The Tao of Biotechnology

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Bill Gates the New Ford?

In the futuristic novel Brave New World, Henry Ford was not presented in the most positive light. This was not supposed to be a feel good book, of course, and Ford was seen as the source of much to not feel good about. Remember how everything was dated in terms of AF (After Ford)? Could Bill Gates be a metaphorical Henry Ford for the field of Biotechnology?

Bill Gates is making $450 million available to scientists who want to work on such research projects as making genetically engineered mosquitoes, vaccines, rice, sorghum, and bananas. One other project seeks to cure AIDS using stem cells to change the human immune system. In many ways this all sounds like Brave New World. And just like in the book, I think there is tremendous potential here for things to go wrong. When you start genetically engineering such things as mosquitoes and releasing them into the environment, when you start changing the human immune system, disasters can happen. They have in the past with other things, and they probably will again.

If things go well with Bill Gates’ project to fund groundbreaking research, undoubtedly he will be viewed in the future as a hero. If things don’t go well, maybe someone in the future will write a book dating some of mankind’s ills to the time ABG (After Bill Gates.)

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  • These are some good points. I don't have any doubt that Bill Gates has the best intentions -- look at his incredibly generous contributions to develop a vaccine for Malaria.

    I think we absolutely need to study genetic engineering, just as I feel we need to study ANYTHING that we don't know much about. My only concern is that these studies are often conducted by businesses who's ultimate goal is to develop a product for sale. This can lead to a rush to market before all of the potential consequences can be adequately evaluated.

    With independent donations, such as the one Bill Gates has made, the science will be done more by non-profits and academic institutions who seek to LEARN, rather than SELL.

    By Anonymous TJ, at 8:43 AM  

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