Humpty Dumpty SYNDROME , Santa Cruz Express , August 23,1984
by Tony Ryals
On a hill overlooking the City of Santa Cruz sits the University of California Santa Cruz campus and a research laboratory named the Thimann Building.The building is named in honor of Dr.Kenneth Thimann,a UCSC biologist whose synthetic growth hormone,2-4-D,has altered the lives and bioregions of many people,from the forests of the North Western United States to the jungles of Vietnam.
Recently UCSC Chancellor Robert Sinsheimer,a geneticist,warned of the potential dangers of using gene splicing technology for warfare,
The irony of this warning might be missed by his reading audience,unaware that his university's Thimann laboratory was built,at least in part,from the profits of chemical warfare.
Although the US government never officially declared war on either the citizens of Vietnam,or the American youth sent to that country to defend American 'values',both groups and the defoliated jungles of Vietnam were victims of chemical warfare.The synthetic chemicals of agent orange,(i.e,-2-4-D,2-4-5-T and their toxic dioxin by-product),were researched and developed not only through private industry,but also through our educational system.
War was never officially declared either on the citizens of Northern California and the Oregon coastal forests.However these people must mount ongoing political campaigns and protests in an attempt to prevent greedy timber interests from spraying 2-4-D on their homes to kill vegetation growing underneath the timber industry's future harvests.In September 1983 a judge in Nova Scotia,Canada ruled that the spraying of Dr.Thimann's 2-4-D and 2-4-5-T,(i.e.-agent orange),in that regions forests is perfectly legal.The citizens who took the case to court are the losers and must pay over $200,000 in court costs.While the Micmac Indians living in Nova Scotia threaten to protest the spraying of their homes,it's business as usual for Scott Paper and other multi-national timer interests who own the Nova Scotia forests.
Newspaper columnist Jack Anderson has reported that the US Environmental Protection Agency has covered-up evidence of the toxicity and cancer-causing potential of malathion and several other widely used agricultural pesticides.The over-reliance upon toxic chemical pesticides has been promoted and developed by university researchers in cooperation with the petroleum based chemical industry.
UCSC Chancellor Sinsheimer professes concern over the potential use of gene splicing for warfare,yet he ignores the contribution of university education to the training of chemists in the manufacture of toxic chemicals for private industry and the profit-at-any-cost motive.
Seeing the educational system as a modifier and shaper of the human brain,it becomes obvious that the educational system itself was the molder of Dr.Thimann's brain,which then went on to produce 2-4-D.Toxic chlorinated hydrocarbons such as 2-4-D,2-4-5-T,DDT,PCBs and Paraquat are not found in nature.No genes of any organism manufacture these toxic molecules.Human beings learn to manufacture these synthetic molecules through the society's educational system.
Sinsheimer is presently promoting a research and development park on the UCSC campus,The obvious effect of this research and development park would be to more closely link the educational system to private industrial investment and research interests.
One of the candidates for Sinsheimer's university industrial park might be the semiconductor industry,the ''backbone' technology of our modern computers.The industry,long promoted as ''clean'',is only recently coming under closer environmental scrutiny.Toxic synthetic molecules used in the microchip manufacturing process are finding their way into Santa Clara Valley groundwater drinking supplies.
Scotts Valley now faces the same pollution danger.The chemicals PCE,TCE and TCA have been discovered in the soil near the Watkins-Johnson Company which manufactures furnaces used in the semiconductor business.These chemicals,used for cleaning equipment,are another example of chlorinated-hydrocarbons not synthesized by any organism's genes,but instead by the human brain and a modern chemical education.
Gene splicing is the methodic removal of a specific gene or genes from one organism and placement onto the genetic structure of another organism.It is a pre-planned and premeditated genetic mutation.Those paying the gene splicer's salary may choose to produce a life enhancing molecule or a deadly new organism.
But perhaps we need a new term to describe the mutagenic effects of the scientifically produced chemicals mentioned above on living organisms.These chemicals,interacting with human cells,behave something like a bull in a chinaware shop.The semi-random hacking of a cells internal structure by these synthetic toxins is similar to the disorganization an onion goes through as it is being diced.For this reason we might choose to call this destructive interaction 'gene dicing'.
Like Humpty Dumpty who sat on a wall and had a big fall,we may not be able to put the genetic pieces back together again.We simply have not reached a level of biological expertise to re splice all the genetic pieces back together after they have been 'diced' by the synthetic toxins we are dispersing into the environment.
Einstein may or may not have been correct in claiming that ''God does not play dice with the Universe'' but surely some of our chemists and nuclear engineers are indeed playing dice with the genetic pool.
The dangers of misapplied gene splicing technology that Sinsheimer warns of as well as the manufacture of synthetic organic toxins he doesn't mention may both be caused by an unhealthy educational system.The military and industry alike select their technicians from university stock.To what extent does the university teach students to take moral responsibility for their actions ?
Many geneticists and chemists leaving our universities have gained the skills to produce both life enhancing molecules or toxins. Unfortunately where their talents take them is often only a matter of who is paying their salaries.And as long as their role models are the Thimanns and the Sinsheimers of the academic world,money will take precedence over most other values.
Tony Ryals is a Santa Cruz environmental activist who specializes in the connection between science and ethics.