(Un)Natural: The Ethics Of Transgenics

by Steve Elwart
Senior Analyst Koinonia Institute

And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

Genesis 1:11,12 (KJV)

God is the author of all life. It was He who created every kind of thing, living and non-living. He designed every living thing, using the building blocks of DNA. This begs the question, “Is it right for Man to be modifying God’s design with Genetic Engineering (GE)?”

Some would say that using biotechnology to modify the basic components of human life is an abomination. Using Genetic Engineering (GE) to alter a species is a violation of God’s order of things. Others would say that GE is actually complementing God’s design, something Man has been doing for thousands of years.

What Is Genetic Engineering?

Genetic engineering is the collection of techniques used for different purposes: to isolate genes; to modify genes so they function better; to prepare genes to be inserted into a new species; and, to develop trans-genes.

The process of creating a transgene includes isolating a gene from the tens of thousands of other genes in the genome1 of a species. Once that gene is isolated, it is usually altered so it can function effectively in a host organism. That gene is then combined with other genes to prepare it to be introduced into another organism, at which point it’s known as a transgene.

A transgenic organism, sometimes called a chimera,2 is one that contains a transgene introduced by techno-logical methods rather than through selective breed-ing.


Transgenics allow scientists to develop organisms that express a novel trait not normally found in the species; for example, a type of rice known as golden rice has elevated levels of vitamin A. Scientists have also developed sunflowers that are resistant to mildew and cotton that resists insect damage. Possible transgenic combinations can be broken down generally into three categories:

1) plant-animal-human combinations;

2) animal-animal combinations; and

3) animal-human combinations.

An example of a plant-animal-human transgenic combination would be one in which the DNA of mouse and human tumor fragments is inserted into tobacco DNA. The harvested plants contain a potential vaccine against non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.3

Other transgenic plants have been used to create edible vaccines. By incorporating a human protein into bananas, potatoes, and tomatoes, researchers have been able to create prototypes of edible vaccines against hepatitis B and cholera.4 The vaccines are proving to be successful in tests on agricultural animals and humans.

GE in the Supermarket

Recombinant DNA technology, or gene-splicing, has been used for a number of years now to supplement our diets. Most of the corn, soy and canola grown in the U.S. is genetically engineered with molecular techniques.

More than 80% of the processed food in our super-markets contains ingredients from genetically engineered crops. In North America alone, there are currently more than four dozen GE foods and crops being grown. Consumers have eaten more than three trillion servings of food that contain ingredients from genetically engineered plants.

The Chinese are investing heavily into biotechnology research to increase their crop yields. The government has focused on their internal priorities to in-crease domestic yields at lower costs to farmers.

Genetically engineered pest-resistant cotton, for ex-ample, comprises nearly half of all cotton grown in China, and the savings in pesticide and fertilizer applications have cut costs by 28 percent and raised the average small farmer’s annual income by $150, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of California at Davis and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Dangers of GE

The problem with GE is that this biotechnology can quickly run afoul of the Law of Unintended Consequences. GE foods are viewed by many as inherently unpredictable and dangerous for humans and for the future of sustainable and organic agriculture. As Dr. Michael Antoniou, a British molecular scientist points out:

…gene-splicing has already resulted in the unexpected production of toxic substances…in genetically engineered bacteria, yeast, plants, and animals, with the problem remaining undetected until a major health hazard has arisen.

Opponents fear GE foods could trigger the emergence of new diseases due to the use of viruses and bacteria to modify some GE foods. These new diseases could be resistant to antibiotics. GE foods:

• Raise the risk of developing cancer;

• Trigger food allergies as a result of a food that causes allergies in some people being placed in an-other organism;

• Harm the ecosystem by removing a pest that could be an important source of food for another animal; and

• Can be toxic to an organism and lead to its extinction.

It took a Chernobyl in the Ukraine and a Fukushima in Japan for people to understand the unrealized dangers in nuclear energy production. Is it possible that the ecological implications of genetically modified organisms will remain unaddressed for many years and that only God’s design itself—not its scientists’ perceptions—will one day reveal the true impact of GM organ-isms on the environment?

Recent experiments in the UK have shown that the GM crop plants tested for survival in the wild were no better adapted than non-GM crop plants. However, there is some concern that transgenes in GM plants may spread to other wild plants and create weeds that are more difficult to control.

This danger has been recognized. It is considered unwise to introduce herbicide tolerant genes into rice where red rice is a weed and into sorghum where Johnson grass (Sorghum halepense) is a weed. Outcrossing to these important weed species could invalidate the use of herbicides to control them.

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