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Biotechnology Developments

April 3, 1987

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Overview

In the past year, scientists have discovered several needles in the human genetic haystack. Among hundreds of thousands of genes that make up the human genetic code, scientists last year pinpointed those linked with several inherited diseases, including Alzheimer's, a degenerative neurological disease that mainly afflicts the elderly. The findings are significant because they will improve our understanding about how these diseases develop, possibly pointing the way to better therapies. In the meantime, however, the discoveries raise some sticky issues. Should individuals be automatically informed of test results that show they are carriers of these genes? Should life and health insurance companies be informed of the test results?.

In 1986, a genetically engineered human growth hormone, used to treat dwarfism in children, became available in reliable supply for the first time and in purer form than ever before. Using recombinant DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) techniques—in which genes are snipped out of one DNA molecule and spliced into another, thus altering an organism's genetic code—the South San Francisco, Calif., biotechnology company, Genentech Inc., genetically altered bacteria so that they would produce human growth hormone. Now with a potentially unlimited stock of the hormone, who should be permitted to use it? Should treatment be available to any child to boost height for social or athletic reasons.?

By late April, the first field test of a microbe genetically altered to prevent frost formation on crop plants may finally get under way. The experiment, if it proceeds, would culminate a lengthy controversy that pitted California citizens and anti-biotechnology activist Jeremy Rifkin against the manufacturer of the microbe, scientists and the federal government. The episode illustrates the continuing debate over the safety of outdoor experiments involving genetically engineered organisms.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
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May 31, 2013  Patenting Human Genes
Jan. 21, 2011  Genes and Health
May 15, 2009  Reproductive Ethics
Oct. 22, 2004  Cloning Debate
May 18, 2001  Designer Humans
May 12, 2000  Human Genome Research
Dec. 17, 1999  Embryo Research
May 28, 1999  DNA Databases
Apr. 03, 1998  Biology and Behavior
May 09, 1997  The Cloning Controversy
Dec. 08, 1995  Gene Therapy's Future
Apr. 08, 1994  Reproductive Ethics
Oct. 18, 1991  Gene Therapy
Aug. 16, 1991  Fetal Tissue Research
Jun. 30, 1989  Solving Crimes with Genetic Fingerprinting
Apr. 03, 1987  Biotechnology Developments
Jan. 10, 1986  Genetic Breakthroughs
Dec. 26, 1980  Genetic Business
Mar. 25, 1977  Genetic Research
May 19, 1971  Human Engineering
Aug. 20, 1969  Human Intelligence
Dec. 13, 1967  Genetics and the Life Process
BROWSE RELATED TOPICS:
Agricultural Research
Genetic Disorders and Medical Genetics
HIV and AIDS
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