Biotechnology and genetic modification is an area of scientific research that is both highly publicized and heatedly debated. It represents an ever growing sector of research that either has or likely will affect every New Zealander, and with it, every Maori. But what is genetic modification or biotechnology? How exactly is it done? What benefits will it bring? What is it that scientists are trying to achieve? These are valid questions, all of which require, however, very comprehensive answers. Following on from an understanding of the science, though, comes the question of ethics - just because this can be done, does this mean it should be done? Questions of this nature evoke issues of Tikanga, of respecting the tapu nature of the world around us. The social and economic benefits that could be gained through the use of biotechnology and genetic modification are very substantial. For example, imagine a cancer treatment that attacks the cancer, but not any of the healthy cells of the patient. Or as a farmer, imagine a crop where five to ten percent isnít lost to rot. Imagine being able to give a child a piece of fruit that contains all of their appropriate vaccinations instead of having to use a needle. Or perhaps even an improved strain of yeast for even better quality beer! But even with benefits such as these, the question remains, can these benefits be balanced with Tikanga ideals?
Without understanding the concepts, reasoning and ideals behind the research, it becomes very difficult to make an informed decision, which is a right that every individual should have. The aim of this presentation is twofold - firstly, to demystify the science, to make it more understandable to those outside the science community, and secondly, to promote thought and/or discussions of the Tikanga aspects of the research. Overall, this should help lead to informed decisions and opinions regarding biotechnology and genetic modification.
Melanie Collings Laboratory Of Structural Biology University of Auckland