GENTECH archive 8.96-97

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The Future of DNA



                                            THE FUTURE OF DNA
                2nd-5th October 1996, Goetheanum, Dornach, Switzerland

An international conference organised by Ifgene, the International Forum for
Genetic Engineering, about the presuppositions of science and the expectations
of society

INTRODUCTION
Genetic engineering is increasingly becoming part of our daily lives.
For instance, the food processing industry depends on it to a large
extent and many modern diagnostic tests in medicine are based on methods
derived from DNA technology. Along with these advances, the public is
becoming more aware of the enormous potential of the technology, as well
as the ethical and social issues related to it. Thus, scientific views
about DNA and genes challenge our fundamental concepts about life,
nature, society and humanity.

The public debate about genetic engineering is based on a paradigm that
seems to be widely accepted by scientists, as well as by laymen. It is
the paradigm of reductionist biology, which postulates that all
attributes and characters of life in its substance and form are
ultimately determined by genes. Other factors like the natural and the
social environment are recognised as being only of secondary importance.

There are however other possible approaches to an understanding of life.
Some of them stress the contextual and relational qualities of organisms
and consider them to be the basic cause rather than the consequence of
molecular interactions at the genetic, i.e. the DNA, level. They
acknowledge that every living being is endowed with its own dynamics,
sustained by the interaction of both environment and genes. But
approaches to understanding life that encompass genetic determinism are
also conceivable. Indeed, molecular biological discoveries themselves
prompt us to search for such approaches.

Such a search would be of value not only to philosophers of science or
epistemologists, but also to all those concerned with biological science
and its application. From the outset, our concepts and ideas shape our
perceptions of the world and determine our actions. Thus, ethical or
moral values necessarily reflect our scientific outlook on the world.

Some initial questions related to the scientific and social aspects of
genetic engineering can be identified: Where does the power of this
technology originate from? What characters and properties of living
beings does it unravel? Where and how does it come up against
limitations?

A second group of issues relates to the presuppositions of DNA thinking.
The success of molecular biology often hides the fact that its
scientific and philosophical foundation is open to being questioned and
reflected upon like any approach to understanding life. Obviously, such
reflections are more fundamental than socio-economic interests and
concerns, which are anyway to do with applications of the technology.
Indeed they transcend an ethical debate which is restricted to risk-
benefit assessment, be it in ecology, public health or social rights.

At this conference the fundamental issues will be tackled in several
different ways. On the first day, the discussion will focus on
scientific and social aspects. The introductory lectures will shed light
on benefits, challenges and dangers of DNA thinking. What will our world
and society look like if they are shaped by concepts of molecular
genetics? What qualities of science and society will be deepened and
enlarged by gene thinking? Which qualities would be lost and how can
they ultimately be salvaged, reintroduced or formed anew?

The second day will cover molecular genetics in biology. The rate of
discovery of new genes and their functional properties and interactions
is breathtaking. Our insight into molecular function is highly advanced
and will develop in still greater depth. However, when molecular biology
moves from a descriptive to an explanatory science, obstacles are
encountered. Molecular function does not readily explain pattern
formation during development or processes of consciousness etc. The fate
of a transgenic organism in the environment cannot be deduced from the
results of DNA manipulation or calculated in advance. Thus, the theories
based on the molecular approach fail to explain life-processes. Are
there essential aspects missing?

The third day is dedicated to DNA and the human being. Faced with the
serious issues about the social impacts of the new technology, public,
scientific and medical awareness is severely challenged. Diagnosis and
therapy open a whole field of new questions which require us to rethink
and reformulate concepts such as human individuality, health and
disease.

Participants in the evening round-table discussions will share their
attitudes towards genetic engineering and aspects of their personal
biographies that led them to take their particular position. The
intention is to show that besides the ability to grasp certain
'objective' facts about this technology, the contextual environment,
i.e. the 'personal subjective approach' is of equal importance for
judgement formation.

The aim of the conference is to mobilize people - both scientists and
non-scientists - who would like to raise the dialogue above mere utility
and economic needs. The challenge is to create a pluralistic exchange of
concepts, hypotheses and images about what it is to be human and the
nature of the world. The discussion will focus on the presuppositions,
as well as the consequences and perspectives of knowledge. We hope that
through this interaction, consciousness will be raised and a broader
foundation will be provided for individual ethical judgement forming.


Wed Oct 2
2-5 pm Tours (Wednesday & Saturday afternoons - Goetheanum
buildings/environs & Ciba Geigy)
8pm opening by Johannes Khl

LECTURES:

8.20pm: Introduction: Prof. Klaus-Michael Meyer-Abich (Cultural Sci. Inst,
Essen, D)

Thur Oct 3
9-11am The cultural powers of the gene: identity, destiny & social
meaning of heredity: Dr Susan Lindee (Historian, Assoc. Prof. Univ
Penn., Sc. Arts & Sci.)
The archetypasl gene: the open history of a succesful concept: Prof.
Ernst Peter Fischer (biophysicist, Univ. Konstanz. D)
Back to the future: towards a spiritual attitude to managing DNA: Dr
Jaap van Der Wal (Assoc. Prof. Hogesch. Utrecht, NL)

Fri Oct 4
9-11am DNA in the environment: ecological & social implications: Prof
Guenther Stotzky (microbiologist, Microbial Ecol. Lab. Biol Dept, NY
Univ.)
DNA and the new organicism: Dr Mae-Wan Ho (biophysicist, Reader, Dept.
Biol, OU, UK)
DNA at the edge of contextual biology: Dr Johannes Wirz (molecular
biologist, Senior scientist, Forschungslab. am Goetheanum, Dornach, CH)
Sat 5th
9-11am The role of genetic disposition in human health and disease -
bioethical aspects oif genetic testing: Prof. Hansjacob Mller (Human
geneticist, Univ. Children's Hosp., Dept. Med. Genetics, Basel, CH)
The paradigm of genomic instability - a story f repair, cancer and
evolution with relevance to the individual: Dr Koos Jaspers (molecular
geneticist at Erasmus University, Rotterdam)
Human biography and its genetic instrument: Dr Michaela Glckler
(physician, Head of Med. Sci. Section, Goetheanum, Dornach, CH) 

