The Nature Institute's contextual, qualitative approach
to the study of organisms and heredity reveals the broader
story of an organism, its interplay with the environment,
and its relation to human society, vividly illustrating
the limitations and dangers of single-target biotech "solutions"
to complex problems.
Our Latest Book
Beyond Biotechnology: The Barren Promise of Genetic Engineering, by
Craig Holdrege and Steve Talbott (University of Kentucky Press, 2008,
Reviewing this "this insightful new book" in Nature Biotechnology,
biologist and philosopher of science, Lenny Moss, writes that he would
"strongly encourage the adoption of this book as core reading for all
incoming biotechnology, bioethics and philosophy of biology students."
You will find further details and ordering information in our
Toward a Biology Worthy of Life
The papers and other
resources gathered here are part of an ongoing project by Stephen L.
Talbott to reconsider the nature of the organism in light of recent
discoveries in genetics, epigenetics, and molecular biology generally.
The emerging picture could hardly differ more from the received — and
still generally advertised — one. It is a picture of irreducible holism.
In our work we:
The Problem We Address
The question how humanity can obtain nourishment and healing
substances from the earth without damaging the web of life
that sustains us is critical. Genetically engineered plants
and animals are technology's newest "answer" to
solving the world's food and health problems. From soybeans
that are resistant to herbicides to corn that produces its
own pesticides, we are surrounded by a whole new realm of
This technology, which aims to effect discrete and predictable
changes, overlooks the fact that organisms are living, complex
systems, interacting with changing and dynamic environments.
Any change to a part affects the whole. For this reason
genetic manipulation is inherently unpredictable. When driven
by the desire to control, gain scientific fame, and reap
large profits, this technology presents an imminent danger
to the interconnected and interdependent array of organisms
and forces that serve as the context for all life on earth.
The Nature Institute offers insight into biotechnology to
provide the basis for public participation in a conscious
and responsible approach to our shared future. We want to
stimulate critical thinking and inform the public, activists,
and policymakers about a powerful technology that is proliferating
across the globe without due regard to the acknowledged
impact upon species diversity, health, economics, or human
Through our scientific research, publications, educational
activities, and international collaborations with colleagues,
we raise awareness of the limitations of a gene-centered
understanding of life and the dangers of a powerful but
one-sided approach to organisms through biotechnology.
Nature Institute director, Craig Holdrege, directs this
program. He is the author of
and the Manipulation of Life: The Forgotten Factor of Context.
David Suzuki, co-author of Genethics, said that "all
budding geneticists, indeed, all biologists, ought to read
this important work." Wes Jackson, President of the
Land Institute, wrote, "I am tempted to shout that
this may be the most essential new book of our time."
And Lynn Margulis, co-developer of the Gaia hypothesis,
remarked that the author cuts "through hype and nonsense
to the crux of the matterthat our fundamental humanity
develops in context."
Craig also gives talks
and workshops nationally and internationally around
this topic. Here
is a list of some of these talks.
For upcoming talks please visit our Calendar
of Events page.
Here is a list of publications on Genetics and Biotechnology:
Biotechnology and Agriculture:
Biotech Feed the World? The Broader Context"
by Craig Holdrege. This article
describes the broader ecological, agricultural, and social
context of feeding the hungry. The often heard claim that
biotechnology is needed to feed the world's growing population
shows itself to be rooted more in hype than in reality.
Genetically Modified Foods Be Labeled?" by Craig
Holdrege. NetFuture #135.
An in-depth article covering FDA food-labeling policies
and presenting a cogent argument for the mandatory labeling
of GM food.
Technology" by Craig Holdrege and Steve Talbott.
NetFuture #123; a version of this article appeared
in Sierra (July/August 2001).
This article discusses current developments in agricultural
biotechnology within an ecological context and shows the
pitfalls of this approach to revolutionizing agriculture.
Genes and World Hunger: Let Them Eat Transgenic Rice?"
by Craig Holdrege and Steve Talbott. NetFuture
You may have heard that genetically engineered crops will
enable us to feed the millions of hungry people on the
planet. This article, which focuses on carotene-enriched
rice, shows the shortsightedness of seeking purely technological
fixes to complex issues.
