“Genetic engineering is a fact of life.” This statement is undoubtedly true. But what exactly is genetic engineering and why does it affect us? Firstly, genetic engineering is the manipulation of an organisms’ genes and this is made possible by something called DNA. DNA is a hereditary substance that contains a compete set of information which determines the structure and function of a living organism. It is precisely the agent that is manipulated in the process of genetic engineering. This protein system (DNA) is basically a long string of “code words”, arranged in an orderly fashion, which contains the blue prints to creating all of the proteins in the body. It is also the single most important factor in gene manipulation. In the process of genetic engineering, one or more genes of an organism is taken out of the DNA and inserted into the DNA of another organism. This process can take place in any living creature from bacterium to human beings. So why is Genetic engineering such a controversial topic? To many it seems just another technological development that was bound to surface with time, however it was not until now that any form of technology held the power to create, change and formulate life.
Those in favor of genetic engineering argue that since genetic codes are the determining factor in appearance, personality, health, and aging, the development of genetic engineering will certainly lead to the control and improvement of our health and quality of life. We would also be able to improve the genes of animals and plants so that these organisms can better serve the human race. Pretty convincing right? In theory, genetic engineering seems like the answer to the worlds’ problems. In the medical field, the uses of this technology appear endless. For one, through the process of gene manipulation, necessary drugs like insulin can be created and grown in large quantities, in a very inexpensive manner. Secondly, pure versions of certain treatment drugs can reduce the risk of other complications. This is the case with factor VIII. factor VIII is a blood clotting agent missing in people who suffer from hemophilia and it has been created through genetic engineering. The advantage of the bioengineered form is that it is pure which would eliminated the possibility of viral infection.
This is important because almost all people who received factor VIII before 1985 contracted the Aids virus. Genetic engineering can also open the door for the elimination of genetic diseases ranging from cancer to blood, liver, and lung disorders through the use of gene therapy. Other medical uses of the technology could include boosting our immune systems, making us less susceptible to sickness, and even extending our life span to over 100 years. According to the supporters of genetic engineering, the medical field is not the only place where genetic engineering can have a positive impact. In agriculture, genetics can also be extremely beneficial. In theory, with the help of genetic engineering we would be able to enhance crops and make them resistent to disease and pestilence, which kills a large portion of crops annually. There is also the possibility of injecting plants with bioengineered viruses that would kill of bugs and other creatures that attack plants, reducing or even eliminating the need for environmentally unsafe pesticides and chemicals.
Another use of the gene manipulation of crops would increase crop yield, which would in turn lower prices and feed more hungry children. Animals can also be affected by this cutting edge technology. With genetics and gene therapy, we would be able to make animals have organs that would be quite similar to those of humans, thus making them transplantable. The gene of animals could also be manipulated to breed healthier and meatier animals. Also supporters of genetic engineering believe that the process can put an end to the fear of extinction because we would be able to clone animals which human pollution and deforestation have caused to disappear. The possibilities are endless, it would even be possible to breed faster growing trees, which would in turn allow for the repopulating of the rains forests. Lastly, genetic engineering would affect the evolution of the most precious species created, Homo Sapiens. Using genetic engineering we would be able to enhance the human genome. This for most is the scariest possibility stemming from genetic engineering.
After the cloning of Dolly the sheep, scientists had the world wondering…what’s next? It is quite reasonable to say that most would agree that cloning human beings just for the sake of it would be silly, creating only negative repercussions such as overpopulation. However, genetic engineering leaves the door open for the enhancement of our species. In theory we would be able to increase intelligence therefore reducing senseless acts which are one of the major causes of crime and violence. We would even be able to increase our metabolisms and never worry about being overweight again, and people would be able to alter their appearances . In general, using genetic engineering within the human realm seems like it is the answer to gaining the enhancements that would allow us to live longer, happier and healthier lives. For as many supporters as there are in favor of genetic engineering, there are just as many people totally opposed to idea. You may ask yourself, why? After hearing the preceding advantages of the new technology, it seems as if we should be praising its benefits.
However, there is another side of the story. Genetic engineering represents the ability of humans to take into their own hands the ability to initiate certain human environmental occurrences that previously only nature could be held responsible for. Gene manipulation poses many ethical and social concerns along with serious challenges to the environment, human health, animal welfare, and the future of agriculture. The primary concern of those in opposition to genetic engineering is that there are no guarantees. Genetic engineering represents a whole new world of questionable outcomes and possibly dangerous results. Genetically engineered plants pose a series of problems. For one, if pests become resistent to genetically engineered crops, won’t we have to use an increased amount of stronger pesticides to address the problem? And wouldn’t this be detrimental to the environment? Many are also fooled by the idea that genetically altered crops will yield more and therefore feed the poor and hungry, yet another misconception according to opponents of genetic engineering.
The process of gene manipulation is unlikely to take place in third world countries, it is mostly a factor in the agricultural economy of large, wealthy nations such as the United States, Japan and Western Europe. So the surplus of food is not serving the purpose of feeding the hungry. Genetic altering of certain plants that we consume within our daily diet may also lead to severe and even fatal reactions. The process is so new that it is virtually impossible to predict the effects it will have. Genetic Engneerng could also spell big trouble for traditional agriculture. If agriculture were to be based entirely on genetic engineering, this would signal the end of farming as this nation has known it from centuries ago. Another fact most people are unaware of is that genetically altered foods have already hit the markets and may even be in their local supermarkets. You would probably never know if you were eating altered corn or not, but what if you were a vegetarian? Some genetic alteration of plants/crops utilizes genetic material from animals. Don’t you have a right ot know?
Genetic engineering, is also ued in a process called eugenics. Through this process, as it is being used now, human fetuses that have been identified as having hereditary disorders are being aborted. Eventually however, when geneticists can map out the entire human genome, opponents of genetic engineering fear that babies will be aborted because they have non-life threatening illnesses such as myopia or even worse, they may be aborted fro such tricial things as cosmetic imperfections or for possessing a gene which predisposes them to homosexuality. In labs all around the country genomes are being created for sole experimental use. The ones with deformities live short, yet painful lives some blind or even crippled. So we are producing these creatures who have no other value to us than to say they were products of genetic engineering? What’s next, argue those opposing the process, will we be throwing babies away because they are rejected products of a genetic engineering project gone wrong? In all actuality, it seems as if we are putting a great deal of power into human hands.
And what gives an individual the right to make decisions that will affect generations to come? Personally, while I feel that they are many benefits to be reaped from the technology of genetic engineering, there is one thing that scars me. This technology will be put in the hands of humans just like you and I, all of which are capable of making mistakes. Also, humans can be as irrational and dazed as they can be rational and brilliant. With all the possibilities that genetic engineering has to offer, it seems that if it found it’s way into the wrong hands it could do much more harm than good. Each individual must decide for him or herself their stance on this issue, but hopefully you have come to understand that there is much more than meets the eye when current technological consequences are involved.