Biotechnology, A Science at Stake
25 Jul, 2007 12:06 pm
The 21st century could be the century of the sciences of the living organisms and of biotechnologies. They represent the seeds of a real revolution in the fields of medicine, food, industrial production and even environmental protection.
Biotechnology has practical implementations in fields as diverse as agribusiness (GMO), agriculture, energies (biofuels), chemical industry (plastics), environmental protection (depollution of soils) and health (medicine, diagnostics).
The use of biotechnology for treating illnesses is often cited, for example in genetic therapies, which benefit from a wide media coverage. The first success occurred in France in 2000 with the healing of bubble babies, children suffering from a immunitary deficit. Genetic predictive tests for cancer (the genes responsible for breast, ovary and colon cancers have already been identified) and regenerative medicine that uses stem cells to regenerate or replace damaged tissues or organs offer much hope for the future.
Yet the prospects of biotechnology can raise controversies. Human cloning and the manipulation and selection of embryos revive the debate on human engineering. While the manipulation of embryos can lead to their destruction, selecting them, for example in case of assisted procreation, triggers concerns about eugenism. Equally disconcerting is the production and possible eventual use of biotechnological weapons. All of which point to actual ethical and philosophical dilemmas.
Similarly, one cannot ignore the issue of the risks involved that often badly evaluated, which biotechnology can create. In such a context, the principle of precaution that appeared in Germany at the end of the 1960s, becomes even more valid. According to that principle, measures of security should be taken as soon as science is unable to determine the potential health and environmental risks. Each country’s legislation takes more or less into account the risks of this genetic revolution.
Translated by Christopher Le Coq and Clementine Fullias