How deeply should we intervene?

Interventions in the genetic material of living organisms and in fundamental processes such as photosynthesis can give rise to ethical questions. These include questions pertaining to ‘rule-based ethics’ such as ‘How far should we be allowed to go?’ and ‘virtue ethics’ questions, concerning the consequences arising from interventions.

Solar-powered Fish

Scientists and students at the University of Leiden came up with the idea of developing a green fish, which derives its energy from the sun, like plants do. To encourage discussion on the ethical questions that this subject raises, the students organized an event in June 2010 as part of the ‘Science and the World’ contest. 

Professor of chemistry Huub de Groot leads the project that came up with the most striking and controversial presentation. His team has proposed building a ‘new animal’ by manipulating DNA. By genetically implanting blue algae or plant chloroplasts into zebra fish they would require less food. The Experiments on Animals Act prevents the solar-powered fish from progressing beyond embryo form at present. An ethical committee must first grant permission before an adult fish can be ‘built’. Before doing this the ethicists weigh up the potential suffering for the animal against scientific usefulness.

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