February 5, 2009

written by Meredith Kooi

Modification or, rather, – 1. an act or instance of modifying, 2. the state of being modified; partial alteration, 3. a modified form; variety, 4. Biology. a change in a living organism acquired from its own activity or environment and not transmitted to its descendents, 5. limitation or qualification

It seems that we can modify almost anything, and we do:  our food, our bodies, our genes… However, we do not tend to foresee the unintended consequences of these modifications, or manipulations.  What does it really mean to modify?  What are the implications of intervening in natural processes like DNA formation and reproduction?

In recent news, Obama, as promised, is going to help “restore science to its rightful place” including the lifting of the ban on stem cell research. Read an article about it here.  This issue – harvesting stem cells from unused in vitro embryos or aborted fetuses – is extremely controversial.  The Bush administration was firmly against enlarging this research even with the urgings of Nobel Laureates.  The debate is hot; the moral implications are many.  It also brings forth questions of progress.  Do we need to manipulate our own body environments in order to progress further?

Adam Zaretsky writes and makes work about issues of biotechnology.  His paper “The Art of Germline Mutagenesis” talks about embryonic stem cells specifically.  He discusses our want of changing our genetic make-up.  He quotes James Watson as saying “And the other thing, because no one really has the guts to say it… I mean, if we could make better human beings by knowing how to add genes, why shouldn’t we do it?”  He also attempts to “sculpt” life by performing microsurgeries.  He attempted to create “fashionable, ‘Mosaic Brut’ designer zebrafish by removing the head off of one fish’s embryo and attaching it onto another’s embryo, creating a double-headed zebrafish. He claims “Science is a subset of Art,” and so this exercise was meant to be an exploration into the unknown – how nature forms bodies.  He attempts to investigate how and why we form the way we do.

We have to ask, if we can determine how we are formed and change the formation:  What would make a better human?  One that can see better?  Or hear better?  Or run faster?  Or has a more symmetrical face?  Or someone who maybe doesn’t produce any body odor?  It is not only the nature outside of our own bodies that we are trying to conquer – it is also our own.



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