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Biotechnology

Bovine somatotropin (BST), is a natural protein produced in all cattle, allowing dairy farmers to produce more milk with fewer cows. The innovative domain of biotechnology is a thriving Alberta industry that involves a host of diverse areas of research. Broadly defined, biotechnology if the use of living organisms or their products for a scientific or commercial purpose. Considered this way, innovation in biotechnology has been taking place in Alberta over the last century through activities such as breeding animals and crops, brewing beer or baking bread. More specifically, biotechnology also includes the study of the design and function of living organisms, which involves the manipulation of the DNA molecules of these living organisms.

Biotechnology is one of the fastest growing sectors of production technology. How does the scientific potential of biotechnology weigh in against the ethical values of the broad scope of Albertans? This vein of scientific study and innovation raises numerous, complicated and difficult questions. For example, one might ponder whether the ability to clone living organisms creates more benefits for society than the potential risks. Or, Albertans may question whether genetically modified crops, which result in higher yields through increased resistance to environmental stress, pest, diseases, and resistance to herbicides, generate positive economic benefits that offset the possible long-term health and environmental concerns.

The field of biotechnology has exsited for decades. As shown in this photo, published in the Calgary Herald on April 30, 1971, a pesticide pick-up blitz yielded a large haul of toxic garden chemicals, including the biggest item claimed, a 45 gallon drum of banned D.D.T.For Albertans, the biotechnology debate is not limited to agriculture. Generally speaking, proponents of the broader scope of biotechnology argue that this powerful science has the potential to improve life for Albertans, through manifestations such as eliminating hereditary disease, facilitating organ transplants and extending the human lifespan. Opponents, however, take exception to these advances in biotechnology for a number of reasons. Some are motivated by contradictory scientific evidence and forecast. For others, it may be social or religious beliefs concerning humanity, individuality or basic human rights. There is also the argument that biotechnology, in the wrong hands, can be used not toCartoonist Graham Harrop was published in the June 21, 2001 edition of the Globe and Mail. help, but rather to harm, such as the creation of biological weapons.

While the risks associated with biotechnology cannot be ignored, neither can the benefits. Thus the debate over biotechnology is bound to continue and increasingly, our province is facing these issues and looking for conclusive answers.

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