Life, Unnaturally

May 23, 2010

This is a time in history full of experiences of life and death through earthly upheaval, natural and man-made. This article in the WSJ is, for me, very and upsetting. A private research institute, J. Craig Venter Institute, has announced that at a cost of $40 million they have engineered a synthetic cell, actually a bacterium. the findings will be published  in Science Express.

What does that mean? Physically, ethically and spiritually that seems all wrong to me.

From the article by Robert Lee Hotz: ” this opens the way to the manipulation of life on a previously unattainable scale, several researchers and ethics experts said. Scientists have been altering DNA piecemeal for a generation, producing a menagerie of genetically engineered plants and animals. But the ability to craft an entire organism offers a new power over life, they said.”

They also have “ownership” of this cell. The issues that this engineering feat bring up are massive. The company notified the White House, Congress and officials from several government agencies. The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a public hearing on the new cell technology next week.

Friends of the Earth’s genetic technology policy campaigner, Eric Hoffman, responded:

“Craig Venter’s lab has taken genetic engineering to an extreme new level. These new synthetic chromosomes mimic billions of years of evolution.

“We must ensure that strong regulations are in place to protect the environment and human health from this potentially dangerous new technology. We are far from actually understanding how genes affect the development of life, but it could be difficult to prevent Venter’s synthetic biology experiments from eventually entering the natural ecosystem and acting as invasive species, choking out natural living things.

“The Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration must receive this announcement as a warning bell, signifying that the time has come for our government to fully regulate all synthetic biology experiments and products. It is imperative that in the pursuit of scientific experimentation, we do not sacrifice human health, the environment, and natural ecosystems. Mr. Venter should stop all further research until sufficient regulations are in place.”

ETC Group, a group based in Canada, called for a global moratorium on synthetic biology. Read more about extreme genetic engineering.

The Asimilar Conference in 1975 addressed ways of dealing with potential risks and hazards of biotechnology. Biologists, lawyers and doctors Attended the conference and made voluntary guidelines to ensure the safety of recombinant DNA. For example, “containment should be made an essential consideration in the experimental design. A second principle was that the effectiveness of the containment should match the estimated risk as closely as possible…. the use of biological barriers to limit the spread of recombinant DNA. In addition to biological barriers, the conference advocated the use of additional safety factors.”

Aside from the presently unregulated health safety issues, the ethical and moral issues are immense, too. I will be interested to watch the debate that follows this news.

Via: Arthur Greenwald


If you are a little girl what might you do with your mom? You probably bake cookies, among other things. And while the cookies are baking, mom and daughter clean up the mixing bowl, right? But first, you get the reward of licking the spatula or the remaining dough in the bowl. 

Although I remember that it was yummy when we did lick the spoon or the bowl, there was something not good about raw ingredients, maybe the egg? 

These days there often isn’t a bowl to lick, because the dough is premixed and in a tub or tube in your ‘fridge. But there are those who don’t want to be bothered with the muss and fuss of even cleaning up a cookie sheet, so even though the label says to cook before eating, they nibble and nosh on the raw cookie dough fresh out of the ‘fridge.

The preliminary results of this investigation indicate a strong association with eating raw prepackaged cookie dough. Most patients reported eating refrigerated prepackaged Nestle Toll House cookie dough products raw. (Nestle has voluntarily recalled this product.) The CDC and other government groups are investigating an outbreak of E Coli that has been linked to consumption of raw cookie dough and it seems to be a particular segment of the population who are affected. 

Good sleuthing, CDC and other government groups. The interesting part for me is the population affected by this outbreak. According to the CDC report  “Ill persons range in age from 2 to 57 years; however, more than 70% are less than 19 years old and none are over 60 years old; 75% are female. ”

 I actually don’t like raw cookie dough but I remember friends who did.  Do they still? Is this a cultural fast-food-in-a-tube habit?  If so it might be prudent to break the habit and make your own “safe-to-eat” cookie dough or just stop eating it. At the Cupcake Project  you’ll find eggless cookie dough recipes although all the recipes contain flour, butter, sugar and milk- ingredients. 

Best advice- cook your dough.