Until the recent demise of the Soviet Union, we lived under the daily threat of nuclear holocaust extinguishing human life and the entire biosphere. Now it looks more likely that total destruction will be averted, and that widespread, but not universally fatal, damage will continue to occur from radiation accidents from power plants, aging nuclear submarines, and perhaps the limited use of tactical nuclear weapons by governments or terrorists. What has gone largely unnoticed is the unprecedented lethal threat of genetic engineering to life on the planet. It now seems likely, unless a major shift in international policy occurs quickly, that the major ecosystems that support the biosphere are going to be irreversibly disrupted, and that genetically engineered viruses may very well lead to the eventual demise of almost all-human life. In the course of the major transformations that are on the way, human beings will be transformed, both intentionally and unintentionally, in ways that will make us something different than what we now consider human. Regardless of the dangers, we are rushing full speed ahead on almost all fronts. Some of the most powerful multinational chemical, pharmaceutical and agricultural corporations have staked their financial futures on genetic engineering. Enormous amounts of money are already involved, and the United States government is currently bullying the rest of the world into rapid acceptance of corporate demands concerning genetic engineering research and marketing. In the 1950's, the media was full of information about the great new scientific miracle that was going to make it possible to kill all of the noxious insects in the world, to wipe out insect-born diseases and feed the world's starving masses. That was DDT. In the 1990's, the media is full of information about the coming wonders of genetic engineering. Everywhere are claims that genetic engineering will feed the starving, help eliminate disease, and so forth. The ideas and evidence presented below are intended to help evaluate that central question. Some scientists believe that, since genetic codes determine the appearance, personality, health, and aging process of human beings, if that genetic information in the chromosomes could be decoded and the genetic mechanism were understood, we could potentially control and improve our health, quality of life, and the biochemical processes in our bodies. In other words, we could control our own fate. Also, we'd be able to improve the genes of other animals and vegetables so that they could serve humankind better. At first sight, these ideas seem reasonable and attractive. However, careful analysis reveals that they are based upon an incorrect theory--the theory of gene determinism. Genes are often described as 'blueprints' or 'computer programs' for our bodies and all living organisms. Although it is true that genes are specific sequences of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) that are central to the production of proteins, contrary to popular belief and the now outmoded standard genetic model, genes do not directly determine the 'traits' of an organism.1a They are a single factor among many. They provide the 'list of ingredients' which is then organized by the 'dynamical system' of the organism. That 'dynamical system' determines how the organism is going to develop. In other words, a single gene does not, in most cases, exclusively determine either a single feature of our bodies or a single aspect of our behavior. The genes are processed through the self-organizing ('dynamical') system of the organism, so that the combination of a complex combination of genes is subjected to a variety of environmental factors that lead to the final results, whether somatic or ! behavioral. ^a gene is not an easily identifiable and tangible object. It is not only the DNA sequence which determines its functions in the organisms, but also its location in a specific chromosomal, cellular, physiological and evolutionary context. It is therefore difficult to predict the impact of genetic material transfer on the functioning of the extremely tightly controlled, integrated and balanced functioning of all the tens of thousands of structures and processes that make up the body of any complex organism. What has gone largely unnoticed is the unprecedented lethal threat of genetic engineering to life on the planet. It now seems likely, unless a major shift in international policy occurs quickly, that the major ecosystems that support the biosphere are going to be irreversibly disrupted, and that genetically engineered viruses may very well lead to the eventual demise of almost all-human life. In the course of the major transformations that are on the way, human beings will be transformed, both intentionally and unintentionally, in ways that will make us something different than what we now consider human. Genetic engineering refers to the artificial modification of the genetic code of a living organism. Genetic engineering changes the fundamental physical nature of the organism, sometimes in ways that would never occur in nature. Genes from one organism are inserted in another organism, most often across natural species boundaries. Some of the effects become known, but most do not. The effects of genetic engineering, which we know, are usually short-term, specific and physical. The effects we do not know are often long-term, general, and also mental. Long-term effects may be either specific4 or general. What harm could Genetic Engineering bring? The main potential harm of Genetic Engineering is associated with artificial horizontal gene transfer experimentation. Horizontal gene transfer occurs commonly in nature. Genes can be exchanged between different bio-species. But the frequency of these natural transfers is limited by the defense systems, i.e. immune systems, of each bio-species. The immune system serves to prevent invasion by harmful foreign genes, viruses, and so forth, so that the bio-species can maintain its characteristic traits and normal metabolism. The Genetic Engineering method of artificial horizontal gene transfer works by penetrating or weakening the immune system and using virulent