Biotech applications need to be amply regulated

Written by ASHOK B SHARMA | Visakhapatnam, January 6: | Updated: Jan 9 2008, 01:54am hrs
Ethical, social and environmental concerns relating to the application of biotechnology in several areas need to be recognized, addressed and regulated adequately by law, said the Padma Bhushan awardee and founder director of the Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular Molecular Biology (CCMB), Pushpa M Bhargava.

Delivering his public lecture at the 95th Indian Science Congress here in Visakhapatnam, Bhargava said, "biotechnology is being applied in at least 32 areas. In some areas it has created wonders, but there are genuine concerns which need to be addressed."

Take for example DNA finger printing, he said and added "it is an effective tool for determining the parentage of a child. But in some cases such disclosure of the parentage of a child many invite social and ethical problems. Law, therefore, has to fix under which circumstances such disclosures should be made."

Another area he said was genetic disorders, implying certain chromosomes responsible for certain actions, say for instance murder, theft, rape. "Imagine a situation if it becomes mandatory for every individual to undergo tests for disclosure of genetic disorders. What sort of social problems would be created Law has to define such disclosures," he said.

Bhargava said there were about 40,000 formulations for plant-based drugs in Ayurveda, Unanni, Siddha and Tibetan systems, out of which 10,000 such formulation were in the oral traditions of the tribals. "Has the law defined how the tribals would benefit if any company sell these drugs In my opinion the entire benefits should go to the tribals who own these formulations," he said.

The unregulated release of genetically modified organisms into the environment may invite concern, he said and alleged: "Bt cotton was released for cultivation in India without and adequate tests."

"How could a vegetarian or a section of a religious community accept a tomato inserted with genes from a fish a pig" he quipped.

Bhargava said that therapeutic cloning and embryo selections have been opposed by vocal sections of some religious communities. He said in China attempts were made to fertilise female chimpanzee with human sperm and the programme was terminated during the cultural revolution.

On reproductive technology, Bhargava said that there should be transparency. The mother should know whose sperm is being inserted whether her husband's or someone else's. He said that in case of the death of surrogate mother, the issuance of death certificate at times becomes a problem

Regarding organ transplantation, he said organs from pig were most suitable bio-chemically, anatomically and physiologically. "But how far this would find social acceptance" he quipped.

Bhargava said that if tissue culture in a cash crop like vanilla was allowed to take place indiscriminately, it would pose a problem to about 70,000 farmers in India who were cultivating this crop

He said that free and uncontrolled applications of some tools of biotechnology, may help terrorists to use it as a weapon of bio-terrorism. Regarding largescale plantation of bio-fuel crops, he said that issues of food security and environmental concerns need to be addressed.