Saturday, January 14, 2006

Green Pigs, Human Ignorance

Normally I wouldn't comment on a story like this. But you'll know why soon.

It seems have Taiwanese researchers have made green pigs, they glow green in the dark. This is due to the addition of green fluorescent protein, or GFP. Now, GFP has been used for years to track other proteins, you attach to your protein of interest, and you can keep track of it very easily because it will glow green. Now, I'm not sure of the specifics in this case, I'd have to read the paper, but the researchers managed to put the GFP in some pigs, and now they glow green in the dark. They say they'll use them to track tissue development and such. I think that's a pretty neat idea, especially if they did it in such a way as the GFP is only expressed in certain tissues, you could really get some insights into total development. This is all well and good in my mind.

The part that ticks me off is the comment at the bottom. Somebody (actually, Marie-Andrée Michaud from Hudson), thinks that somehow making pigs glow green using GFP is causing them pain and suffering. I'm assuming she thinks that they are in pain, as that is the only thing I can think of that would cause them suffering. However, in no way would GFP cause them pain. I can't think of any other kind of suffering she could be talking about. In fact, I bet the pigs like it because they can see at night without any other lights (if pigs can see green light that is, I don't know). I'm betting that Marie know's nothing about modern molecular biology, or even what the protein does. She just assumed that the pigs glow green, they must somehow be in pain.

Unfortunately, I think this is part of the problem with society and science. There are so many people who think that all of science is bad, or causes suffering. Unfortunately, science is all about what you do with the knowledge you gain. Any, and I mean any, research can be used for harm if someone really wants to. The best way to keep science from being used for ill use is to have an educated public, not one fed on horror stories from the government and media.

To keep this short (as short as possible now), GFP is a protein (series of amino acids all linked together) that has a chemical group that causes it to emit green light when UV or blue lightis shone on it. The protein is naturally found in some jellyfish, probably as a way for them to attract fish to catch or something (just guessing here, but sounds plausible). It doesn't cause them any harm, and GFP has been used for years in molecular biology as a research tool. There are even zebrafish now bred with GFP in them, that turn colors and glow in the dark. These were originally used for research, but are now sold as pets. So, I hope no one after reading this will think the pigs in the original article are suffering. It's just another application of some research that has been around for years.Science / Tech News_


The Jake said...

Hi Robert, It's Antagonist Jake here.

Although I agree with the idea that they would feel no 'pain', you must admit there is, regardless, a moral quandary. Does the potential benefits to OUR species justify the obvious alteration and tampering with another? (and does the fact that they suffer from 'pain' even matter?)

I will have to admit - something rubs me the wrong way about the whole idea. There is an obvious non-scientific (funding-driven?) aspect to the research, evidence given by the fact that the entire pig glows in the dark - Is this perhaps to garner more public attention? Is there not another easy way to monitor other proteins attaching to the one of interest without the whole aesthetically pleasing 'glow' side effect?

Admittedly I am ignorant in this field. However, if this was being done to humans, no opinions would be different. So why IS it different? The same old ‘top of the food chain' argument? Please don't misunderstand - I have little problem with justified animal research - but this seems to be sketchy overall.

And to note : I don't feel that the claim that the research 'has been around for years' supports any viewpoint - and it is certainly does not justify attributing ignorance to the opposing opinion.

RFlight said...

Hi Jake,

You definitely make some interesting points in your comment.

You are right. In any scientific research involving other living beings, there is a moral quandary. Do we have the 'right' to modify them in order to further our own goals? Does the ends justify the means? Unfortunately, I don't think there is necessarily an easy answer to that question, although many people would probably disagree with me on that.

I don't know if the researchers ever intended for the whole pigs to glow green, that may have been an unintended side effect to the experiment. However, it may have been intentional, and it may even be as you said, a publicity stunt to get them more funding and attention. Without reading the publication, I would have no way of knowing.

Finally, you're right, my claim 'that the research has been around for years' is absolutely no justification.

I guess my biggest problem was with the commenter on the original story who tried to bring about a moral crusade out of complete ignorance. This to me is a trend occuring in all areas of society that I have a serious problem with. Too often we find people espousing on topics they no absolutely nothing about, and I will admit to being guilty of it myself. This just struck me as an extreme example, that seemed totally unjustified.

the jake said...

On that note, I agree. The 'moral crusade' based on ignorance is all too prevalent in our society - and I'm the worst of them all!