September 23, 2000
Re: The Human Genome Project
Regardless of the fanfare, I don't think that the mapping of the human genome is such a big accomplishment. Making sure that genetic engineering doesn't further extend humans' domination of the Earth and all other species would be a big accomplishment. Making sure that genetic engineering doesn't cause a net loss for other species! Now that would be a big (and worthwhile) accomplishment!
We always assume that science is automatically good. After all, all we are doing is seeking knowledge -- right? Wrong! Science is almost always used to benefit only humans -- satisfy our curiosity, let us do what we want easier, and help us stay employed. We forget that the other species are not receiving these benefits. For example, technology is frequently used to make it easier for us to get into wildlife habitat (camping equipment, skis, snowshoes, down jackets, climbing equipment, snowmobiles, jet skis, mountain bikes, roads, sport utility vehicles, etc.). The result is driving more and more species out of their habitat and away from the resources they need, leading to extinction.
Another example: I once saw a woman (driving a car) hit a raccoon on a street in Berkeley, apparently breaking its back. I, naively, called 911, thinking that they would help the raccoon with this obvious emergency. They weren't interested. 911 is only for humans.
It would be nice to think that genetic engineering and the knowledge gained from the human genome project will be used only for applications that benefit us and other species, but the probability of that is extremely low….
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
Vandeman, Michael J., http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande, especially "Wildlife and the Ecocity", "Wildlife Need Habitat Off-Limits to Humans", and "Rethinking the Impacts of Recreation".