Jenner's risk in gene manipulation





In the movie GATTACA, a futuristic world is sketched. In this world gene manipulation has diffused and entrenched itself through society. Even the genomes of human beings are being manipulated to create a superior elite.
This type of movie has the sole purpose to scare people away from gene manipulation and ban all related research. Doing so doesn’t just prove a very small perspective, but it is also very naïve.

At present day, a world like it is sketched in GATTACA, in which everyone is socially obliged to have designer babies, is very fictional. And it will always remain that way, since people seem to neglect a small phenomenon called ‘epigenetics’.
Genes are a mere blueprint of an organism. Like with all blueprints, the end result can vary, depending on which building blocks, engineers and circumstances are present. For human beings this means that someone with perfect genes doesn’t necessarily have to prove himself superior.

On the contrary. Nature proves that an organism that has only good genes is destined to die out. A living thing can only provide its body with so much energy. When genes start demanding more energy than the body can provide, the organism is bound to die. This can best be described by the principle ‘A jack of everything is a master of nothing’. So in fact, designer babies seem to be nothing more than a hoax.
Sadly, the movie makes a whole other impression on everyone that isn’t specialized on this topic. It makes people believe that gene manipulation, no matter to what extent, is dangerous. That everyone working with gene manipulation threatens all what’s pure and good in the world. It is right this paradigm, that is holding back revolutionary advances in the food industry.
Currently, people are starving because activists have been ruining the testing fields of promising new crops. With these new foods, hunger could have been battled and plagues beaten. The problem of t=x (which is a severe shortage of food) would have been solved. All this proves how blinding fear can be. And how important it is to always keep in mind the potential risks that outsiders fear.

Risk is defined as: “Risk is the probability of a scenario multiplied by its gravity in costs and/or benefits if it does.”
The main fear concerning manipulating the genes of crops is that the plant will spread through nature and start eradicating all the native species. The probability of this happening is very small, as I described before these designed plants are mere jacks and will never be able to survive out in nature.

Besides this, some people are scared that genetically engineered food can be harmful to the person eating it. Ingestion would result in genetic modification of the consumer, too. This fear is much a like the resistance Edward Jenner was confronted with after he had just introduced vaccination to society. Back then, the people were afraid of growing into a cow as a result of being vaccinated against the pocks. Pictures like shown in illustration 1 made it on the front page of every newspaper.

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Ill 1.: a cartoon used for propaganda, in which people grow body parts of cows after vaccination. 

But in time, after many a man had died an unnecessary death, people came back to their senses. A new paradigm had emerged. And like the vaccine, it is just a matter of time until a switch of paradigm will occur. It’s pitiful this new paradigm will only find its birth light, after millions of people have starved to death.