• Wayfarer
    13.6k
    Further to 'artificial selection', one of the most interesting topics I studied in prehistoric anthropology was in the origins of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent. To cut a very long story short, one of the deciding factors in the domestication of wheat, was that the seed heads of some wheat varieties hold their seeds a lot better than others - so they were the ones most likely to make it back to camp and most likely to then grow in proximity to settlements. Researches were able to identify different strains that had gradually been cultivated, starting with this apparently fortuitous method, going back three or four thousand years, purely from examining the morphology of the carbonised grains and seed-heads in ancient camp-fire sites in what was to become Mesopotamia.
  • SophistiCat
    1.7k
    But not by direct manipulation of the genome. None of them were 'created by humans', except for in the sense that the breed was selected. Artificial selection, I believe is the term, and in fact one of the sources for Darwin's idea of 'natural selection'.Wayfarer

    Direct manipulation of genome is just the latest technology used in the process of adapting other species for our needs - and we are already using it (all those GMOs, you know). But I don't get your point. Why are you drawing the line at this technology and not, say, at irradiating seeds to induce more random mutations? Or the good old-fashioned selection and hybridization? Is there some red line that is only crossed with "direct manipulation of the genome"?
  • TheMadFool
    11.9k
    Direct manipulation of genome is just the latest technology used in the process of adapting other species for our needs - and we are already using it (all those GMOs, you know). But I don't get your point. Why are you drawing the line at this technology and not, say, at irradiating seeds to induce more random mutations? Or the good old-fashioned selection and hybridization? Is there some red line that is only crossed with "direct manipulation of the genome"?SophistiCat

    Good point! There's no difference between breeding dogs and hybridizing an elephant with a mammoth except that mammoths have been out of circulation for the past 20-30 thousand years; it's almost like necrophilia and the offspring, half-dead & half-alive; a good storyline for a horror novel/movie. That's the problem!
  • Wayfarer
    13.6k
    Is there some red line that is only crossed with "direct manipulation of the genome"?SophistiCat

    Don't you feel you are being a little blasé? Agree with it or not, the ability to directly manipulate the genetic code, which is quite distinct from selective breeding, is a big deal. The potential to literally create new species is a big deal.
  • Janus
    10.7k
    The proposal is to create a new species of animal, based on splicing the genetic material of one extinct species with that of a living species. In this case, there is obviously no chance of creating such a species by interbreeding, because one of the sources is extinct.Wayfarer

    Sure, it won't be a case of interbreeding. Is a mule or a ligon a new species? I believe those examples of hybrids are infertile, which is what the term 'mule' generally refers to. Most animal hybrids are infertile, or poorly fertile or only the females of males are fertile if I remember correctly. It will be interesting to see whether this Melephant will be fertile.
  • Janus
    10.7k
    Agree with it or not, the ability to directly manipulate the genetic code, which is quite distinct from selective breeding, is a big deal.Wayfarer

    You don't have a problem with it when it comes to vaccines do you?
  • SophistiCat
    1.7k
    We have been literally creating new species since prehistoric times. There are parasites that only exist because of humans - not to mention practically every cultivar, cattle, pets, etc. etc.

    Yes, it's a new technique. So was grafting when it was invented, as well as every technique in our arsenal.

    I am not taking a pro or contra position - I am just looking for something more substantive than hand-wringing.
  • Wayfarer
    13.6k
    Generally not. Virus are not sentient life-forms, and obviously the benefits of such medicines are enormous.

