This course examines the development of genetic engineering technologies that provide powerful methods for intervening in the genetic constitution of living things. It asks some of the questions that the scientific community asked itself when these techniques were invented in several California laboratories in the early 1970s: what principles should guide assessment of a new form of technology in the face of varying technical opinion about its implications? Should scientific research be controlled? What should be the roles of technical experts and the wider public in policy making? How these issues have been addressed are central themes of the course.
The principal goal of the course is to develop a broad historical perspective on the emergence and development of a new field of scientific achievement, the contexts in which the field is evolving, the terms of development, and the social and ethical issues associated with the development and application. The course will focus on three issues that have produced extensive debate both locally and globally:
- the patenting of life forms;
- the release of genetically engineered organisms into the environment; and
- the military application of biotechnology.
Prerequisite: High school Biology or permission of instructor.
Readings: Biology as Ideology (R.C. Lewontin, 1991) and course pack material drawn from the popular press, government documents, websites, and the relevant scientific literature (including book chapters and peer-reviewed articles).
Activities: Much of the course will be discussion of readings. One midterm exam will be given (covering genetics). Students will write one major paper (12-15 pgs) on a topic of their choice. The major paper will include several components: proposal, outline, and final paper. In addition, several (3-4) short writing assignments (1-2 pgs) related to the readings will be required. We will have 1-2 debates during the semester, and the students will prepare for these debates both in and out of the classroom.
Advisory Prerequisite: High school biology.