Wednesday, May 4, 2011

My Final Post and Evaluation

So this will be it for the blog, my science communication class has concluded, and I will be graduating in 9 days!  It has been really fun managing this blog for the last 4 months, and it has opened me up to a whole world of blogging that I really didn't know about.  I also learned a lot about genetics and all the ethical issues surrounding the field.  Maybe someday you will see a GM label on your corn, or see a home genetics test in your cabinet, and be reminded of this blog.

I think I found my engaging voice pretty early on in the blogging experience, and tried to carry it through most of my posts.  I ended up with a total of 22 not counting this one, and this last blogging period I was about 4 posts short of the two a week mark.  I started running out of ideas and enthusiasm for findings new things to write about, as I beat GM foods into the ground pretty good.  I was pretty consistent commenting on others blogs, probably hitting 3 or 4 posts a week with a comment. 

Anyways a special thanks to Jen, my professor, good luck with the class next year!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Labeling of GM Foods

Recently a bill in the Connecticut state congress was proposed requiring Connecticut consumer be made aware of GM foods they are purchasing by placing labels on these items.  The bill was killed though by a lower level General Law Committee before it could be voted on.  This is currently a large portion of the GM food debate, labeling.  Some feel these foods should be labeled so people know what they are eating, while others feel that GM foods have been proven safe enough to the point where labeling is not necessary.

Through my research this semester, I have found nothing that suggests GM foods can harm humans, and there is not a single instance where GM foods were tied to any health problems.  The truth is, it is nearly impossible to tell if a GM food has affected an adult.  Considering the rest of their diet and general lifestyle, there are too many factors to test its direct effect.

I don't see labeling of these  foods happening in the near future for two reasons.  First, several items in the produce section would require labeling, but I would bet that most of packaged foods would require GM labels.  Corn which yields corn syrup, sugar beets which make up a large percent of our sugar, and soy are all GM foods, and these items are commonly found in the ingredient lists on nutritional facts.  Grocery stores would be covered in GM labels, so it honestly makes more sense to label those things that are organic, which is already done.  The consumer should assume they are eating GM food if it isn't organic.

Second, large corporations won't let labeling happen. Monsanto, for example, produces most of the GM seeds used in America, and also produces the herbicide that may be used with them.  They do not want to see labels on GM foods, as it could hurt their profits. Unfortunately, corporate lobbyists are the most powerful people in Washington, so I doubt federal legislation will come through anytime soon concerning the labeling of GM foods.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Intellectual Property of Genes

The field of genetics is relatively a new one within the science world.  As within every industry, the discovery of new things and new processes leads to legal issues, including intellectual property rights and patents.  The field of genetics has been no different.

As genes, specific sequences of DNA, began to be discovered, scientists started requesting patents on "their" genes. Previous to 2001, some of these discoveries (identification of a gene's sequence alone) were granted patents.  In 2001 though, questions were raised about patents of genes and some demanded that the bar be raised for patents.  Their argument was that these patents will limit the use of basic genetic information, and may inhibit or slow biomedical research.  They had a solid argument in my opinion.

The concern was well received, and the grounds for a patent were modified.  The current guidelines state that "identification of a gene's sequence alone is not patentable, but that a gene isolated from its natural state may be patentable if the applicants can demonstrate 'specific, substantial and credible utility' for the discovery" (from  These guidelines have allowed for the worldwide sharing of human genomes, in order to increase the data available and allow the field to advance further. 

Still, if your genome is tested, do you want it available to just anyone? Or is that information your own property?  Currently it is available to anyone, although names are not attached to genomes.  I don't honestly see an issue with it, but someday if we are using our genomes to allow pharmacy to give us 'taylor-made' drugs, I could see an issue with a database of genomes being available online.  People may take advantage of it to illegally obtain drugs they otherwise could not obtain.  Ultimately, the industry is still just taking its first baby steps in my opinion, so time will tell how these issues are resolved.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Genetic Testing on Unborn Fetuses

I've talked about the ethics of genetic testing on humans, as well as the ethics of GM crops and livestock.  Now I'd like to have some discussion on the unborn.  Genetic testing on fetuses is routinely offered by doctors and is legal at this point in time.  We have discussed the ability of a genetic test to show susceptibility to diseases, and it can also show potential birth defects.  Genetic testing on a fetus requires an invasive test, which means a sample of the placenta or amniotic fluid is needed.  Invasive tests themselves carry some  risk as there is a small chance that they could induce a miscarriage.  There are other "prenatal" tests that measure protein levels in the mother's blood to determine risk for Down Syndrome, among other defects, but these screenings are not as accurate as a genetics test.  

Genetic testing on the fetuses may help a doctor in providing the best care and management of the patients pregnancy, and help a couple to prepare for a baby with birth defects.  Though, it is important for doctors to explain that some of these tests only show a higher risk for a disease/defect, and do no necessarily mean that the baby will be affected.  The testing also raises ethical questions, because certain parents may opt for abortion if they find their baby will have birth defects or down syndrome.  For this reason, some believe genetic testing on fetuses should not be allowed. 

Unfortunately, this issue really is a larger one in disguise (the legality of abortion), so it is difficult to pin down.  In my opinion, there is nothing ethically wrong with genetically testing a fetus.  If the parents wish to know if their baby is healthy, then they should know.  What the parents do with the information is also their business.  It is critical to be able to distinguish between the two separate issues.  Let those who are against abortion not use genetic testing as the scapegoat.  I say this, because I would speculate that those against genetic testing of fetuses are also against the legality of abortion.  Genetic testing on fetuses should continue to be offered to parents who desire information about the health of their baby.