NPR blog: 'Are genetically engineered mice the answer to combating Lyme disease?'

June 17, 2016

In a commentary published on NPR's 13.7 Cosmos and Culture blog, Clark University research scientist Bill Lynn expressed his concerns about an idea to release thousands of genetically engineered mice to fight the spread of Lyme disease on Nantucket. The commentary, written by Barbara J. King, anthropology professor at the College of William and Mary, discusses how the project would work and the questions it raises. The New York Times has written about the project, which was suggested by Massachusetts Institute of Technology evolutionary biologist Kevin Esvelt.

Here, an excerpt from the NPR blog:

"Animal welfare figures prominently in the concerns articulated to me by Clark University research scientist and ethicist Bill Lynn, who noted 'the arrogance' that underlies the genetic engineering of animals:

" 'As the Monsanto genetically engineered Starlink corn fiasco demonstrates, we know enough to tinker, but not enough to foresee. Who knew a peanut gene in GM corn would trigger severe allergic reactions? So while we may be able to genetically modify a desirable trait in this species of mouse, we do not know what the full consequences will be.

" 'Another concern is the well-being of the animal subjects in this experiment. GE, in the form of cloning, increasing consumable animal body mass, increasing fertility, etc., has frequently had horrific consequences for the well-being of individual animals. This change sounds small, but we don't know what the consequences will be for the lives of these mice. While I'm not making a moral equivalence argument, mice are still aware and self-aware. They are sentient and sapient and social, and they have lives whose well-being must be considered from a moral point of view.

" 'To put the matter in ethics talk, they have intrinsic moral value and are part of a wider more-than-human moral community. From an ethical point of view, we are required to think about the well-being of the mice and the ecological community before undertaking any scientific experiment of this kind.' "