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Cutural Concerns

There are many possible implications that arise from Wisconsin Lutheran College’s (WLC) 2013 iGEM project. A customizable secretion pump provides endless research possibilities. However, this project could also provide a probiotic that could add nutritional value to the diets of developing countries who may not have ready access to food sources. Food availability has a great contrast between developed and underdeveloped countries; however, there are things to be considered when developed countries aid those who are less developed. Sometimes this can result in damage rather than repair. Culture of one’s society is something that ought be protected. WLC’s 2013 iGEM project could have major future implications for developing countries and would overall positively impact societies.

One of the great potential benefits of this project is to provide impoverished people with more access to food. In many less developed countries, survival lies solely upon crops and livestock. “Often, poor people are trapped in a downward cycle as diminishing returns push them to overexploit the land, causing further environmental deterioration and poverty” (Dale). Their lives hang in a delicate balance that can easily be disrupted by droughts and disease. “Globally, economic losses from diseased livestock are estimated at $4 billion, and infectious diseases are responsible for about 30% of animal deaths. In many sub-Saharan African countries, where livestock production accounts for 25% of economic activity, these diseases threaten livelihoods and food security” (Dale). In some scenarios, impoverished people have populated urban communities. Even in a city, survival is a daily struggle with no guarantees of success. This has led to urban agriculture (UA) where people grow gardens on the rooftops in the city. This helps ensure proper nutrition and food supply security. For these people, hoping to scrape by in the city, urban agriculture is a lifeline, “increasing the food supply, raising income levels, and protecting health — and at the same time improving management of urban waste, water, and land” (Draper).  

There are several distinguishing traits for both developing and developed countries. Developing countries are characterized by high birth rates, high rates of natural increase, high infant mortality, high death rates, and minimal government aid programs. The birth rate is high in part to compensate for the high infant mortality rate. This high mortality rate is due to many contributing factors such as unsanitary conditions, lack of medical care, and poor nutrition. The lack of nutrition in developing countries has the added adverse consequence of increasing chronic diseases. “Nutrition is coming to the fore as a major modifiable determinant of chronic disease, with scientific evidence increasingly supporting the view that alterations in diet have strong effects, both positive and negative, on health throughout life” (Moynihan & Petersen). Diet influences the development of numerous diseases: obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, dental, and osteoporosis. However, “In many developing countries, food policies remain focused only on undernutrition and are not addressing the prevention of chronic disease” (Moynihan & Petersen). In contrast, developed countries are characterized by low birth rates, low death rates, established market economies, and the presence of government aid programs. This is sustainable because of the better living conditions and medical care the citizens can access (“Differences between”).

At times, the interaction of a developed country with a developing country leads to the detriment of the health of the region. For instance near the Maasai Mara National Reserve (MMNR) in Kenya, land use decisions are influenced by profits. Traditionally, the Maasai people lived off of pastoral livestock herding supplemented by small-scale cultivation to make ends meet. Since Western influence, some of the Maasai have more land use options: receiving income from farming, wildlife tourism campsites, farming associations, and leasing land for large-scale cereal cultivation. It is preferred by some Westerners that the Massai avoid the comparably lucrative leasing of land to large-scale cereal cultivation in favor of small-scale cultivation, pastoralism, wildlife tourism campsites, and farming associations. This is because the large-scale cereal cultivation is detrimental to the wildlife of the region; it is estimated that 50% of the wildlife population has disappeared in the last 20 years (Thompson & Homewood, 2002). The Massai can lease their land to large-scale mechanized cereal farmers for an average of $2500 (Thompson & Homewood, 2002). This is significantly more than making $5.30 per acre on livestock, tourism campsites which yield $520, small-scale cultivation, or the average $680 from being a group ranch member (Thompson & Homewood, 2002). Even though the Massai who do not lease their land have more profitable land use options, many households still devote 60.2% of their land to livestock and 37.8% to cultivation (Thompson & Homewood, 2002). The reasons for this involve cultural tradition, having more self-reliance, and the fact that past experiences with these other methods leaves little profit for the average Massai household. In other parts of the world, companies take advantage of the less developed country. Coca-Cola, based out of the United States of America, places some of their plants in India. In one instance, irresponsible use of natural resources resulted in overuse of the water supply in India and extensive pollution. Four dozen Indian villages were put into water crises. The remaining water was unfit for agriculture, livestock, and human consumption and caused severe illness in those who consumed it. (Ravi Raman, 2007)

