SECTION of DOCUMENT:
[page number of print ed.: 39]
SESSION II. IMPACT OF GENETIC ENGINEERING ON HUMAN HEALTH
HUMAN CLONING AND GENE THERAPY
The production of viable mammalian off-spring has always been through the fusion of male and female gametes, i.e., fertilization after sexual intercourse. On the other hand cloning has always been known in theory if not in practice or as a science fiction yarn. In fact cloning is the science, technology or biotechnology of producing a genetically identical duplicate of an organism by replacing the nucleus of an unfertilized ovum (egg) with the nucleus of a body cell from the same organism. In human terms, this means production of a genetically identical individual, a clone.
GENETIC ENGINEERING AND HUMAN HEALTH
The objectives of genetic engineering in human health is modify existing codes to give, (a), new organs e.g. in organ manipulation and organ transplantation: to improve the health of individuals through such techniques as chromosome deletion techniques; or to enable genetic screening programmes to be carried out e.g. the detection of thalaceamia at 21 weeks of pregnancy; to produce pharmaceutically active biologicals in milk of transgenic sheep, goats, cows, or e.g. production of insulin from genetically engineerd bacteria which have become "human insulin producing organism", and lastly the production of clones to study early embryonic development.
Until the mid 1980's cloning was still regarded as " science fiction", because "methods of mammalian cloning are not practical because of the high lethality rate of reconstructed embryos". It used to be said that human cloning is not expedient in the near future because of technical and ethical problems.
The current state of biotechnology is that human cloning is possible and can be done. All one needs is a "good biolaboratory" that can do viable pre-implantation of cells". Recent successes in mammalian cloning, e.g. the cloning of Dolly the sheep (February, 1997) from mammary glands cells and the cloning of rhesus monkeys NETI and DITTO have validated the practicality of mammalian and human cloning.
It is often easy to imagine and "see" the reasons and benefits of cloning non-human mammals. Basically these reasons are commercial, (in agricultural), biomedical and for basic research. On the other hand the potential befits of human cloning are obscure to many, despite the fact that they are real. They include research in embryonic development, to create a source of cells for transplantation therapy, and to provide therapies of degenerative and or inherited diseases.
[page number of print ed.: 40]
It is very important to point out that human cloning can be divided into reproductive human cloning and therapeutic (non-reproductive) human cloning. Reproductive human cloning is the creation of genetically identical beings.
Therapeutic non-reproductive cloning is when early embryos are created to develop new treatments or to further research.
The science of human cloning is fraught with ethical, moral, professional religious and social concerns and problems. There are those who feel strongly that cloning of human beings will cause loss of human uniqueness and individuality. Another school of thought argues that human cloning interferes with individual rights. There is also the concerns regarding the objectives and motives of those scientists who are interested in human cloning. It is a real possibility that in the process we might end up with "out-of-control scientists", or scientists with a "pathological motive!"
In 1988, the director of UNESCO stated that "Indeed, cloning, the purpose of which is the deliberate reproduction of an identical being calls directly into question, the uniqueness of every human being .. . The fundamental ethical principle of respect for the individual's dignity, right and freedoms must take precedence over all other considerations. No motive can possibly justify selecting the human being that is to be born according to prior objectives".
These concerns have been echoed in different quarters of societies and in many different countries. Some countries have taken a position as regards human cloning. For example (just to quote a few), in May 1977, the Chinese Academy of Sciences banned research in human cloning.
In Germany, under the Federal Embryo Protection Act of 1990, the creation of an embryo genetically identical to another embryo fetus or any living or dead person is an offence.
On 12 January 1998, the Russian Institute of Molecular Genetics Research called for a law banning cloning. In the United Kingdom, in 1998, the Human Genetics Advisory Commission and the Royal Society stated that "with respect to human cloning, we support the view that reproductive cloning of humans to term by nuclear substitution is morally and ethically unacceptable and believe it should be prohibited".
Indeed these concerns are genuine and should be taken into consideration and given the full respect they deserve.
At the same time it is also prudent to listen to the other voices and take heed. The proponents of human cloning also partionately argue for it. In 1998, Richard Seed an American scientist stated that he is "planning to open a human cloning clinic within the year and hopes to produce the first human clone within 18 months as a service to infertile couples. I believe that opposition to cloning will pass in time. Gradually the ethical positions will change when there are a half dozen bouncing baby clones. Any new technology creates fear and horror but eventually receives enthusiastic endorsement and
[page number of print ed.: 41]
that is what I think will happen with human cloning. Moral concerns are not enough to stop science and at nay rate cloning will enable humanity to become closer to God".
