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Unformatted text preview: SOCIOLOGY 415: Technology and Society
University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa , Fall 2010 Textbook:
Volti, Rudi. 2009. Society and Technological Change. 6t h edition. Worth Publishers Inc.
REVIEW, PT. III: HOW TECHNOLOGY AFFECTS THE HEALT H OF THE EARTH AND ITS INHABITANTS.
CHAPTER 8: GENETIC TECHNOLOGIES
(137-150) There is a familiar theme — every technological advance is both a solution and a problem.
The fundamental scientific insight underlying many emerging medical technologies is that growth
and reproductive mechanisms of each cell are governed by the basic unit of heredity — the gene.
Some genes are defective, giving rise to a variety of d isorders. Genetic screening or actually
intervening in an organism’s genetic code offers revolu tionary new ways of diagnosing, curing,
and even preventing the emergence of many disorders ( 137).
During the early 20th century, Thomas Hunt Morgan found that chromosomes present in cell nuclei were the site of the key agent of heredity
— the gene. In the 1940s, D NA was identified as the key constituent
of genes. In 1953, James W atson and Francis Crick determined that
the molecular structure of DNA consists of pairs of molecules attached
to sugar-phosphate backbo nes that form intertwined spirals — the
now-famous double helix. This discovery laid the foundation for rapidly
expanding insights into the functioning and reproduction of cells (138).
In 1973, Stanley Cohen of S tanford University and Herbert Boyer of
the University of California produced the first organisms containing
genetic material transferred from another organism. They used special
enzymes to cut apart the DNA extracted from the cells of a toad. The
resulting strands of DNA were spliced into a bacterial p lasmid (a viirus-like DNA entity) to make
new DNA molecules that were subsequently introduce d into the host organism, the common
bacterium Escherichia coli. Bacteria with the new ge netic endo wment were selected from
ordinary bacteria by linking the DNA fragments of the former to genes that conferred a resistance
to antibiotics. Accordingly, when all the bacteria wer e exposed to an antibiotic, only those
containing the new genetic material survived. Continu ed advances in laboratory techniques
allowed scientists to discover the distinctive sequence o f bases that characterized the DNA of a
few individual genes….The eventual determination of t
the human genetic map had become a
distinct possibility (138).
The potential monetary value of genetic engineering wa s underscored when, in 1980, the U.S.
Supreme Court ruled that a human-made organism (in this case a bacterium that could digest
oil) was entitled to full patent protection. Today, patent protection has been extended to genes
themselves (or even a fragment of a gene). After being a
awarded a patent, the holder would then
have an exclusive right to market laboratory tests, diagn ostic devices, and therapeutic prod
based on the knowledge of that particular gene. (Read p .139 re patents and “patent stacking.”)
Genetically based technologies are now a very big bu siness. The 3,933 U.S. patents held by
195 universities and other research institutions broug ht in $1.3 b illion in licensing income in
2003 alone. The number of gene-related patent applica tions now runs into the millions, and a
great amount of revenue may hinge on the granting or re fusal of a single application (139).
In some quarters, genetic modification of food crops has become especially attractive as a way of
dealing with present and future food shortages. The costs of cultivation may be lowered through
new means of controlling weeds, pests, and diseases. G enetic modification can also be used to
increase the nutritional value of foods, to create the pro duction of “edible vaccines” that prevent
certain disease when they are eaten, and to promote “c onservation tillage — a mode of energyc
n Page 1 of 2 SOCIOLOGY 415: Technology and Society
University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa , Fall 2010 cultivation that conserves the soil and the organisms in it by eliminating or sharply reducing
for regular plowing (140).
ally modified crops now constitute a significan t portion of the
ood economy — by 2006, eight million farmers in 21 countries
tivating genetically modified food crops. The U .S. is by far the
ser of genetically modified crops, with 57.7 million hectares sown
At a distant second, was Argentina (19.1 million h
hectares). At this
netically modified soybeans, canola, cotton, and corn dominate
market. At least 60% of processed foods in U.S supermarkets
one or more GM ingredients — usually corn, soy, or canola (142).
on to genetically modified crops can be found throughout the
d some European countries have put a moratoriium on their use.
a shared concern that changing the genetic m akeup of plants
gerous venture into uncharted territories. Oppo nents of GM crops point to the possible
e of new allergens or toxins that could afflict a significant n
number of the consumers of
poor countries, the use of genetically modified crops raises important issues: (i) Seeds
tically modified crops cost more than naturally occurring varieties, and would intensify
c inequalities, (ii) widespread use of GM crops would increase monoculture — cultivation
few varieties of plants over a wide area — and pose a danger of massive crop failures
imination of natural firewalls that prevent the sp read of a pest or disease (142).
loning, Present and Future (143). The patenting of genes and the growing of genetically
food crops are prominent examples of the leg al and ethical issues raised by recently
ed biological technologies.
spect of human cloning has raised many ethical questions. Will members of a particular
of the population be inclined to clone themselv es, and are they the kind of people who
e perpetuated? Will people with particular abilit
ties allow themselves to be cloned for a
hat prospective parents will be able to have a ch with inborn talents? Will people with
d organs clone offspring so they are guarantee d future organ replacements that pose
er of rejection? Might it be possible to eventually clone individuals from the cells of dead
Concerns over human cloning have led severa l governments to ban any efforts in this
, and the U.S. government has barred the u se of federal funds for human cloning
. Even so, cloning is a technology that will be d ifficult or ev impossible to contain —
acit nor direct government support is essential fo r human clo
tem Cells and Future Therapies (145-6). Em ergence of mammal cloning, stem-cell
research, and geneticallly modified foods has given rise to a host
of ethical concerns that touch upon some of the most basic issues
of human existence. G overnments are faced with the task of
creating appropriate public policies to encourage the development
of beneficial technolog ies while preventing the emergence of
harmful ones (146).
Eugenics movement — from late 19th C. to 1960s (147-8). The
elimination of genetically borne defects is no longer a government
policy but now is an ind
dividual, personal matter, as physicians
and parents-to-be make extensive use of a variety of tests to
determine the presence of genetically linked disorders such as
hs and Down Syndrome, in which case they ma y decide if a fetus should be aborted or
o term…. Fastening upon genetic endowments to the exclusion of everything else is a
c form of determinism that harks back to excess es of the eugenics movement (148).
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This note was uploaded on 11/15/2010 for the course SOC 415 taught by Professor Swift,d during the Fall '08 term at University of Hawaii, Manoa.
- Fall '08