Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Controversies: Genetic Engineering

People are up in arms about genetically modified foods, cloning and other things that alter the basic chemical building blocks that result in life on this planet. But there are advantages to splicing the DNA from a lobster into a tomato, which one set of genetic engineers has already done - you get a tomato that costs $27.95 a pound (except at the all-you-can-eat lobster-tomato buffet). Or you can splice abalone genes into a crocodile and get a crocabalone. It doesn't matter; Michael Jacobsen and his cronies will still call it Frankenfood, and they won't eat it (and you shouldn't either if you know what's good for you!).

All this ferment actually began in a laboratory at Harvard University, just up the street (and up the creek) from us. They actually were the first to propose genetic experimentation, and that got the good citizens of Cambridge up in arms. All they knew was that a vial was going to spill on the floor of that laboratory and loose some strange new strain of deadly bacteria on the rest of us. Therefore, they wanted the lab isolated...
Later,a laboratory on the West Coast would find a way to make money off all of this genetic synthesis - and Genentech was born.

MIT had its own controversial activities, and I'm not talking about the Consumer Guide. Or Harvey Grogo. My freshman year consisted of protests over MIT's proposal to train Iranian nuclear engineers, which would enable a certain short dictatorial autocrat to provide his country with nuclear power - and perhaps enough weapons-grade plutonium for a bomb or two (sound familiar?). Shah Reza Pahlavi probably would have looked rather silly in a threadbare sportcoat and an open-necked dress shirt straight off the racks at Wal-Mart, but the campus activists didn't trust him and raised enough of a stink about the whole nuclear program to fill several issues of thursday in the Spring of 1975.

But Summer came and went, and by Fall 1975, a new controversy came along. MIT had cut a deal to train missile engineers for Chiang Kai Shek's Taiwan. This one got interesting when Taiwenese students already at MIT decided to hold a rally in opposition to the program, and a couple of visitors (some would say KMT Party secret police dressed up as students) decided to take pictures of the rally - for their "memories". Again, many issues of thursday were filled with breathless news releases about the nefarious details of the secret program, and again a year came and went, and there would be newer and fresher outrages...

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