    I am just looking for something more substantive than hand-wringing.SophistiCat

    Haven’t been aware of doing that. In a sense, I can only appeal to a sense of normality, and how this might be considered a transgression of it, due to the technological ability to manipulate the molecular code. It is not at all the same as interbreeding, grafting or hybridisation. If you don’t think it’s a big deal, then no big deal.
  • Janus
    10.7k
    Virus are not sentient life-forms, and obviously the benefits of such medicines are enormous.Wayfarer

    The benefits of the various techniques of cultivating various animal and plant species have been enormous too. The benefits of creating this elephant/ mammoth hybrid might also be enormous. Does the technique matter, are you worried that the subject animals and plants might have suffered or are you objecting to "playing god"? Because if the latter then you should for the sake of consistency, object to all forms of selective cultivation.
  • Wayfarer
    13.6k
    As I’ve explained, I think there’s plainly a difference between hybridisation and genetic engineering. If you can’t see this difference, then indeed there’s nothing to discuss.

    Selecting breeds is one thing, but the breeding is still fundamentally natural. Creating new species or changing species by genetic manipulation is a different matter. So you will say ‘why is it different’? And again, if you can’t see the point, then I’m probably at a loss. Guess I’ll just go back to hand-waving but you won’t be able to see that, this being a Forum.
  • SophistiCat
    1.7k
    As I’ve explained, I think there’s plainly a difference between hybridisation and genetic engineering.Wayfarer

    Sure. There's also a difference between hybridisation and selection. And a difference between pumpkins and shovels. Point?

    I can understand queasiness, but that's not much as a subject of discussion. Caution I can understand as well, but it needs more substantiation than just pointing out that something is new and different. (So was everything else when it first appeared.) I myself do believe that we should proceed carefully and publicly with potentially disruptive innovations - not an original position, of course.
  • Janus
    10.7k
    I think there’s plainly a difference between hybridisation and genetic engineering.Wayfarer

    I agree that a distinction can be made which means there must be difference. The question is as to the ethical significance of this difference. It's just that I don't know what your problem with this difference, well actually with the genetic engineering technologies. is.
  • Wayfarer
    13.6k
    Caution I can understand as well, but it needs more substantiation than just pointing out that something is new and different. (So was everything else when it first appeared.)SophistiCat

    Isn’t there a difference in kind here? DNA itself was only discovered around the time I was born, a little after in fact. It’s impossible to say that we’ve ‘always been doing this kind of thing’, when we didn’t even understand what the genetic code was two generations ago. So it’s not simply novelty, it’s also a new kind of power - potentially enormous power. The power to change the human genome or create new species. It’s an ethical minefield. And it’s hardly being managed by Platonic philosopher-kings.

    You may recall a Hong Kong doctor was severely punished - I think even jailed? - for manipulating the genetic code of a set of twins using CRISPR. He was just trying to help prevent some condition they had, according to him. But it caused international outrage, and the fact that he was criminally sanctioned says something - that we realise that there is something momentous at stake when we start manipulating the genetic code. People ought not to be too sanguine about that. Plastic has been immensely useful, but plastic pollution is wiping out entire ecosystems. Inventions often have unintended consequences, and these inventions are operating at a really fundamental level of existence.

    I think the thing which really got under my skin about the mammoth story was that basically it is sensationalist. They make a half-arsed attempt to present it as ‘environmentally helpful’ but if you read the whole piece, other scientists are scoffing at that. Basically it’s sensationalism, first and foremost, as Jurassic Park itself was. What a story! What an amazing thing! Extinct creature, re-animated! Step right up! It’s closer to P T Barnum than Christian Barnard.
  • StreetlightX
    7.5k
    I think the thing which really got under my skin about the mammoth story was that basically it is sensationalist. They make a half-arsed attempt to present it as ‘environmentally helpful’ but if you read the whole piece, other scientists are scoffing at that. Basically it’s sensationalism, first and foremost, as Jurassic Park itself was.Wayfarer

    But surely you're the first one here to fall victim to such sensationalism? A typical fruit shop ought to be more terrifying to you than this kinda-distant, not-affecting-too-many-people-just-yet kinda story. Especially if you're concerned with genetics.