There is need to do more research on animal (non-human) cloning as a science in general, before embarking on human cloning. It is true that moral concerns might not stop the progress of science, but understanding and popularization of the science of cloning will aid to diffuse some of the concerns.
Gene therapy as in gene (chromosome) deletion and genetic screening (e.g. in thalaceamia and schizophrenia) or as in pharmacogenetics i.e. the influence of heredity and response to drugs such as in slow hydrolysis of succinylcholine in people with atypical - psendocholinesterase, slow and fast acetylates of e.g. isoniazid and haemolytic reactions e.g. with drugs like diapson, chloroquine, quinine.
Gene therapy is a field, which is still in its infancy but rapidly growing. With the beginning of biotechnology in the field of health, the 21st millennium will inevitably witness leaps and bounds in the field of gene therapy.
INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE SYSTEMS
Paper presented at the Research Council of Zimbabwe National Consultative Workshop on Impact of Biotechnology on Agriculture and Health: Kadoma Hotel, September 2, 1999
Tremendous scientific achievements have been recorded this century. Science has helped to change the appearance of our world; it has affected the lives of many people and the way they think; it has helped to improve the lives of many people around the world.
But science is not the only way to knowing or the only way of solving problems of mankind. There are other knowledge systems, some much older and wider than science. In Zimbabwe , for example , science, as a knowledge system, is barely a century old. Before it , and alongside it, is the indigenous knowledge system which also deserves serious study not only because of its duration which dates back to the dawn of the human race but also because of its continued influence on, and use by, the majority of our peoples as they try to cope with the problems of their social, cultural, economic and political life. In this paper I wish to present a statement regarding the present and future development of our indigenous knowledge systems.
Indigenous knowledge refers to the unique, traditional, local knowledge existing within and developed around the specific conditions of people indigenous to a particular geographical area1. Indigenous knowledge systems cover all aspects of life; indigenous knowledge is used in all disciplines. These traditional knowledge systems are cumulative, representing generations of experiences, careful observations, and trial-and-error experiments. Indigenous knowledge systems are dynamic; new knowledge is continuously added. In this book : Science, Exploitation and the Third World, Sardar observed :- "Before the emergence of modern science , ..the topography of world knowledge consisted of several hills of knowledge reflecting the civilization of China , India , and Europe as well as other regional civilizations. Since the European Renaissance, other hills have been levelled and a single hill with its base in Europe has emerged. But this is not a world hill : it is a regional hill masquerading as a universal phenomenon".2
Modern science is a product of western culture. As a system it is tried , with some success in certain areas, to destroy or exclude other forms of knowing . In Zimbabwe , for example , the introduction of modern science had much wider motives and objectives than the advancement of knowledge. Science came to this country as a knowledge system of colonial forces and as an ally of Christian faith. Modern science was at times used to denigrate our people and to castigate them as ignorant and superstitious . Modern science and technology took an exclusionist approach and was largely programmed to
[page number of print ed.: 43]
fight and displace indigenous knowledge systems and negatively interfere with the long term established African cultural values. This was possible in dispossessed African.
Countries like Japan took a different approach to western science as Basil Davison describes in his book: The Black Man's Burden. He shows that:
"Japan was able to accept Westernization " on its terms, at its own speed, and with its own reservations, ensuring as far as possible that new technology and organization were assimilated by Japanese thinkers and teachers without dishonour to ancestral shrines and gods. Japanese self-confidence was salvaged".3
In Zimbabwe the science of surveying land, for example, was largely used to change the African image and values about land which culminated in the enactment and implementation of the native Land Husbandry Act of 1951. Agricultural production and control of the proceeds, which was previously the domain of women, was changed not only to be the domain of men but also to the abandonment of the more environmental friendly agricultural techniques. To protect and promote western medical knowledge and medicines attempts were made to suppress the African medical knowledge and medicines. A number of measures were adopted in order to weaken or destroy African practice such as the provision of Christian education, the attempt to transplant a Christian Faith into Africa with all its European cultural background , imaginary and orientation, the use of degratory terms to describe African traditional doctor of traditional medicine being herbalist, witch-doctor, medicine-man, diviner, magician and sorcerer. As a matter of fact none of the these terms is correct.
