Team:Lethbridge Canada/novel study


As part of our human practices, a few of the members of our team read the novel Oryx and Crake, by Canadian author Margaret Atwood. The novel talks about a futuristic world, where genetic engineering is being used in everyday ways, such as to develop human organs inside the bodies of pigs, and engineering chickens with only edible parts to avoid waste in the production of chicken as food, and not impede on the morals of vegans, as the chickens did not have brains. There is also a race of humanoids, referred to as Crakers, which embody many aspects of a “perfect human”, such as they are unable to feel emotions, and therefore do not have wars, or have elite ruling classes. In this society, there is also an exclusive class, formed of those useful in developing innovative synthetic constructs. These people and their families are moved into “compounds,” which are secluded groups of people who focus on one particular project, and all of its aspects. The people who are not involved in genetic engineering are forced to live in lesser, and rather unsafe conditions, in which they are not protected from bioterrorists, or dangerous biological compounds. An individual within the compounds is given opportunities to move up to more elite position based on the work that he or she does, and the successes that he or she has in the field of genetic engineering. Those in the compounds who cannot keep up their marks in science and math, are considered “neurotypicals”. These people are evicted from the high class society of the compounds. Margaret Atwood, the author of this novel, does emphasize the importance of fields of arts and literature, as well as science. The two fields are equally important and as such they also rely on each other, and do not merit a class distinction.

Unfortunately, there are also severely negative effects caused by the development of this futuristic genetic engineering. When a pill is developed to increase happiness and motivation - essentially to prevent aging - and is sold in mass amounts, a myseterious and worldwide pandemic breaks out. A virus had been injected into the pill, with the intention of destroying the human race. Humans become essentially extinct, and the world is left to strange, spliced animals, and the Crakers.

For our team, this was a very good example of how the skills we were learning could be used in a variety of ways. Based off of one of the themes in the book, we place a large amount of importance on everyone’s unique and individual talents as a vital component to making our team maximize its potential. Especially with the scientific aspect of our project, we learned that there were many potential benefits in the further development of genetic engineering, but there is also the possibility for major negatives. The fear and uncertainty of bioterrorism, for example, is a very real issue plaguing the genetic engineering community. Especially from the uninformed public, there can be fear, or unrest due to a lack of knowledge of genetic engineering, and its benefits. This can lead to a lack of support for innovations in this field, unrest about helpful and potentially life-saving projects. Unfortunately, there are individuals, or organizations, who are confident in their own motives, or perhaps their perceived vision of what would be beneficial to the entirety of the human race, who go to terrible ends to apply what they feel is justified. This can bring a negative image to the entirety of genetic engineering. Our project, for example, was to create oxytocin that could be used in research capacities, and eventually, could be used for medical applications. Whenever we made a presentation, we ensured that it was mentioned that there are negative effects involved in genetic engineering, but our project had all positive intentions, to ensure the ease of the public.

Sometimes, although there are amazing benefits to genetic engineering, the negative impacts can discolor the incredible, and potentially life-saving projects undergone by teams across the world. It is important to remember that there is never going to be completely good use of new technologies, but that there can be good, and that genetic engineering projects were closely monitored to ensure legitimacy and safety. There is valid reason to fear the outcomes of genetic engineering, but the benefits usually outweigh the risks. The practical and positive practice of genetic engineering allows for innovations that can benefit all of society. In the near future, we are likely to see many great life-saving technologies, and helpful constructs which benefit an average person’s daily life. As a whole, the framework behind synthetic biology facilitates the expansion of a highly innovative and important field of science.

Oryx and Crake Book