    The development of the "supermarket tomato" by G. C. (Jack) Hanna at the University of California at Davis in the late 1940s and 1950s is an early and diagnostic case. Spurred by the wartime shortage of field labor, researchers set about inventing a mechanical harvester and breeding the tomato that' would accommodate it. The tomato plants eventually bred for the job were hybrids of low stature and uniform maturity that produced similarly sized fruits with thick walls, firm flesh, and no cracks; the fruits were picked green in order to avoid being bruised by the grasp of the machinery and were artificially ripened by ethylene gas during transport. The results were the small, uniform winter tomatoes, sold four to a package, which dominated supermarket shelves for several decades. Taste and nutritional quality w ere secondary to machine compatibility. (James C. Scott, Seeing Like A State)

    This was 70 years ago now. It boggles the mind to think how much engineering has subsequently gone into the tomato, let alone everything else we eat. At least in the Global North. It strikes me that we've 'naturalized' 'artificiality' to such an extent that it takes something as 'sensational' as bringing back the mammoth snap us 'into' - even momentarily - the recognition that we live in naturally artificial worlds from the get-go.
  • TheMadFool
    11.9k
    It appears that we can't make a case against genetic engineering for the simple reason that we're already doing what it does - choose traits we find desirable - by way of exerting evolutionary selection pressure on each other. This is the meat and potatoes of evolution and now that we know how nature does it (genes), we can too but much faster and in a more controlled manner (gene manipulation).

    It's interesting that we have qualms about doing what we've always been doing. It's kinda like being reluctant to participate in artificially inseminating a woman while simultaneously willing to engage in coitus with her to make her conceive. It's the same thing.

    Nevertheless, @Wayfarer's concerns center on the welfare of a sentient entity. How will the animal take it? Will it be happy/sad? Needless to say the success of the project will have ramifications on all sentient beings; after all, what's to keep genetic engineers from repeating the experiment on other animals and that includes us by the way? In a broader context, is genetic engineering as a whole a negation of the value of sentience? We are, for sure, self-experimenting at this point and while I personally see no harm in it, some may find it a bit too much for their sensibilities (ref: The Invisible Man; Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde).
  • Wayfarer
    13.6k
    It boggles the mind to think how much engineering has subsequently gone into the tomatoStreetlightX

    ‘Engineering’.
  • Wayfarer
    13.6k
    Nevertheless, Wayfarer's concerns center on the welfare of a sentient entity.TheMadFool

    One of the concerns. The other is the distinction between genetic engineering and selective breeding, although apparently this is too subtle a distinction for folks hereabouts.
  • StreetlightX
    7.5k
    You're being lazy again.
  • Wayfarer
    13.6k
    OK, the tomato wasn’t ‘engineered’. It was selectively bred. ‘Engineering’ is at best a metaphor in the context. It’s a distinction that ought to be maintained.
  • StreetlightX
    7.5k
    It’s a distinction that ought to be maintained.Wayfarer

    For what purpose other than some mythico-religious (ie. artificial) sense of nature? You keep pointing out to differences as though the significance of such differences are obvious and self-evident. But that they are not, is just the point in question. You keep pointing out a different means of engineering, as though the mere fact of it being a different means is self-evidently a difference in kind. But for two pages now this has gone unargued for, or even clarified as to what is being ought to be argued for, for that matter. It's no good to just point your finger ever more vigorously and say 'can't you just see?'.
  • Wayfarer
    13.6k
    You keep pointing out to differences as though the significance of such differences are obvious and self-evident.StreetlightX

    My favourite definition of intelligence is ‘the ability to make distinctions’. Can’t you just see? Anyway, SLX, that’s it from me, I know you hate my posts, and everything I write, so it’s basically a coconut shy, my saying things and you throwing tennis balls at them, so over and out.
  • StreetlightX
    7.5k
    A particularly unintelligent definition of intelligence, which ought to rather turn on making distinctions of significance.
  • Wayfarer
    13.6k
    Just to recap: I drew distinctions between natural and artificial, as ‘that which occurs in nature’ and ‘that which is a result of human acts’. Then between ‘selective breeding’ and ‘genetic engineering’ which is the difference between using selection to produce hybrids and varieties, and the direct manipulation of the genetic code through advanced technology. These are all distinctions of significance, although insufficient to overcome deliberate obfuscation.
  • TheMadFool
    11.9k
    One of the concerns [sentience]. The other is the distinction between genetic engineering and selective breeding, although apparently this is too subtle a distinction for folks hereabouts.Wayfarer

