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Bow Watch - The Genetic Revolution

Mike McDonald

A revolution has begun. It is the “biotechnology” revolution, the combining of technology and biology. Breakthroughs in molecular biology, genetic engineering, and human genome research seem to occur daily. Technological advances, such as those in computing, now help us solve equations that were previously impossible.

Changes brought on by this revolution are likely to be “fundamental in nature, exponential in pace and unprecedented in its scientific and economic impact ...within a decade, quantum leaps will have been made, not just in the amount of knowledge but in the types of insights into fundamental and long-standing problems...” (National Science Foundation 1990).

Sea Grant has played a fundamental role in the development of marine biotechnology. In fact, only last year the Minnesota and North Carolina Sea Grant Programs played a major role in organizing and convening a National Marine Biotechnology Forum that dealt with breakthroughs in fisheries, aquaculture, seafood safety, marine products, pharmaceuticals, biomedicines, water quality, bioremediation and habitat restoration. Some of Dr. Perry Hackett’s work was featured at this forum, as it is in this issue of the Seiche. Minnesota Sea Grant is committed to continuing to fund work in this “cutting edge” science, because it has the potential to fundamentally change everyone’s life for the better.

However, there are many ecological, ethical and social issues that must be answered with respect to biotechnology. Minnesota Sea Grant is also working on these issues. Dr. Anne Kapuscinski (University of Minnesota Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and Sea Grant) has developed a set of protocols that must be met before genetically-engineered organisms can be released to the environment. She was recently recognized for her work by USDA with one of their highest awards. So, we are also committed to maintaining our ecosystem integrity in the face of this tremendous surge in industrial applications of biotechnology.

You might not expect it, but the ecological diversity issue is an important one in biotechnology. Many of the current pharmaceutical products produced through biotechnology, are found and developed from natural plants and organisms. This means that if we are losing our plants and animals through extinctions, we are losing possible solutions to future problems. Also, if we have genetically-manipulated organisms that escape or are stocked into the environment in an uncontrolled fashion, we may be diluting the genetic make-up of our populations, and again we may be losing future opportunities.

It is for these reasons that Sea Grant is always trying to bring the best scientists to bear on all sides of an issue. From these findings, we provide the public and their elected representatives with the best scientific information possible on which to base their decisions.

We are moving into a bold new century. Let us move carefully and with an eye to sustainability for our children and grandchildren.

mike’s signature

Mike McDonald
Minnesota Sea Grant Director

By Mike McDonald
March 1998

Return to March 1998 Seiche

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