The strategy used with respect to general education was to regard those African who failed to act in accord with the European practices as being ignorant or superstitious. These so-called superstitions were, therefore, not worth of any serious study- a view which was tantamount to professional irresponsibility because important fields of study were taught, such as African psychology, African philosophy, African law, African medicine and African agriculture.
Colonial attitudes have remained strong even after the attachment of independence largely because Zimbabwe did not launch re-education programmes after attaining its independence . The traditional health sector is under developed particularly with respect to medical technology. This is the fault of the government. There has never been any budgetary provision for the promotion of African indigenous medicine as a system of health care in its own right and yet a huge amount of funds are still being allocated to fight against it and exploit its knowledge so as to advance the cause of modern western medicine. Great strides have been made in modern western medicine mainly because of government funding. Drug colonization taking place in Zimbabwe and other parts of Africa . They seem to be unaware that their native medical plants are being taken to some western countries, usually secretly, where they are further screened , analyzed and used in new drug preparations, only to be exported to them at exorbitant prices. The hostility between practitioners of modern and traditional medicine which was promoted by colonial administrators still exist. A knowledge system that excludes other forms of knowing creates problems . One problem is that it narrows the horizon of many scientists
[page number of print ed.: 44]
and other thinkers; it limits their potential resources of knowledge. There is a vast sea of knowledge which awaits our exploration, articulation and use.
Some attempt is now being made by scientists and other thinkers to take a serious view of indigenous knowledge. In a paper presented at a conference in Italy in 1997 Michael Warren showed that the number of published case studies of indigenous knowledge in a growing number of disciplines is increasing. He listed 38 disciplines and 125 publications to demonstrate successful fusion of indigenous knowledge and science.4 The holistic approach which is the basis of many traditional systems is now being accepted by many scientist and policy makers as an alternative collective wisdom relevant to a variety of matters particularly in development initiatives. Traditional approaches usually examine problems in their entirely , together with their interlinkages and complexities. Many people in the field of modern western medicine , for example, now realize the importance of including the physical, spiritual, socio-cultural, and psychological well-being of a person when considering matters of health. In modern agriculture and natural resource management attempts are now being made to include indigenous knowledge and techniques where necessary.
But in our view some mistakes are still being made by modern thinkers and practitioners in Zimbabwe in their present attempt to broaden their knowledge system by the inclusion of certain aspects of indigenous knowledge. For example , Christian leaders and scientists have become interested in analyzing African traditional medicine. But both the Christian leaders and the scientist have begun this exercise by separating , for different reasons , what they call herbal cures from the spiritual aspects of traditional medicine. Some leaders of certain Christian churches have shifted their previous position with regard to African traditional medicine; they now say they have no objection to herbal medicine but continue to condemn its spiritual aspects. Modern medical scientists who have become interested in traditional medicine have also, like the missionaries, tended to ignore the rituals and social techniques of African healing.
What some Christian leaders are attempting to do is to force the indigenous medical system to conform to the narrow western medical model and thus continue their attempts to destroy the African religion. On the other hand , modern medical scientists have tended to ignore the African rituals and social techniques of healing partly because of the colonial attitudes which many of them still hold and also because they find it difficult to study them. As Maclean pointed out in 1985:-
"It is much easier for medical scientist to continence a study of herbs, which are visible , tangible and measurable , than to take account of the spiritual , psychotherapeutic and social dimensions of traditional medicine".5
The position taken by some Christian leaders and scientist with respect to indigenous medical knowledge is a retrogressive step; it cannot be described as progress. The danger in this approach , as Reynolds has pointed out , is that traditional medical knowledge will be defined by them simply in terms of its technical herbal expertise, that this experience will in turn be recognized only for empirical pharmacology, without reference to the symbolic and ritual matrix within which it is used - still less to be social matrix in which
[page number of print ed.: 45]
those rituals and symbols have meaning at any particular time or place.6 Indigenous medical knowledge is much broader and more subtle than technical herbal expertise. The approach taken by some scientist and missionaries with respect to the study of indigenous medical knowledge will create two other problems. Their approach implies a substantial risk of imposing some of the analytical, bio-mechanical concepts and modern medicine on the traditional healer, thus forcing him to abandon those elements of African traditional healing which cannot easily be accommodated within the framework of modern medical thinking. The traditional healer would be forced by circumstances to defect from his own holistic views. The value of indigenous medicine to a large extend is defined in the field of its conceptions of illness and disease. Another obvious risk is the likelihood of imposing the creatively-biased way of thinking and working of the modern health--care sector on the traditional one. I have already said that this is a retrogressive step because it is modern western medicine which must continue to widen its analytical framework and conceptions and learn from the holistic approach of indigenous medicine.
