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Question: Is genetic engineering a bad thing?

Glenn Roberts: Genetic engineering is not a bad thing because even if it were, it’s not going to go away.  I have geneticist friends who have no barriers whatsoever moving from conventional breeding... which means we’re using a microscope and we’re taking genetics out of one thing and putting it in another thing, that’s conventional breeding.  Whereas we’re bombarding something with radiation from something else and splicing genes and doing all kinds of nanotechnology, they have no trouble walking back and forth.  I don’t think that genetic engineering is a bad thing if we know its impact.  And I think that just as much on the conventional side, I can raise issues about invasive species on a conventional basis that are more deleterious.  Bamboo. We all love bamboo, don’t we?  It is a threat in the South because of just people planting it just for fun.  Well, it never goes away.  Dig 100 feet down, it’s still there. 

We have weedy rice in the South that’s still there from before the Civil War that took down rice fields where you can’t farm the rice fields.  So, I have examples that are every bit as deleterious as what we might imagine from genetic engineering that have been here continuously for our existence here in America, certainly.  And so I could say "Do I want to focus on genetic engineering?"  The answer is, I don’t at all.  I don’t have time.  Am I kind of leery of it?  Yes, I am.  I was trained in the sciences as a college student.  So, I’m concerned about the long-term processes and how we evaluate this and whether the evaluation is thorough or whether we are trying to satisfy a profit motive in a business stream.  I’m sensitive to that.  By the same token I think there are things being done in research that may be rushing... may be perceived as rushing the results, to put it in lay terms.

Recorded on April 28, 2010
Interviewed by Priya George

More from the Big Idea for Saturday, June 12 2010


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