Biotechnology: Scientific Advancement versus Public Safety
by Conrad B. Quintyn
World Scientific Publishing

"It is clear that tinkering or tweaking—which gives the impression of minor changes—for a desired effect can also lead to drastically fatal results."

In the history books, the twenty-first century will be known for many things, but the technological advancements that have revolutionized life itself will be at the forefront. In Quintyn’s text, readers get an incredibly comprehensive history of the evolution of biotechnology. At its core, the author is determined to demonstrate that though genetic engineering has forever altered the way we live, the ripple effects it has undeniably caused leave many unanswered implications for society, ones that future generations will have to fend off and decipher if nothing is done now.

The focus of the author’s work is on the contemporary period, but he goes as far back as twelve thousand years while citing monumental instances in history like the Industrial Revolution and the atomic revolution. Where concern arises for Quintn is in how certain aspects of biotechnology are regulated, especially technologies like gene therapy and genome editing that can skew the natural order of the world. Impeccably researched and sourced by the likes of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Institutes of Health, the author’s book seeks to create awareness toward safe use while maintaining a person’s moral and ethical compass.

Though this text delves into inevitably intricate topics, the author goes to great lengths to ensure it is digestible for the laypeople seeking a cursory understanding of his argument and complex subjects like CRISPR. In particular, there are numerous sections where he outlines his propositions and musings outright to highlight in no uncertain terms the necessity for prioritizing safety versus a gungho outlook toward unregulated growth and evolutionary biological advancements. Conjure the image of being able to, as the author suggests, “replace a dead child or a spouse, or solve infertility.” Undoubtedly, the possibilities of curing devastating illnesses like cancer are tantalizing, but disrupting the natural process can ultimately lead to unintended and even worse consequences. One example Quintyn provides with gene editing is the idea of reverting a gene that governs whether one will suffer from cystic fibrosis. In the process, however, imagine if the mutation is done incorrectly or isn’t processed in the exact, precise way. The aftermath, the text suggests, could be worse than what we began with, including the advent of new diseases.

The intrigue of this work lies in its focus on all aspects and ramifications of genetic enhancements. Of course, ensuring that a baby is healthy, athletic, or intellectually gifted is appealing. However, Quintyn argues that those who would likely have access to such technologies would be limited to the upper class. In a society where the economic divide continues to grow, one must question whether this would be beneficial or detrimental. Controversies surround DNA vaccines, and while legalized embryo research has its merits, the risks associated with chimera research abound. Chapter after chapter digs deeper into the various segments that make genetic editing such a polarizing conversation among scientific circles. Amidst it all, Quintyn ensures that the average reader is along for the ride and, further, is able to chime in and formulate his own informed thought process based on the information presented within this text.

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