New and improved genetically modified humans


It was a random bit of information. Apparently, we human beings require seven hours of social interaction a day to remain psychologically healthy. But what about those who don’t get it: the home-office workers, housebound moms and the elderly?

Fortunately, the media comes to the rescue when access to real people isn’t available. Newspapers, radio, television and the Internet give us the proxy contact that we need to stay connected.

Curiously, with all this new interconnectedness we seem to be more personally disconnected than ever. Teenagers are a good example. Teenagers don’t go out to the extent that I did when I was that age. Instead, they tend to spend hours “alone” in their rooms on Facebook, or text friends on their cell phones. It’s not that they’re anti-social; it’s just that the technology seems to provide a more dynamic social field on which they can safely interact—with as many people at one time as they want. It’s all editable and therefore controllable.

As for my social fix, I’ve been watching a few on-line documentaries. The two most recent ones are Homo Toxicus, an investigation into chemicals in the food chain, and Digital_Nation, a Frontline piece on the pervasive effects of the Internet and digital media.

Homo Toxicus introduces us to the aggregation of pollutants in the Arctic and an epidemic of ear infections resulting in a dramatic increase of deafness among Inuit youth, then takes us to Sarnia, Ontario, beside the chemical factories, where Aboriginal families are suffering from infertility, miscarriages and a dramatic decline in male offspring.

From there we review the effects of agricultural pesticides and herbicides, such as 2,4-D, atrazine and dinoseb, which, by the way, we use here in New Brunswick on our potato, corn and soybean crops, as well as on our recreational areas and forests.

I checked out 2,4-D. It’s been linked to endocrine damage, immune and reproductive disorders, thyroid problems and cancer. It’s also one of the two components in Agent Orange. It was banned for domestic use in 2006 by the Government of New Brunswick, but is still permitted for use in industrial applications such as golf courses, parks, municipal areas, sports fields, hospital grounds and agricultural and forestry operations.

Dinoseb, a herbicide used on potato crops early in the season, is highly toxic when taken orally. It affects our uptake of food, lowers fertility and increases sterility in humans, degenerates testes, and it causes liver cancer in animals at moderate to high doses. It is thought to compromise the human immune system, liver, kidneys and spleen. It’s readily absorbed through the skin and lungs, and in pregnant women may pass through the placenta into the fetus. And there’s more. Just so you know.

Wildlife and farmers exposed to atrazine, 2,4-D and dinoseb, show disturbing changes to their reproductive systems. Male frogs and fish around agricultural sites don’t fully develop into males. Male frogs behave as females and can be impregnated to produce male offspring. Farmers exposed to the chemicals are at increased risk of becoming infertile, or unable to produce male children.

And this is a trend throughout the industrialized world. Today’s young males are less sexually potent than their forefathers. Their sperm is less motile and their ability to sire male offspring is reduced.

Here in New Brunswick chemical spills on farms can result in contaminated well water, and the herbicides can runoff into our waterways, threatening fish populations.

I haven’t touched on Bisphenol A (BPA) in our plastics (look for 03 and 07 on the bottles). Here goes. This “estrogenic” has been around since the 1930s, and shows up in everything from water bottles, liners of tin cans, plastic dental fillings and polycarbonate camera bodies. Easily absorbed into the body, side effects include mimicking hormones, thyroid irregularities (especially in pregnant women), neurological changes affecting memory and mood, and earlier onset of puberty to cite a few.

Some good news? Japan has been the most aggressive nation in reducing BPA levels in the population, and their recent studies have shown that BPA levels in blood have dropped up to 50 percent.

That’s the chemical cocktail. But what about the media cocktail? Certainly surfing the web or texting can’t be as dangerous. There is some evidence to the contrary. Drivers who text (what kind of idiot actually does this?) are 23 times more prone to have a traffic accident. Well, I guess!

But researchers and educators are now studying the effects of high electronic media use on neurological functioning. And what they’re finding is dramatically increased brain activity, but not necessarily more enhanced brain functioning. Empirical evidence suggests that the current generation of students is suffering from an epidemic of attention deficit disorder and lower cognitive skills. One wonders at the actual long-term societal cost of the loss of refection and concentration skills needed for higher order thought and analysis. But hey, computers will probably do that for us.

Then, as pre-cancerous females, we can all sit at home and escape into the next virtual world. If that sounds like heaven, we’re in luck—if we don’t mind the prospect of permanently altered DNA.


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