Well-Groomed or Well-Bred?

In the light of genetic engineering today, Nicholas Russell explores how the thoroughbred racehorse has changed in history.

In the early 1970s molecular biologists discovered how to move genes between species outswide the constraints of conventional reproduction. This opened up new opportunities for improving domestic crop and livestock varieties. Until now plant and animal breeders were forced to cross-breed different strains, using the sexual reproductive systems of the creatures concerned. The new genetic engineering techniques allow breeders to escape from this reproductive straight-jacket and the first generation of resulting transgenic organisms are ready for testing in the real world of farm and market garden.

The advent of these ‘artificial’ organisms has generated unease. Do they represent a triumph of nature over nurture, a vindication of biological determinism at the expense of social or environmental conditioning? Many believe not, pointing out that the new procedures merely extend and make more flexible selective ideas which have been operating since antiquity and that engineered varieties may only be successful in carefully regulated and simple husbandry systems.

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