Trouble with Genetically Modified Crops" by Craig
Holdrege. In Context #11.
This 2004 article describes some negative consequences
of eight years of commercial GM agriculture: the case
of Percy Schmeiser, the contamination of our seed supply,
and increasing pest resistance.
Wonder Bread to GM Lettuce" by Craig Holdrege.
In Context #11.
"Nutrient-enhanced" GM food may soon be with
us. What illusions and dangers are associated with this
modern form of "wonder" foods?
Tyranny of the Gene" by Craig Holdrege. NetFuture
This article highlights some illusions associated with
the belief that genetic engineering can definitively control
processes in organisms.
the Cow" by Craig Holdrege. NetFuture
Is the cow a complex genetic mechanism that we can manipulate
at will for human ends, or is it an organism with its
own integrity that warrants our respect? This article
exemplifies the power of a holistic, contextual approach
to tackle complex issues of technology and animal welfare.
Genetic Engineering 'Natural'?" by Steve Talbott.
A short critical commentary on the thesis that genetic
engineering is "natural" and nothing new.
Trouble with Genetic Engineering" by Steve Talbott.
A review of Craig Holdrege's Genetics and the Manipulation
of Life: The Forgotten Factor of Context.
Scrambling Genes Safely and Precisely" by Steve Talbott.
Response to a New York Times columnist's
claim that genetically engineered organisms are safer
to eat than conventionally bred organisms.
For other commentaries on genetic engineering and agriculture
that have appeared in our online NetFuture newsletter
go to http://www.netfuture.org/inx_topical_all.html
and search under "genetic engineering" and also
Genes in a Larger Context
and the Manipulation of Life: The Forgotten Factor of
Context by Craig Holdrege (Hudson, NY:
Lindisfarne Press, 1996)
This book provides a unique contextual perspective on
genetics and genetic engineering not found elsewhere.
here for details.
Science's Forbidden Question: Is Anyone There? by Craig Holdrege and Steve Talbott. /NetFuture /#166 (2007).
This article looks at the tension between biological science, which considers and manipulates life and living organisms as complex mechanisms, and the general human perception that animals and plants are creatures in their own right.
"The Gene: A Needed Revolution" by Craig Holdrege In Context vol. 14, pp. 14-17
The history of the concept of the gene dramatically belies the contemporary rhetoric that treats the gene as a fixed, well-defined thing that controls the organism and makes it what it is. Here the evolving concept of the gene is traced through the words of many of those who played a central role in elucidating the concept.
and Life: The Need for Qualitative Understanding"
by Craig Holdrege. In Context #1.
Reflections on the question, "Which of our genes
make us human?" None of them and all of them. The
question, it turns out, betrays a grave misunderstanding
of genes and people.
Beyond Genes: Reflections on the Human Genome Project"
by Craig Holdrege and Johannes Wirz. In Context
#5, Spring 2001.
More than showing that genes determine life, the human
genome project and other advances in genetics show that
the organism itself determines what genes are and do.
Forms an Animal?" by Craig Holdrege. In Context #6, Fall
An animal is formed by more than the interaction of genes
and environment, as this article about lions and their
Are Not Immune to Context: Examples from Bacteria"
by Craig Holdrege. In Context # 12, Fall 2004
The "lowly" bacteria are among our best instructors
in the high art of genetic flexibility and adaptation.
What we've been learning about bacteria illustrates the
fact that the organism, along with its environment, provides
the context that gives genes their meaning.
"Logic, DNA, and Poetry"
by Steve Talbott. NetFuture#160, January 25, 2005
Both artificial intelligence researchers and geneticists
have attempted to understand the word -- text, message,
information, transcript, code, signal -- as if it were
a matter of mechanized logic. And both disciplines have
suffered embarrassment as a result. But with their compulsive
appeals to word and text, code and message, geneticists
may have glimpsed more truth than they are currently willing
to acknowledge. When they finally reckon with the actual
nature of the genetic word, they may find their entire
Finally, here is a list of
relating to genetically engineered organisms—particularly their
risks, regulation, and use.
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