Twitter the Exaptation

“When it first emerged, Twitter was widely derided as a frivolous distraction that was mostly goof for telling your friends what you had for breakfast.”-Johnson (192)

When Twitter was dreamed up in 2006, the founders were not expecting the many uses for Twitter that it is used for now.  I find it interesting to see how the web platform evolved from just a place to write simple thoughts to one that fosters news such as political protests, provides customer support for large corporations, and acts as a place to bypass government censorship.  I would argue that, like the wings of birds from chapter 6, Twitter is an exaptation.  Wings are recognized as originally existing for the purpose of being a dinosaur wrist bone, which would provide flexibility.  Wings however, turned out to be used in other ways such as flying.  Twitter has many better uses than just letting your friends know your every thought.

Twitter the Exaptation

Patents Perpetuate Poverty

“Policy makers at the WTO had argued that patent rights would offer corporations security for their research and help speed the transfer of new technology from developed to developing countries. So far, however, the benefits have flowed largely in the opposite direction. Where patents have been granted over biological materials and the traditional knowledge of how to use such materials, researchers in developing countries are further access to their own biological resources.” Grace, p198

Patents are supposed to support technological advancements in developing countries, but the patent system primarily benefits corporations. Corporations directly steal profits away from developing nations by claiming intellectual property rights over their resources, which in turn forces those developing nations to pay for access to any technologies derived from their own natural resources. I don’t believe that patent laws hold any sort of favor for developing countries and simply serve to protect the interests of the already powerful developed world.

Quote

Ethical Patents?

“The healing potential of plants used by indigenous people may end up providing profits to drug manufacturers as a direct result of their patent rights, while people in poor nations where the plants are found cannot afford basic medical care. The industry argues that a patent is necessary for them to invest in the development of new drugs, whose production benefits everyone” – Eric Grace, 207

I believe this situation is a very serious one and should be taken that way. In theory, there are two legitimate claims to the argument, but in reality, the pharmaceutical industry is taking advantage of their monopoly of industry in society. Indigenous people do not have an obligation to share their medical traditions with modern industry, but at the same time, pharmaceutical industries do have an obligation to use their resources to benefit all of society. This does not mean that they should exploit the indigenous people’s knowledge by using patents unfairly, but should work as hard as possible to first obtain the knowledge fairly with some kind of compensation, and second make the new medicine available and accessible to the indigenous people. If the companies make drugs that are not accessible to everyone, it can be argued that the drugs do not “benefit everyone”, and the companies are simply making profit for their own benefit.

Ethical Patents?

Risk Assessment

“We are generally more willing to live with familiar risks than new ones, no matter what the relative dangers” – Grace, p216

This quote stuck out to me because of its relevance to my feelings about GMOs and the issues concerning patenting genes. As relatively new topics, GMOs and patented genes seem scary to me because they are unknown, but everything that is introduced into our society is at one point unknown. We grow to become more comfortable with certain risks because they are functioning in society and we see people interacting with them more and more each day. I think this quote is very applicable to all new inventions and topics that spark controversy because with time new risks will morph into familiar risks that we are more comfortable with.

Risk Assessment

Gene Patenting Controversy

“Scientists are obtaining genetic samples from isolated populations to preserve a record of human diversity and evolution before these rare groups disappear into history.” (Grace, p200)

Gene patenting is a very controversial topic that has even caused a supreme court case. After reading Chapter 7 of Biotechnology Unzipped, I was curious to do a little more digging in to the whole gene patenting case. I found a short video that is against gene patenting, and a short article that is pro gene patenting. I will attach them below, check them out if you have time it’s interesting stuff.

Pro Gene Patenting:

http://www.genengnews.com/gen-articles/in-defense-of-gene-patenting/2052/

Against Gene Patenting:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_v8sfc36OtI

Gene Patenting Controversy

Should we eat GMO’s?

In one of its last paragraphs, the article notes that McDonald’s, one of Simplot’s oldest customers, is refusing these new GM potatoes. Since these new potatoes are approved by the FDA and USDA, and more resistant to bruising, it doesn’t make much sense why McDonald’s wouldn’t want to use them.

McDonald’s resistance to GM potatoes raises the question: if a company that is known for unhealthy foods is rejecting these potatoes, should all of us?

