What if you could design your child before it was even born? What if you could cut out any life threatening diseases, make sure that your child is not susceptible to smoking addictions or alcoholism, and then make your child genius? Would you? Are you asking yourself how this could be done? Have you ever considered human genetic engineering?
What is Human Genetic Engineering?
Lets start by looking at the cell and the source of heritable traits. We know that all organisms are made up by cells and that new cells can only spring from existing cells. Cell growth depends upon the production of new cells and within each cell exists DNA. DNA contains the hereditary instructions need for each organism to grow and develop. Every parental organism gives the correct amount of DNA to its offspring. Humans give their children twenty-three chromosomes from each of the parents. DNA looks something like a twisted staircase, and when in a condensed form, each DNA molecule is called a chromosome. Genes are formed in pairs are located in these chromosomes. During reproduction the gene pairs are split apart and randomly passed on to the offspring. During the replication of the gene pairs chance events such as mutations, can change their structure and prompt evolution.
Through human interference we can compose our own evolution by using genetic engineering. By using this genetic engineering, scientist have the means to isolate, cut and split different genes from different species, and then amplify the number of copies of the gene that they are interested in.
This process has four steps. First, enzymes are used to cut DNA molecules into smaller fragments. Second, the fragments are inserted into a cloning device, such as plasmids. Third, the fragments that are wanted are identified, and then copied. Fourth the fragment is inserted back into the same organism or possibly into a different one.
Historically, humans have used artificial selection to pass on desirable traits in livestock. Now researchers are trying to identifying and map the specific traits passed on in the human DNA. The Human Genome Project is currently working their way though 3.2 million gene pairs that exist in the twenty three pairs of human chromosomes.
Oh, Happy Day for Genetic Engineering! Researcher, James M. Wilson, a pioneer in the field and headed the Institute for Gene Therapy at Pnn., has published the first document showing that was possible to add a gene that could have therapeutic effects. Based on those findings, Wilson performed an experiment on a person suffering from hypercholesterolemia (FH). This certain disease forbids the liver from processing cholesterol.
The procedure consisted of taking a piece of the persons liver and injecting correct copies of the genes into the flawed liver cells, and placing the piece of liver back into the person. Two years later, the results showed that the corrected cells were thriving. As a result to the cells, the person had reduced their cholesterol by twenty percent.
Cystic Fibrosis (CF), is another disease that is taking to genetic therapy. If a corrected gene could somehow enter the cells that line the lungs, it will then start producing the critical proteins that CF patients need. This has been done, although in small quantities. These results, however, have raised hopes that sometime in the future, CF may be curable.
The parade of genetically engineered marvels, during the past recent years, has been shocking: “Flavr-Savr” tomatoes that stay fresher longer; “giant salmon” that grow 37 times faster than the normal fish; “transgenic” pigs that are injected with human genes which causes them to produce milk with human protein that prevents blood clotting; and “supermice” injected with rat growth genes which makes them grow twice their normal size, are just a few.
The goal of genetic engineering is to modify genes in helpful ways, but this manner elevates ethical questions that are morally distressing. It is true that genetic engineering can create many benefits for the human race, but should we play with nature? Historically humans have ignored the risks of their actions. We are toolmakers. We are constantly altering our environment to heighten our outlook for a better life. Are we ready to face the possible consequences of the future? Time will only tell.
The Dark Side
A genetically engineered product is anything that had been developed by altering its DNA in some way. But do we have the right to do such a thing? There are numerous problems with gene therapy and DNA manipulation. Can we play God? What guarantees can we truly give? What about the possible mutation? What about possible prejudice and discrimination? What effects would cloning have on an individual? Wouldn’t loss of genetic variation be a serious problem?
Since antibiotic resistance could occur, what happens when a person is sick? What about the unexpected effects? Should we even interfere with nature?
All of the above are things that need to be considered before we can truly continue with research and experimentation. There are no guarantees when changing genes. The possible and unexpected mutations, antibiotic resistance, and all other effects are all unknown. There are many questions that must be asked before making any kind of decision towards the future of genetic engineering and towards human kind.
We should concern ourselves with the current issues and misfortunes. Scientists now are working on creating better genes for babies who have dysfunctional genes and to help infertility. Although this is not a bad idea, it could be taken way too far where it could possibly hurt the child, the parents, and other family members.
This is also a moral and ethical consideration. There are many people who believe that it is not for us to play the role of God, or to decide what each person is going to look like. There has been a movie recently released called GATTACA that is all about whether it is right or wrong, and the effects genetic engineering could have on society.
Don’t forget the consequences of creating a new species. Won’t isolations and prejudice then occur? What about the absence of genetic variation? When there are a lot of people out there with similar genetic make-ups, the threat of disease will increase. If it effects one person, won’t the rest also be affected? The immune system is not able to withstand all the viruses and bacteria if there is no variety.
The DNA strands are just too delicate and the idea of completely understanding and mapping out every single part of the strand can not be considered realistic. Because of that, there will always be holes, therefore making holes in our usage. In the words of Dr. Elena Gates of the University of California at San Francisco, “I would not like to announce that Mrs. Jones just gave birth to twins – and she’s got two more in the freezer.”
So What Happens Now?
I have presented some technical information and questions for the reader to ponder. Perhaps I have also exposed some old theories and philosophies connecting modern day science and technology, but having human genetic testing might appall the human population. Animal testing could even outrage animal rights groups and environmentalists. However there are a few possible problems we must face.
Before any tests are done on humans, we must prevent or even eliminate the possibility of mutation.
The human race has been weakened by power-hungry villains, the actions of oppressors, and even scientists looking to use unprincipled means to satisfy their own interests. Would we be able to prevent this?
We must make sure that the product of any mankind genetic engineering operation is given the rights and privileges all humans deserve.
Some diseases are preventable through genetic engineering, but is it possible that we could accidentally produce a virus? Would we be prepared to face it?
There are many animals that are on the verge of extinction because of the absents of genetic variation. If we were to pick and choose our own genes, could we unknowingly do the same to ourselves? My own personal opinion on this mater is mixed. I know that genetic engineering could be beneficial but there are too many unknowns. Perhaps when more progress is made we can one day cure genetic disorders. There was a time when the world thought that polio was incurable, but Dr. Jonas Slak proved the world wrong. Maybe sometime in the future cystic fibrosis will be as big of a problem as the chicken pox.