Scientist and Christian theologians are usually put off, in their attempt to understand indigenous knowledge systems, by instances of superstition, taboos and fear of the unknown on the part of traditional people. But the superstitions, taboos, and fear of the unknown need to be studied because they are part of the indigenous knowledge system. Taboos and superstitions are not always as senseless as many people believe; some of them are deliberate methods of strengthening or preserving certain important knowledge and experiences and to condition human beings to act consistently in accordance with certain tested knowledge. We must all agree that we do not understand nearly enough about the tacit, personal knowledge that lies behind so much of indigenous medicine. Indigenous medicine may be taught as theoretically informed system as well as a practice. Its alternative mode of knowledge can be researched , too , and the sights of its particular approach developed for wider application elsewhere.
In conclusion I wish to repeat the point that has been made by others before; the point that many African scholars have been content, in the past, with merely applying western concepts, western models and western theories. Because of this they have not contributed anything of great significance to world science; they have largely been carbon copies of western thought.
African scholars have an obligation to make a mark in original thinking and contribute something new to world science. Indigenous knowledge systems will enable them to return to their cultural roots because it is here that they will find the foundation on which to base African concepts, models, assumptions and theories. The recently established Zimbabwe Resource Center for Indigenous Knowledge deserves our support.
[page number of print ed.: 46]
BIOSAFETY ISSUES, THREATS, RISKS AND PUBLIC CONCERNS
J. M. Gopo
Before we consider biosafety issues it is prudent that we look at biotechnology as a science that creates Biosafety concerns.
1.1 What is Biotechnology?
For purposes of this discussion, we shall define biotechnology in a functional manner as: "The transfer of Genes from one organism across a species boundary; to another which results in the expression of the transferred genes in the new host, to produce new, desired products, making the new most, a transgenic organism or a Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) or a Living Modified Organism (LMO)
1.2 Purpose of Biotechnology Practice
The main purpose for biotechnology practice is to use the expressed bioengineering products for Industrial Utility, Medical Utility and Agricultural Utility. This means that the products of biotechnology must have immediate application in industry, medical field and in agriculture. Examples of biotechnology which, products have direct application in industry are (1) clean-up industrial oil spills through the use of engineered bacteria that can digest oils. (2) Engineered bacteria have been used to produce a sweetener Protein = Brazzeana Brazzein that is 2 000 times sweeter than sucrose. (3) Engineered bacteria have been used to produce insulin growth hormone (BST), (4) production of active biologicals in milk of transgenic cows, sheep, rabbits and goats, (5) cloned sheep (Dolly the sheep) (6) cloned cows.
In the field of agriculture genetic engineering has been employed to produce a number of transgenic plants. Crop species have been particularly targeted, aimed at improving crop yields for food security. Genetic engineering has produced a number of transgenic crops, which are now on the international commodity markets:
[page number of print ed.: 48]
I Biosafety Issues:
Biosafety is the safe application of the products of biotechnology (GMOs or LMOs products) which are on the international commodity markets. The safe application of the products of biotechnology is seen at the country level, and at the international level which involves :
A. Safe Research methods
Biosafety issues also include, the safe research methods used in the engineering of GMOs/LMOs. The research environment must observe strict laws of safe-practice.
B. The Morality of Research Agendas
Research in genetic engineering must be geared towards the promotion of public moral good. If biotechnology research is not supportive of the public moral good, then public funds cannot be used for such research.
III. International Biosafety Protocol
Over the past three years there has been much discussion about the scope and content of the Biosafety Protocol and much progress has been made. However there are ten (10) key issues, which have not yet been resolved. Without a successful conclusion on these issues, the Biosafety Protocol will not be the environmentally workable protocol to the Convention on Biological diversity which is so greatly needed.