    Perhaps a computer analogy will aid the discussion. I turn on my laptop, wait for the OS to load, log in with my password, and click the game icon Civ VI and I play the game [high level computer language]. This is selective breeding.

    A hacker gets access to my computer; he instructs my computer to load the game Civ VI using binary code (1's and 0's) [machine language]. This is genetic engineering.

    The people who made my laptop (God) programmed it in machine language [1's and 0's]. The hacker (genetic engineer) compared to me (selective breeder) is much too close for comfort to those who made my laptop (God).

    In short, through genetic engineering we're displacing/replacing god and I reckon people don't take too kindly to that.
  • Wayfarer
    13.6k
    A hacker gets access to my computer; he instructs my computer to load the game Civ VI using binary code (1's and 0's) [machine language].TheMadFool

    I don't really understand the logic of your analogy, but I do think it's feasible to compare genetic engineering with hacking the genetic code. I'm sure that's not even a novel idea. (Quick google: 'hacking and genetic engineering' - number one hit - Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity. Looks an interesting read. Will peruse in further detail. ....first thing I pick up is he's a Wuhan Lab Leak advocate, dials back my enthusiasm by about 3 out of 10, but will still consider....)
  • TheMadFool
    11.9k
    I don't really understand the logic of your analogy, but I do think it's feasible to compare genetic engineering with hacking the genetic code. I'm sure that's not even a novel idea. (Quick google: 'hacking and genetic engineering' - number one hit - Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity. Looks an interesting read. Will peruse in further detail. ....first thing I pick up is he's a Wuhan Lab Leak advocate, dials back my enthusiasm by about 3 out of 10, but will still consider....)Wayfarer

    I now see what the problem is with ethics and genetic engineering. We, play along please, invented God because we realized that we fail as moral beings; thus the need for some all-good deity who never errs morally.

    The rapid developments in genetic engineering gives us the power that once only God wielded, power of life.

    This is/can be interpreted as an encroachment into divine premises but without divine moral clarity and infallibility. A very dangerous cocktail of knowledge (gene/life manipulation) and ignorance (moral deficiency) - the issue, it seems, is about Faustian Knowledge

    The erudite Faust is highly successful yet dissatisfied with his life, which leads him to make a pact with the Devil at a crossroads, exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. — Wikipedia

    Knowledge, it seems, is something even the Devil trades in...for souls, one's morality.
  • T Clark
    6.3k
    Jurassic Park ReduxWayfarer

    Forgive me for a quibble which may not be particularly relevant to the issue at hand. Mammoths and Mastodons both have been extinct for about 10,000 years. There's probably a good chance they could mate and produce fertile offspring with modern elephants. Dinosaurs, on the other hand, have been extinct for about 65 million years. Their closest living descendants are birds.

    I didn't much like the JP movies, but I do remember my thought when I first heard about it was "That's really cool." I feel the same way about what they're thinking about doing with the mammoths. Which isn't to say that I don't understand your qualms. I see our growing ability to manipulate the genetic makeup of our species and others as a step out onto very thin ice.
  • T Clark
    6.3k
    Nature doesn't create novel life forms?StreetlightX

    One difference is that animal and plant husbandry create "novel" organisms that will fit into a particular existing environmental niche currently filled by a very similar organism. As we've seen from our recent problems with invasive species, dropping a truly novel organism into an existing ecology can have disastrous results. I don't see this as a conclusive argument against this type of genetic manipulation, but it's worth taking into account.
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