Genes and gene technology

Gene technology (also known as genetic engineering) is a generic term for diverse molecular-biological methods that are used for experimental analyses and targeted modifications to the hereditary material of viruses, microorganisms, plants, animals and humans. This pool of methods now lends itself to a broad range of applications. In particular the interconnectedness of basic research, applications and technology developments are the distinguishing features of the current life sciences. At the same time, this raises the question about the demarcation between science and mere technology development.

There is a need for a critical appraisal and long-term monitoring of gene technology not only from the internal scientific perspective. Beyond the laboratory setting, genetic engineering is likewise a subject of discussion because its potential use can have a profound impact on the life of everyone, and therefore concerns all members of society. This is tied to the question as to the kind of world we (want to) live in. There can be no denying that scientific-technical progress also comes with responsibility for its potential applications. This applies to the use of technologies in general and, even more so to gene technology because of its close connection with fundamental societal concerns and its potentially far-reaching consequences. This is also the case because often the impact of its applications is not yet foreseeable today, possible consequences may continue to have an effect beyond an individual's lifespan, and certain practical decisions cannot be reversed. It is almost impossible to retrieve genetically modified plants, animals or microorganisms once they have been released into nature. This means that gene technology raises the question whether man himself should not also or is even duty bound to set limits to the technical progress he has made. But the non-exploitation of the opportunities presented by gene technology can have unforeseeable and even fatal consequences, too. Non-genetic engineering methods cannot be classified per se as safer either.

This very clearly highlights the characteristic two-facedness of technical progress in genetic engineering. It means there is an even greater need for an unbiased, differentiated review that meets the challenges of the complex nature of knowledge, its anchoring in society and public communication. Last but not least, it is these trends that justify a critical appraisal of gene technology and much more: render it necessary. This task has been taken up by the Gene Technology Report.

For this, the Group comprising reputed scientists from the natural sciences, humanities and social sciences has, at its disposal, an impartial and long-term observatory which carefully reviews the different genetic engineering applications and keeps a close eye on their development.