According to the Dominion Mandate issued to Adam and Eve in the Garden1 and repeated to Noah2 about 1,657 years later, we are to be good stewards of the earth. One aspect of stewardship is the proper management of earth’s organisms. The first recorded instance of genetic modification is in Genesis 30, where Jacob’s sheep husbandry is described. We still use artificial selection in a similar fashion today, but more precise techniques are also now used.
Is biotechnology biblical? Read on.
In artificial selection (and natural selection, for that matter), whole organisms are selected for a particular trait. A deficiency of this procedure is that the selected individual often retains undesirable traits. A subcategory of genetic modification (GM, or GMO for “genetically modified organism”) is genetic engineering, or biotechnology. Typically, however, “GM” is most often used to refer to organisms that are actually genetically engineered. Instead of selecting whole organisms, this method involves the transfer of discrete genes from one organism to another, such that the recipient organism benefits from its new gene product. In this manner, for example, natural pesticides can be manufactured by GM corn, eliminating the need for artificial pesticide spraying.
Reporting in the May issue of BioScience, Lorena Miller and Kan Wang summarize genetic engineering. They report that “the biotech generation of crops has resulted in a 15.3% net reduction in environmental impact on GE [genetically engineered] crop farming land since 1996, owing in great measure to significant reductions in the application of herbicides and insecticides worldwide.”3 It seems that the resistance capabilities already found in different plants are being harnessed and directed for use in agriculture, to the benefit of mankind and our environment. Now, that is good stewardship of the earth.
The report further describes that “genetic engineering has provided the world with successfully commercialized insect-resistant and herbicide-tolerant crops, benefiting corn, soybean, and cotton growers around the globe.”3 Though these new technologies are often resisted, there are very few practical detractors to biotech products as they are currently manifested. Many have speculated on the potential ills of widespread use of GMOs, and nobody can be sure that all biotech applications will turn out rosy. So far, though, it has been successful.
However, like nuclear technology could be used either for nuclear power or nuclear war, biotechnology has both good and evil potential. That potential is not inherent in the technology, but in the intent of the people using it. In this, as in our other technological endeavors, we must be good stewards.
- Genesis 1:28.
- Genesis 9.
- Moeller, L. and Ken Wang. 2008. Engineering with Precision: Tools for the New Generation of Transgenic Crops. BioScience. 58 (5): 391.
* Mr. Thomas is Science Writer.
Article posted on June 11, 2008.