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Genetic Engineering as a Social Problem

Gabriele Abels

Subject Medicine
Sociology » Social Problems
Sociology of Health, Aging, and Medicine » Medical Sociology

Key-Topics genes

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


Genetic engineering (GE) is the technique and science of intervention into the genetic mechanisms of an organism, whether it be micro-organism, plant, animal or human. GE is one of the most socially contested of technologies. In the public debate, the terms GE and biotechnology are often used synonymously; yet, in a narrower sense, GE is only one important technique in the field of biotechnology. The first successful gene-splicing experiment integrating genes from a different species into an organism was undertaken in 1973. Immediately a debate started – and is still going on today – about whether or not GE should be regulated, and in what way. Different regulatory approaches were developed (e.g., product versus process regulation), and (legal) regulations on GE and its various applications were adopted. Based on environmental, safety, and health concerns, GE was perceived as a risk technology from the beginning ( Krimsky 1982 ). Sociologists of risk often refer to GE; for example, for Ulrich Beck, GE is a paradigmatic case for the risk society. There are two main fields of application of GE: agriculture and food production and medical genetics. Both fields are socially contested, yet the latter is more complex with regard to the social problems involved. The medical field has been revolutionized by the Human Genome Project. Started in 1990 and led by US scientists, it was an outstanding ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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