How to Regulate Biotechnology?

The author compares traditional breeding methods to new biotechnological engineering, questioning the need to tightly regulate the latter and not the former. In the comparison, though, the major difference between these two methods is overlooked in order to make biotechnology appear very similar to older accepted breeding practices. But it is precisely because of this difference that biotechnology needs new and different regulations.

The author implies that these two methods are similar except in the method of transfer of desirable genes. Actually, traditional breeding is restricted to the transfer of genes within a species and its close relatives. This is because organisms not closely related fail to produce fertile offspring, as is necessary in a breeding program. Biotechnology, however, has overcome the species barrier and can transfer genes between virtually any organisms.

The impact, in biological terms, is that breeding is only able to mimic gene transfer that is already occurring in nature, while biotechnology is able to surpass the species barrier by using gene transfer that has no natural precedent.

Whatever forms of regulation we choose, we must be aware that what we are doing is, in fact, very new and different from past breeding programs. Ted Schuur, Salina, Kan.

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published, subject to condensation, and none acknowledged. Please address them to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115.

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