The FDA has stated that these new potatoes are “as safe as any other potato on the market”, though people’s general aversion of GMO’s makes them wary to trust the statement. In a survey of UK citizens, “most rejected genetic modification, even though most people who responded agree that they did not know much about it.” (194, Unzipped) The opponents of GMO’s “who knew more about the technology…were convinced that no one knows enough about its long-term effects on human health.” (195, Unzipped)

In addition to McDonald’s rejecting GMO products, about 65% of people surveyed were likely to reject GMO’s based on their views of religion, science, and environmental issues, 25% believing that “biotechnology offers more danger than benefits.” (196, Unzipped)

There is a lot of confusion that floats around GMO’s, but does it all have to do with actual biotechnology? Is it partially our fear of science and natural dislike for change? Should we trust a major food company opinion on GMO’s, even though they were proven extremely unhealthy by the famous documentary Super Size Me? Are there genuine concerns with trusting a plant, something that is supposed to be “natural”, once it has been manipulated in a lab?

 

Should we eat GMO’s?

Building Better Humans

While reading Chapter 7 of Biotechnology Unzipped I found it very interesting when the authors touched upon the ideas of “building better humans” referring to the use of gene therapy and genetic modification/alteration to either detect and prevent serious genetic illness or disease as well as genetic modification of genes to get a desired phenotype for one’s offspring. I thought that these ideas were very interesting and relate back to a lot of discussion I had in my Genetics course and the ethics of using gene therapy for these particular reasons. Specifically, I think it is strange how there are sometimes no boundaries on the use of gene therapy. Gene therapy and detection of genes and modification of genes should be used for detection of diseases and prevention of those diseases from being passed to later generations. While this is a benefit of gene therapy, this form of biotechnology can be taken advantage of when individuals desire certain traits in their offspring and thus genetically modify their gametes. These ideas directly relate to  the quote in the passage when it says

“It’s the start of a slippery slope. Once the techniques of gene modification have been developed, they are open to misuse, tempting those in power to alter genes for reasons other than eliminating disease” -Grace, p213.

I think this is a very powerful statement, because while biotechnology can be beneficial and leads to many medical advancements and preventative measures, there is a great deal of misuse in which this form of technology is not being used for the correct reasons it was invented for. Overall, I thought this quote was very powerful and really opens the mind to discussion on whether boundaries should be set in regards to the use of gene modification in humans.

Building Better Humans

Prometheus

“Prometheus was the Greek demigod who stole a spark of fire and was punished by Zeus for his presumption. To many people, the enterprise of biotechnology is a Promethean risk, another example of humanity’s self-destructive aspirations to play God… Powerful though our species has become, it is a mark of hubris to believe that we can play God.” -page 215

I thought it was interesting that the section on ethics ended with a reference to Greek mythology. Myths and storytelling have always been used to teach, warning audiences not to make the same mistakes that the characters in the story did. And by comparing genetic modification to Prometheus stealing fire, an act that was punished with being sentenced to have his liver torn out daily, Grace drives home the point that scientists need to be careful with what they use their discoveries to accomplish.
But I’d like to disagree with Grace. I don’t think it’s a sign of hubris at all, nor do I think scientists intend to play God. Hubris means great arrogance. But accomplishments made through biotechnology are hundreds of years in the making. It’s taken scientists centuries to get to where we are now, a great deal of time and effort, trial and error. And using that knowledge to make better food or cure disease doesn’t seem at all arrogant to me.

I’d also like to point out that Prometheus was not a demigod, but a Titan. According to Greek mythology, he was tasked with helping to create mankind, which is why he stole fire in the first place, as he felt responsible for helping them. A demigod is the offspring of a god and a mortal, and as mortals had not yet come into being, Prometheus couldn’t possibly have been a demigod.

Prometheus

Risk Assessment

Risk assessment is also affected by familiarity. We are generally more willing to live with familiar risks than new ones, no matter what the relative dangers. – Grace, p216

I’ve spoken to many people (students included) who refuse to get a flu vaccine because they don’t consider flu to be a “serious” disease despite the fact that the flu can also result in death and as Americans, they have a higher chance of contracting the flu virus than the ebola virus.

flu or ebola

It’s also worth asking what role media plays in skewing the public’s perception of risk.

Risk Assessment