The Center for Genetics and Society defines genetic engineering as “the ability to alter genes we pass to our children.” They state that “Crossing this threshold would irrevocably change the nature of human life and human society…It would de-stabilize biology.”
We already are tampering with food. The Sustainable Table reports that 70% of our food has genetically modified ingredients. There are at least fourteen foods approved by the FDA for gene modification. A few examples are: tomatoes, potatoes, rice, flax, cotton, soybean, and squash. 200 million acres of farmland raise genetically modified cotton, corn, soybeans and rice. Most of these have been modified to be resistant to pesticides that are sprayed to kill local weeds and pests. 99% of the acreage is divided among four countries; the United States has 68%, Argentina 22%, Canada 6% and China 3%. (Sustainable Table July 2011 blog) (Global Healing Center July 2011)
As to genetically modified animals: Salmon have been genetically modified to grow five times faster and hens to lay low cholesterol eggs.
While we are now experimenting with developing genes that can stop diseases, increase our health or even make our eyes blue, we are only at the beginning of this powerful science.
Many people are raising a hue and cry, warning of the dangers of genetic manipulation. Tampering with DNA might trigger mutations that go out of control. Genetically modified organisms cannot be cleaned up like oil or recalled like a poorly made toy. Gene pollution is hard to isolate and separate from the environment in which it is spreading.
In fact, those are some of the very issues that are prevalent in the novel The Windup Girl. The novel presents a nightmare picture of a world where bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits, where countries are collapsing because of uncontrolled disease vectors, and millions are killed in the whipping winds of desperate men who are grappling for political power and survival. The power brokers are not big oil, but AgriGen, PurCal and others who own the seed banks and control the breadbasket of the world.
The story centers around Anderson Lake who is sent to Thailand to work undercover as a kinkspring factory manager for AgriGen looking for extinct foodstuff.
The world is collapsing from pandemic diseases that have mutated and spread out of control. Crops have been wiped out and the world is starving. The white shirts burn whole villages if one villager shows a sign of contamination or disease in order to contain plagues and pandemics that ravage the cities and countrysides. They use terror to gain political power in the city.
The Environmental Ministry that holds back the floodwaters that threaten to overwhelm the city because of global warming is also looking to control the city using certain political machinations. And the child Queen has the scary Somdet Chaopraya who employs his own brand of intimidation.
Into these violent political currents strays Emiko, a Japanese manufactured “new person” who has been abandoned in the boiling caldron of Bangkok. She is disease resistant, strong and amazingly fast, but there are constraints built into her genetic make up. She overheats easily, cannot reproduce and has been bred to obey. She was made to be a plaything of a rich Kyoto businessman, but now she is forced to become a killer in order to survive.
Paolo Bacigalupi raises serious issues dealing with gene manipulation and its consequences, both to food and humans, in his novel. He shows the world’s crops and humans destroyed by rampant diseases caused by bio-engineered plagues. There is the emergence of the “genesplicers” and the corporations who try to control them, as they also try to re-invent the world through genetic manipulation in order that mankind or some version of it survives.
Bacigalupi’s city of Bangkok almost stands as a character of the book on its own. You feel the heat, the jostling of desperate people and the crumbling, primitive surroundings devoid of technology or modern life. Once I got into the story, I really liked it. There is a lot to think about in this book. There is a reason it won a 2009 Nebula and Hugo Award. It sends a real message to the scientists of today to be careful how far we go with gene manipulation and trying to play god.