God’s Provision for Food

God's Provision for Food
In the September issue of National Geographic, there is a very interesting article titled “A Tiny Country Feeds the World” by Frank Viviano. The article shows how the Netherlands has developed agriculture to such an extent that they not only can feed their own dense population (1300 inhabitants per square mile), but they have become the globe’s number two exporter of food. They are second only to the United States which has 270 times the amount of landmass. As many people in the world are starving, the work of the Dutch people reminds us of God’s provision for food.

Since 2000 the Dutch have increased production of food by applying their intelligence to the problem. By improved scientific methods, they have reduced their need for water for crops by 90%, virtually eliminated the use of chemical pesticides, and cut the use of antibiotics in livestock by 60%. They have done this by fully utilizing all of the resources available to grow food, and not allowing the negatives that humans have introduced. The Dutch growers use greenhouses where they can control the light, nutrients, and water. They waste nothing and allow no destructive agents. The food is still “natural” but without those things which cause us to add carcinogens to control insects and blight.

The Netherlands is also a major exporter of seeds. Their agricultural technology uses molecular breeding, rather than GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) to produce new seed varieties. Their method is faster and cheaper than GMOs, and the article says the method “is a direct descendant of methods used by farmers in the Fertile Crescent 10,000 years ago.” The Fertile Crescent, by the way, is the area of the Garden of Eden, bounded by the rivers which are still known today.

Projections are that by 2050 the Earth may have as many as 50 billion people to feed making is necessary for us to use all the intelligence as well as resources of God’s provision for food. We have the tools to do this, but it will take work and full utilization of God’s design to feed the world. God told Adam that he would eat by “the sweat of his brow.” God was saying it wouldn’t come easy, but He has taken care to provide the resources and tools to do it.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Genetically Modified Human Embryos

Genetically Modified Human Embryos
Shoukhrat Mitalipov

Chinese scientists have conducted at least three experiments to create genetically modified human embryos. Now, MIT Technology Review reports that a team of scientists in the United States has edited the DNA of human embryos. The experiment was performed at Oregon Health and Science University, a public university in Portland, under the leadership of Shoukhrat Mitalipov. It is apparently the first time this has been done in the United States, and it involved a greater number of embryos than the Chinese experiments.

Mitalipov, who was born in the former Soviet Union and received his Ph.D. in Moscow, came to the U.S. because there was a lack of funding for genetic experimentation in his home country. Since coming to the U.S. he has cloned monkeys and human embryos. This is the first time for editing the DNA of a human embryo.

The scientists used a gene-editing tool called CRISPR, which we have reported on before. The goal of the experiment is supposed to be to find a way to correct genetic defects in humans. The sperm used to fertilize the embryos came from a man with a genetic defect. The embryos were destroyed after a few days because in the United States it is illegal to allow genetically modified human embryos to develop into full-term babies.

In February the U.S. National Academy of Sciences gave support for creating gene-edited babies if the purpose is the elimination of serious genetic diseases. Genetically modified human embryos can develop into gene-modified humans who will pass on the genetic changes to their offspring. This may offer hope for eliminating genetic defects. However, it also has implications for the nightmare scenarios of a science-fiction movie. When humans start to play God by manipulating the DNA of our children, what if they make a disastrous mistake? The United States Intelligence Agency listed CRISPR as a potential “weapon of mass destruction.”

Beyond the implications of Frankenstein-like creatures, there is the aspect of “designer children.” DNA could potentially be edited to select the sex, physical features, and even intelligence of an unborn child. So far that is illegal in the United States, but not in other countries. One of the problems the Chinese experimenters encountered is called “mosaicism,” in which the change to the DNA is not taken on by all of the cells. The implications of a person with multiple DNA codes in different cells is not fully understood. Other CRISPR errors referred to as “off target” effects could result in serious genetic defects. Mitalipov’s team claims to have those problems under control.

The report from this U.S. experiment should be published soon, and it will certainly be in the news. Christians should be concerned about where this is leading. Do humans have the right to play God with our DNA? What could be the result of “off target” mistakes? What about the ethics of creating human embryos for experimentation and then destroying them? Do the possible breakthroughs in the elimination of genetic diseases outweigh the dangers? What about the moral cost to our society as we go down this road?

One thing you can be sure of is that humans will continue to create genetically modified human embryos. If it doesn’t happen in the United States, it will happen in other countries. You can also be sure that there will be some scientists who will do so with less than pure motives. In Mary Shelley’s classic book telling about a scientist’s desire to create a new species, Victor Frankenstein said, “A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs.” The power to become a god creating new species of humans can overpower pure motives as it did with Victor Frankenstein. The outcome could be even more tragic than in the novel.

It’s time to consider the many times the Bible tells of the value of every human being and the love God has for us. Many people have become concerned about GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms) in food. How much more should we be concerned about Genetically Modified Humans?
–Roland Earnst © 2017