genes as delivery vehicles. That is, the gene to be transferred is combined with a virulent gene to effect penetration. This method allows harmful virulent genes, especially those with resistance to antibiotics, to become widespread in nature. Genetically engineered material can enter the body through food or bacteria or viruses. The dangers of lethal viruses containing genetically engineered material and created by natural processes have been mentioned above. The dangers of generating pathogens by vector mobilization and recombination are real. Over a period of ten years, 6 scientists working with the genetic engineering of cancer-related on co-genes at the Pasteur Institutes in France have contracted cancer.42 Non-human engineered genes can also be introduced into the body through the use of genetically engineered vaccines and other medicines, and through the use of animal parts genetically engineered with human genes to combat rejection problems. Gene therapy, for the correction of defective human genes that cause certain genetic diseases, involves the intentional introduction of new genes into the body in an attempt to modify the genetic structure of the body. It is based on a simplistic and flawed model of gene function which assumes a one-to-one correspondence between individual gene and individual function. Since horizontal interaction43 among genes has been demonstrated, introduction of a new gene can have unforeseen effects. Another problem, already mentioned, is the slippery slope that leads to the notion of designer genes. We are already on that slope with the experimental administration of genetically engineered growth hormone to healthy children, simply because they are shorter than average and their parents would like them to be taller.44 A few years ago a biotech corporation applied to the European Patent Office for a patent on a so-called "pharm-woman", the idea being to genetically engineer human females so that their breast-milk would contain specialized pharmaceuticals. Work is also on going to use genetic engineering to grow human breasts in the laboratory. It doesn't take much imagination to realize that not only would they be used for breast replacement needed due to cancer surgery, but also to foster a vigorous commercial demand by women in search of the "perfect" breasts. A geneticist has recently proposed genetically engineering headless humans to be used for body parts. Some prominent geneticists have supported his idea. Since the birth of the duplicated sheep "Dolly," genetic engineering (GE) has attracted attention from all levels of society. GE raises questions of religion, ethics, and ecology that are of great concern to many people. I would like to share a little of my understanding of GE, hoping that it will be helpful to everyone here. Several companies are working on developing pigs that have organs containing human genes in order to facilitate the use of the organs in humans. The basic idea is something like this. You can have your own personal organ donor pig with your genes implanted. When one of your organs gives out, you can use the pigs. The breeding of animals and plants speeds up the natural processes of gene selection and mutation that occur in nature to select new species that have specific use to humans. Although the selecting of those species interferes with the natural selection process that would otherwise occur, the processes utilized are found in nature. For example, horses are bred to run fast without regard for how those thoroughbreds would be able to survive in the wild. There are problems with stocking streams with farmed fish because they tend to crowd out natural species, be less resistant to disease, and spread disease to wild fish. As more and more human genes are being inserted into non-human organisms to create new forms of life that are genetically partly human, new ethical questions arise. What percent of human genes does an organism have to contain before it is considered human? For instance, how many human genes would a green pepper have to contain before one would have qualms about eating it? For meat-eaters, the same question could be posed about eating pork. If human beings have special ethical status, does the presence of human genes in an organism change its ethical status? What about a mouse genetically engineered to produce human sperm39 that is then used in the conception of a human child? Bioengineers often claim that they are just speeding up the processes of natural selection and making the age-old practices of breeding more efficient. In some cases that may be true, but in most instances the gene changes that are engineered would never occur in nature, because they cross natural species barriers. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a set of xenotransplant guidelines in September of 1996 that allows animal to human transplants, and puts the responsibility for health and safety at the level of local hospitals and medical review boards. A group of 44 top virologists, primate researchers, and AIDS specialists have attacked the FDA guidelines, saying, "based on knowledge of past cross-species transmissions, including AIDS, Herpes B virus, Ebola, and other viruses; the use of animals has not been adequately justified for use in a handful of patients when the potential costs could be in the hundreds, thousands or millions of human lives should a new infectious agent be transmitted." Clearly, genetic engineering brings more harms than benefit. We should use various channels to influence the direction of research, oppose the cruel treatment of animals used in genetic experiments, and oppose the policy of not labeling genetic engineered food products. However, care is needed in reading scientific reports. Many scientific reports in the United States have been exaggerated for the sake of competition. It is advisable to observe clearly before offering criticism. On the other hand, there is no need to worry that scientists might soon create a horde of freaks and monsters. The genetic mechanism is an extremely complex process. Genetic engineers will quickly realize their limitations. We still have enough time to avert potential disasters.