and the Umbrella Corporation took a step in to the light. They do not just represent a zombie factory, they represent everything that can go wrong with science. They represent what happens when ethical principals are removed and greed takes over.
I love the story of Raccoon city because it is an epic tale of what happens when what we control in a clinical environment makes its way out in to the world we can not control. The best thing about it is that we can leave our consoles and TVs and go back to safety. But what will happen the day we can’t leave, when the monsters, the viruses and the horror knock on our reality? All around the globe, underground laboratories are doing their best to create cures, to ensure we can tackle pandemics. These types of research is highly secured and in many ways strict so my fears of a “T-Virus” making it’s way to us is very small. I have enormous amount of trust for those who ensure saftey. But what about all of the experiments that have no controled labs. That are sent out to the real world in hopes to integrate with our ecosystem but we can’t guarantee that they will. Here is a scenario from the latest of the attemptes to cheat nature through science.
Denguefever is a dangerous condition that harvests many lives all across the globe. The virus is spread by the vector Aedes aegypi. What scientists have done to control the spread of the vector is to use new technologies.
Genetic engineering has been used to create a “super soldier”. The genetically engineered vector is set to mate with a female vector. The main difference between him and an ordinary male of his kind is that he is carrying a fatal gene that will lead to the death of any larva that may come as a result of their encounter. It ensures a constraint of species population. Since the only the females are carriers and spreaders of dengue fever, there is no risk that the “soldiers” will continue the spread.
There is little or no knowledge of how these “soldier” will react in nature. The possibility of uncontrolled mutation out in the natural environment is fully possible, even if the laboratory tests have shown little risk for contamination of the ecological system of the targeted release area of the Island Kuala, Malaysia. It might bring the world hope, and humanity aid to fight dengue fever.
However, what if not? In the movie I am legend, a scientific team use a virus and manipulate it to cure cancer. Cancer gets cured, but the virus used as cure mutates and soon all mankind gets extinct. Much like the T-Virus. How can we ever assure that these tales won’t become more than fiction? In today’s globalised market where food and supplies are being shipped all across the world we are more vulnerable than ever to epidemics.
What will happen if there is a mutation and a new, even more dangerous kind of vector appears. It is where science meets fiction. We won’t be able to handle such a situation. The truth is, mankind has never witnessed a spontaneous mass mutation of a species. And if that species should happen to effect other parts of our ecosystem such as farming, then we are doomed in more than one way. I am fully aware that when ever genetic manipulation is mentioned, so are catastrophes. I am very hopeful when it comes to genetic engineering, on humans, not on animals about to enter a highly sensitive ecological system. It possesses a danger, and uncertainties that we must discuss. Other species are far more experienced in whole in adaption. There are many examples of the opposite, when one spices has been brought in to disarm another, and itself become a problem.
So, should the world of science be worried. Of course, we do not control nature and we never will fully be able to. Remeber the fellow from Jurassic Park? He who said “nature will find a way”, and it did. They could not contain the dinosaurs, and we, most likely won’t be able to contain what we put in to nature. I don’t really think that is our purpose either. Despite of what I think in the present state, I might change my mind, and I hope that I am wrong, that our survival purposes and the genetically engineered vector will save many lives. But I also hope, that we, in the future will find another way to deal with epidemics than potentially creating more of them.
And I trulyhope we will never stop debating, because the ethical principals are only worth as much as the next generation of scientists think they are. If curiosity takes over reason, if short term prevention takes over long term prevention, if good for mankind becomes good for the individual then we are no better than those who created the zombies in resident evil. And scifi will no longer exist, we will live in it.
And always look on the bright side 🙂 Off the topic but a wonderful quote.
“What really ought to give us pause about research that harnesses the fantastic powers of primitive cells to develop into entire organs and even organisms is what monsters we will soon be capable of creating” Charles Crauthammer.
Ten articles that go in depth of the genetic engineering of Aedes aegypi.
1. Kokoza, V; Ahmed, A; Cho, W-L; Jasinskiene, N; James, A A; Raikhel, A. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2000;97:9144-9149. [PubMed] Gratz, N G. Annu Rev Entomol. 1999;44:51-75. [PubMed] 3. Gubler, D. Clin Microbiol Rev. 1998;11:480-496. [PubMed] 4. Collins, F H; James, A A. Sci Med. 1996;3:52-61. 5. Beaty, B J; Carlson, J O. Curr Opin Infect Dis. 1997;10:372-376. 6. O’Brochta, D A; Atkinson, P W. Sci Am. 1998;279(6):90-95. 7. Jasinskiene, N; Coates, C J; Benedict, M Q; Cornel, A J; Rafferty, C S; James, A A; Collins, F H. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 1998;95:3743-3747. [PubMed] 8. Coates, C J; Jasinskiene, H; Miyashiro, L; James, A A. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 1998;95:3748-3751. [PubMed] 9. Catteruccia, F; Nolan, T; Loukeris, T G; Blass, C; Savakis, C; Kafatos, F C; Crisanti, A. Nature (London). 2000;405:959-962. [PubMed] 10. Coates, C J; Jasinskiene, N; Pott, G B; James, A A. Gene. 1999;21:317-325. [PubMed]