IV. Biosafety Issues at Local/Country Level - Threats and Risks
The important issues to be addressed at country level: Zimbabwe are: the issues of the safety of industrial biotechnology products: the issues of the safety of the food biotechnology products; and the issues of the safety of the environmental products.
The following issues must be specifically addressed:
1. The Transgenes: and the consumer
a) The horizontal transfer of transgenes
The horizontal transfer of gene constructs such as antibiotic marker gene - and their long term impact on: human health; the long term effect of Bt maize; Herbicide resistant cotton in cotton oil in Zimbabwe.
2. Bt Maize in Zimbabwe
Zimbabweans eat products of GMO/LMO, maize, maize meal 3 times a day: Porridge for Breakfast, Sadza for Lunch and Sadza for Supper. How much Bt-gene constructs are
[page number of print ed.: 50]
they taking? How about the antibiotic marker genes used in the plasmid transforming constructs? What are the long-term effects of these transgenes? Other studies elsewhere have shown that: Incidence of Allergens Among Consumers of products of biotech was shown to be higher than in those who did not consume products of biotech. This observation supports the issue of possible horizontal transfer.
Transgenes in the Environment: a number of studies have also shown that transgenes from crops have affected soil-microbs. The most recent study in the USA has shown that Transgenes in USA (Nature 399-214, 20 May 1999)
V. Public Concern
Growing Rejection of GMOs since February 1999.
The public's rejection of genetically modified (GM) food is mounting almost daily. The opposition to GM food is based on a range of concerns about the potential adverse impacts on the environmental, biological diversity, human health, ethics and impacts on indigenous and local communities.
New Scientific Findings; Since the breakdown in negotiations last February 1999, new scientific findings from the United States have revealed that genetically modified Bt maize is likely to have adverse impacts on non-target species - in the case , the Monarch butterfly was shown to be at risk of increased mortality from feeding off the pollen of the genetically modified maize.
Food Industry in Europe
In Europe, retailers, supermarkets, suppliers and farmer are now trying to meet the consumer demand for organic or non-genetically modified food. Supermarkets have been set up task forces to search for sources of non-genetically modified food ingredients and multinational food producers such as Nestle and Unilever in countries such as German and the UK have stated their commitment to their products becoming GM- free. UK food retailer Marks & Spencer will now not accept GM ingredients in animal feed for its GM-free meat and dairy products.
Baby Foods in the US
Even in the US, considered the home for the agro-chemical biotechnology industry producers of baby food - Gerber and Heinz - have recently announced that they will not use genetically modified ingredients in their baby food products.
No Transgenic Crops in Brazil.
Courts in Brazil have ruled that Monsanto is not allowed to plant its transgenic Roundup ready Soya since there has been no environmental impact assessments of this crop.
[page number of print ed.: 51]
Countries, such as Brazil where no genetically modified crops are grown commercially, will benefit from the increasing demand for organic or non-GM crops. Such countries will benefit both in economic terms in servicing export markets, but also will be able to promote sustainable agricultural practices.
Low Yields for Transgenic Crops
In contrast, data from the United States has shown that yields of transgenic Roundup Ready Soya decrease on average 5% across all varieties. In some areas, the yield drag was over 20% with an increase in the use of pesticides.
EU Halts New Authorization of Transgenic Crops
Governments in the European Union (EU), the worlds largest trading block, have recently decided there should be no new authorization for imports or cultivation of genetically modified organisms in the EU until existing EU rules are strengthened to ensure that there are no adverse effects on the environment or human health from releasing GMOs. They have also instructed the European Commission to develop detailed rules on labeling and traceability. This development looks certain to affect, for example, the market in transgenic animal feed, which represents approximately 80% of the transgenic commodities exported to the EU.
In Australia and New Zealand, there are now labeling rules for GM foods and Japan is also developing its own labeling rules.
GM Investors Advised to Sell Shares
Europe's largest bank Deutsche Bank recently advised investors that the growing negative sentiments towards GMOs create problems for companies such as Pioneer Hi-Bred, Monsanto, Delta & Pine Land and Norvatis.
Faced with the mounting rejection of GMO foods in the international community, Zimbabwe must decide the way forward. The farmer on the one hand needs high-yielding crop varieties, which may be GMOs.
The consumer in Zimbabwe must be protected. The Biosafety Board must evolve policy on GMOs.
© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | August 2001