Science (Fiction) & Technology: Blessing or Curse?

Science builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions on the universe.

  • Science oftentimes challenges people´s traditional views
    • Potential of shaking religious convictions, for instance
      • Geocentric model of our solar system (Ptolemaic system)
      • Creationist belief
    • Progress increases and it seems to be unstoppable
      • “normal” science → anomalies → major discoveries → paradigm shift → revolutionary science (concept by Thomas Kühn) → (climb up the Kardashev scale)

Biotechnology

Biotechnology combines disciplines such as biology, especially genetics, molecular and micro-biology, engineering and computer science and can be divided into three main categories:

  • Red biotechnology (application in medicine)
    • Genetic testing / screening
    • Pharmacogenomics
    • Genetic engineering
    • Stem cell research / cloning
  • Green biotechnology (application in agriculture)
    • Genetic engineering to create more resistant crops or plants with higher nutrition value
    • GMOs
  • White biotechnology (application in industry)
    • Developing sustainable and less energy-intensive materials

Red biotechnology

Red biotechnology is about using our knowledge on genes or rather DNA for medical purposes.

Genetic screening

With genetic screening genetic disorders or inherited diseases can be found.

Genetic engineering

In genetic engineering, the genome is altered. This way diseases could be prevented or cured with for instance genetically modified bacteria. Another possible development are designer babies, i.e. genetically designed human beings – an ethical horror scenario for many.

Preimplantation genetic diagnosis

When using in-vitro fertilization, the embryos´ genes could be tested before implantation, thus preventing hereditary diseases. This is ethically debatable as it can mean the death of “imperfect” beings.

Therapeutic cloning

Reproduction of organs, based on stem cell research.

Reproductive cloning

Cloning whole organisms – for instance a human being. Dolly, a sheep, was the first cloned mammal (1996).à strict regulations apply depending on the location.

CRISPR / CAS9

A method that made gene editing cheaper and more effective.

Green biotechnology: Agriculture

Genetic manipulation – genome editing – can make plants more resistant to climate change, diseases and pests à Genetically modified organisms / GMOs, which could boost yields and decrease starvation and malnutrition.

The first genetically modified food on the marked was the Flavr Savr tomato (in 1994).

→ Danger of monopolies → biodiversity in jeopardy?

Arguments for gm crops

  • decreased use of herbicides because of resistance
    • herbicides are a known cause for multiple diseases
  • decreased use of fertilizers
    • for instance a cause for eutrophication of lakes
  • less area allocated to farming
    • less deforestation
  • possibly more nutritious
    • add vitamins

→ most of the plants farmed are used to feed animals

→ vegetarian alternative

White biotechnology: Industry

  • Concepts like biodegradable plastic, other sustainable materials → sustainability

Pros and Cons of biotechnological progress

 

+

-

Red

  • Early recognition of diseases
  • Prevention / healing of diseases
  • Creation of donor organs
  • New medical treatments
  • No way to prevent progress → banning makes it uncontrollable and increases the risk
  • Legal and ethical issues of “ownership” of embryonic cells
  • Designer baby may possibly lead to the decline of individuality, eugenics
  • Availability possibly only for the rich

Green

  • Fight against hunger
  • Decreases need for chemical pesticides → decreases their impact on the environment and “peasants”
  • Threat to biodiversity?
  • Safety concerns

White

  • Environmentally friendly products
  • At least currently slow and expensive development

Additional vocabulary

  • Gene flow (impact on non-target organisms)
  • research
  • genetic engineering / engineer
  • selective breeding
  • mutagenesis (random mutations (radiation) and see what happen)
  • recombinant DNA
  • pesticides
  • epigenetics
  • eugenics

Brave new World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World is a dystopian novel depicting a futuristic World State of genetically modified citizens in an intelligence-bases social hierarchy.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

The novel Frankenstein published in 1818 depicts the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who creates a hideous creature in a scientific experiment.

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Stefan Zweigs Werke

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