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71 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, September 7, 2006
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This review is from: Challenging Nature: The Clash of Science and Spirituality at the New Frontiers of Life (Hardcover)
The current battle between "natural" and genetically modified (GM) crops has in many instances taken on the intensity and silliness of the battle between the advocates of AC and DC power in the early years of the twentieth century. The advocates of natural foods it seems will go to any length to portray the "dangers" of GM crops, but have no evidence to support their campaign of vituperation. The biotechnology/scientific community for the most part has shied away from countering these tactics, hoping maybe that by ignoring them they will go away. In only a small number of cases have a few confident individuals stepped up to the plate to defend the virtues and science behind biotechnology.

The author of this book is one of these individuals, and he has given the reader a fascinating account of what is possible, and what is not, in genetic engineering and twenty-first century biology in general. He thankfully does not hold back in countering the exaggerations and misrepresentations that emanate both from religious circles and "New Age secularists." But the book contains more than just counterarguments, for the author discusses some of the modern developments in biology that may have not caught the attention of the average reader. These developments are awesome if viewed by what was possible in biotechnology only two decades ago. Breathtaking advances have occurred since then, and with even more coming in the years ahead, one could argue easily that this is the best time ever to be alive.

And life is what this book is about, that is, natural life, which the author argues correctly constitutes genetically modified organisms as well as organisms that have come about without the intervention of humans. To claim otherwise is usually the province of religion or some other form of superstition, is part of a vague political goal, or is at times as the author puts it "hidden in layers of self-deception." He therefore does not hesitate to criticize religious beliefs and the elusive concept of "faith" and for the most part his commentary is correct and avoids unnecessary confrontation. Even the concept of the human self as being a unique and well-defined entity is questioned by the author, quoting some of the latest research in neuroscience that supports the notion that the self is an organized conglomeration of neuronal synapses. The concept of the "soul" is criticized and set aside as being superfluous and lacking scientific support. Such concepts, along with many of the common superstitions and beliefs that seem to transcend culture can be rejected with confident Laplacian pronouncements.

But the best part of this book is the author's speculations on the future of genetics. He points out that the developmental engineering of life forms, such as the creation of dinosaur genomes, as very plausible. This would be done by utilizing `evolutionary deconstruction' to `reconstruct' genomes that are long extinct. He points out that such developments are happening even now, with the embryos of chickens engineered to have scales instead of feathers, and have teeth instead of beaks. It is extremely likely that future genetic engineers will manipulate the development as well as the metabolism of life forms. The author expresses the heartfelt wish that he will be around to witness these developments. This reviewer is in complete agreement and the fingers are crossed.
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