While the past has shown that some scenarios where Western influence was not necessarily viewed as an asset, the potential probiotic that WLC’s iGEM team could provide would increase nutritional value of food. Food production, or increased efficiency, brings numerous potential benefits to a society. Advantages due to food production allow people to learn “to spin and weave; to make pottery, bricks, and arched masonry; and to smelt and cast metals” (Kottak 2011). Advances in “sculpture, mural art, writing systems, weights, measures, mathematics, and new forms of political and social organization” have also been documented in the development of the Middle East (Kottak 2011). Food production is often considered an evolutionary advance due to the expansions that societies experience after food is no longer the first concern.

There are numerous example of how the presence, or lack thereof, of a food supply affects a nation and the greater economy. The Irish potato famine in the 1840’s shows how an established food source, once removed, significantly alters the economy and way of life of the inhabitants. Potatoes were the dietary staple in the Irish diet and as was their specialized export. Potato yields suddenly severely diminished for a few consecutive years causing widespread starvation and hardship. It is estimated that 1.1-1.5 million people died of starvation and related diseases in the years 1845-1855 (Gribben). In addition, the niche that Ireland held in the potato market was filled by other European nations. As a result, the Irish in large part turned to livestock and pasture instead of potato farming. This greatly altered their lifestyle and culture, including the music that they sang and wrote, the amount of free time they had, as well as intensifying their concern for charity and family. Currently there are developing countries in this state. Nutrition and availability are great concerns in their society today, and some developed countries have begun programs to support them.

There is a fear that developed countries intervening will negatively impact the culture of those whom they are trying to aid. Culture, although its value cannot truly be quantified, is of great importance to society and to diversity of the world. The mentalities generated from different cultures often lead to different responses to the same situation. For example, the French and the Dutch both developed different approaches to the treatment of the poor in their nations; the Dutch provided for their poor, imagining themselves in the position of the poor, while the French held their poor in suspicion and fear (Klamer). These different reactions were due to different cultural mentalities. The intent of this project is produce a product that would aid developing countries, without necessarily changing their cultures, or “westernizing” them. However, one virtue of culture is its adaptability and evolution over time. Some values and customs persist for centuries, while others develop and morph frequently as times change; this is healthy. Culture is not static, but dynamic. It is the aim of this project to enhance the cultures that it touches.

The nutritional gap between developing and developed countries is apparent. Intervening in a developing country’s lifestyle is not something to be taken lightly. Serious consideration of the overall advantages and disadvantages is vitally important, as sometimes this can result in great damage to their society, land, and ecosystems. As WLC’s 2013 iGEM project would be a way to increase nutrition in a society without directly changing their way of life, it has the potential for great worldly benefit. 









Dale, Stephen. Innovation sows seeds of hope in dry areas. Retrieved Sept. 10, 2013, from

Differences between developed and developing countries 2. Retrieved Sept. 21, 2013, from

Draper, Andrew. Is a city also a garden? From urban wasteland to food and flowers. Retrieved Sept. 10, 2013, from

Gribben, A. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Klamer, A. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Kottak, C. (2011). Anthropology Appreciated human diversity (14th edition). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill

Moynihan, P., & Petersen, P. E. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Ravi Raman, K. (2007). Community—coca-cola interface: Political-anthropological concerns on corporate social responsibility. In K. Ravi Raman (Ed.), (pp. 103-120). Berghahn Books. Retrieved from

Thompson, M., & Homewood, K. (2002). Entrepreneurs, elites, and exclusion in maasailand: Trends in wildlife conservation and pastoralist development. In Retrieved from

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