PLENARY DISCUSSIONS - Thurs, Fri, Sat (am only)
11.30-12.30am/5-6pm Chairman: Dr Henk Verhoog (theoretical biologist.
Assoc. prof. at Inst. Evolutionary & Ecol. Sci., Leiden Univ., NL)

EVENING ROUND TABLE DISCUSSION 8pm-10pm Thurs/Fri
Prof. Brian Goodwin (Dept. Biol., Open Univ. UK)
Prof. Herman de Boer (Chem. Inst., Dept Med. Biotech., Leiden Univ)
Dr Barbara Hohn (molecular geneticist, Senior Scientist, Friedrich
Miescher Inst, Basel, CH)
Professor Albrecht Lindemann (clinician and researcher in gene therapy,
Freiburg Univ. D)
Dr Reinhold Salgo (physicist, patent attorney, Drnten, CH)
 
WORKSHOPS (Thurs/Fri 2.30-4.30pm)

Draft titles and leaders of afternoon workshops (as at 23rd April)

1.   Gene concepts in motion - from Mendel to molecules; Jaqueline
     Girard-Bascou, (biologist, univ. Paris) and Craig Holdrege (high
     school teacher, USA)

2.   DNA in context - genes, organisms and evolution illustrated through
     algae and buttercup; Brian Goodwin (biologist, Milton Keynes UK) 
     and Margareth Colquhoun (free lance biologist UK)

3.   Intrinsic values of animals and plants, Michiel Linskens (biologist
     & policy adviser, Dutch Society for the protection of animals) and
     Petran Kockelkoren (environmental philosopher, Twente Univ. NL)

4.   How can moral issues be retained in negotiations in DNA business?
     Lex Bos (management consultant, Zeist, NL) & Huib de Vriend
     (agronomist, Biotechnology & Consumer Foundation, Den Haag, NL)

5.   DNA and education; John Armstrong (molecular biologist, Corvallis,
     USA) & Frans Olofson (biologist, Geert Groote School, Amsterdam)

6.   Ailment between genetic diagnosis and curative therapy, HJ Mller,
     P.Miny  (geneticists, Univ. Basel, CH)

7.   Social shaping of agrobiotechnologies: (im)possibilities for third
     world countries; Guido Ruivenkamp (agronomist, Agricultural
     University, Wageningen, NL) and a staff member from SWISSAID
     (Zurich)

8.   Transgenic plants - consequences and impacts for production and
     ecology; Jos van Damme (population geneticist, Netherlands
     Institute of Ecology) and Beat Keller (plant breeder, Univ. Zrich,
     CH)

9.   Transgenic organisms and patenting; Reinhold C. Salgo (patent
     attorney, Drnten, CH) and Hans-Peter Bernhard (cell-biologist,
     Univ. Basel and CIBA,CH)

10.  The genetification of our culture; Florianne Koechlin (biologist,
     Basel CH) and Bernhard Batschelet (musician, Basel, CH)

11.  DNA and food technology - natural v. designer foods; Anneke Hamstra
     (household & consumer researcher, SWOKA Institute for Strategic
     Consumer Research, Leiden, NL) & Mirjam Matze (nutritional
     researcher, Louis Bolk Institute)

12.  Just a matter of complexity? DNA in bacteria, plants, animals and
     man; Koos Jaspers (molecular geneticist, Erasmus University) and
     Jos Verhulst (freelance morphologist, Antwerp, B)

13.  Genetic engineering and xenotransplantation; John Dunning (surgeon,
     Transplant Unit, Papworth Hospital, Cambridgeshire) and Jrg
     Jungermann (physician, Herdecke Gemeischafts Krankenhaus D) 

14.  Genetic disabilities - therapy and care; Myra Stern (immunologist
     and clinician, Royal Brompton Hospital) and Nick Blitz (GM and
     Medical adviser, Camphill Medical Practice, Aberdeen)

15.  Embryo, hereditiy and DNA; Jaap van der Wal (embryologist,
     Hogeschool van Utrecht, NL) and Peter Grnewald (general
     practitioner for mentally disabled children, Bristol, UK) & Trond
     Skafnesmo (biologist, Steinerskolen, Haugesund, N) 

16.  (not finalised) Heredity, genes and religion; Gmeindl
     (Gynaecologist, Gemeinschafts Krankenhaus, Herdecke, D) & A N Other
(Theologian)

If you would like to receive the printed programme, booking form and/or other
information about this conference, please contact:

Ifgene/Goetheanum conference office
PO Box 134
CH-4143 Dornach
Switzerland

Tel: **41 61 706 4444
Fax: **41 61 706 4446
Email: 100716.1756@Compuserve.Com

There is a discount on the conference fee if booked before 1st August 1996.
Limited financial assistance is available for students wishing to attend.

MORE ABOUT IFGENE

Ifgene is an initiative of the Naturwissenschaftliche Sektion der frein
Hochschule fur Geisteswissenschaft, Dornach, Switzerland. It has offices in UK,
USA, Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and France. For information about
meetings in your region, please contact:

Dr Johannes Wirz
Forschungslaboratorium am Goetheanum
CH-4143 Dornach
Switzerland

Tel: **41 61 706 4210
Fax: **41 61 706 4215
Email: 100716.1756@Compuserve.Com