Thursday, 24 May 2012

Genetic Engineering: Our Promising Future.


I read this very interesting article recently, which you can find at: (http://www.globalchange.com/geneticengin.htm) and it got me really thinking.  Whether we like it or not, genetic engineering is our future.  Genetic engineering will impact and influence our lives for the years to come and will ultimately change the way we live.  The potential for genetic engineering is almost limitless but in order to get the most out of genetic engineering we must consider what is ethical.  Genetic engineering allows us to alter the genes of any organism in order to bring out a particular trait that is needed for a particular purpose.  For example I could place the gene that is responsible for creating the enzyme lactase, which is used to break down lactose, into a harmless bacteria.  By breeding these bacteria I can essentially build myself a lactase farm which I can harvest and use as medicine for people who are lactose intolerant.  This is just the tip of the iceberg and genetic engineering is certainly not just limited to medicine.  Genetic engineering can also be applied to food and other organic materials.  Genetic engineering is one of the most exciting prospects of genetics in the future.

Genetic engineering is powered by this underlying concept in biology that the DNA of all organisms is made of the same “stuff”.  The DNA is the information in cells that give the blueprint for life and is made up of 4 different bases that are found in every organism.  This means that the DNA of a human is the same as the DNA of a bacterium only arranged in a different way.  As the DNA is made of the same stuff it means that the DNA of a pig can be placed into the DNA of a tomato and this is the idea behind genetic engineering.  Because all DNA is the same it means that the possibilities for genetic engineering are endless.  This website gives some really good information about DNA (http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/).  The process of genetically modifying an organism is relatively simple and involves extracting the desired gene and transplanting it into the DNA of the desired organism.  If the desired organism is a bacterium then the bacterium placed in the optimum environment and left to grow and replicate, however, if the organism is a prokaryote then the new DNA is placed in a cell and the cloning process is used to create the organism (info on the cloning process can be found at: http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/life/genetic/cloning.htm).

There are several benefits to genetic engineering, however there are many ethical issues involved.  The most prevalent ethical issue surrounds the idea of playing God and designer babies.  The techniques used in genetic engineering open up the possibility of creating designer babies by altering their genes to create the baby that the parents want rather than the baby “God” intended.  Many people believe that it is unethical to be playing God with all organisms not just humans and sites like Greenpeace (www.greenpeace.org) have information on the ethical issues around genetic engineering.  However, as long as these ethical issues are kept under control and scientists do the right thing, I see no reason as to why genetic engineering should not be used.

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