Scientists are trying to figure out the entire three billion-letter human genome with high precision as a prelude to figuring out eventually what protein each gene produces and for what purpose. It all started in 1866 when Austrian botanist and monk Gregor Mendel proposed basic laws of heredity based on crossbreeding experiments with pea plants. His findings, published in a local natural-history journal, were largely ignored for more than thirty years. In 1910 U.S. biologist Thomas Hunt Morgan’s experiment with fruit flies reveal that some genetically determined traits are sex linked. His work also confirms that the genes determining these traits reside on chromosomes. It continuos until 1997 when researchers at Scotland’s Roslin Institute, led by embryologist Lan Wilmut, reported that they cloned a sheep-named Dolly-from the cell of an adult ewe. The next goal of scientists is to sequence all human DNA by 2003, the Human Genome Projects current target date (Lemonick 46). But we should use genetic engineering in a proper way. Our goal should be to find areas where it is needed rather than try to misuse it for personal gain.
Genetic engineering can provide medical benefits to humans, but limits have to be set. The Code of Life Our body contains one hundred trillion cells, inside most cells is a nucleus that contains a complete set of the body’s blueprints. Those blueprints are twisted into forty-six packets called chromosomes. Unravel a chromosome, and you get the long, thread-like molecule called DNA. Within the DNA are the blueprints, called genes, for which make proteins. The DNA molecule has a twisted, laddershaped structure (the famous double helix). The genetic code can be read in the rungs of the ladder. The code is spelled out by four chemicals: adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G), and cytosine (C). A pairs with T, and G pairs with C to form the ladder (Lemonick 46-47). How Scientists Break the Code of Life First a small fragment of DNA is cut out of a chromosome. That fragment is cloned to create millions of copies. Following that the fragments are divided into four special solutions, in which they begin to replicate. Each solution contains a chemical “fixer” that stops the process when a particular letter is reached.
Then a color dye is used to stain the fragments. The partially reproduced fragments are dropped into gel-filled capillaries inside a sequencing machine. Finally an electric charge pulls the fragments down the capillaries: bigger molecules move more slowly than small ones, sorting by size. The sequence is read automatically by a laser as the colored fragments come out the end of the capillaries (Lemonick 48). Medical Use Every human disease has a genetic component. Genetic engineering has the potential to conquer cancer, grow new blood vessels in the heart, block the growth of blood vessels in tumors, create new organs from stem cells and perhaps even reset the primeval genetic coding that causes cells to age. Through genetic engineering, drugs in the future will be safer, more powerful, and much more selective than ever before (Gorman 80). Doctors will be able to consult your genetic profile to determine ahead of time whether you are more likely to respond to one type of medication or another. DNA technology may provide the answer to the urgent demand for an HIV vaccine that is safe, inexpensive and easy to produce.
Dolly and Human Cloning The announcement in February 1997 of the birth of a sheep named Dolly, an exact genetic replica of its mother, sparked a worldwide debate over the moral and medical implications of cloning. Several U.S. states and European countries have banned the cloning of human beings. But less than a week after an American scientist announced he would clone a child, nineteen European nations signed a treaty that said cloning people violated human dignity and was a misuse of science. Britain and Germany, however, balked at signing the measure that London considers too strict and Bonn too weak. Among the countries that signed were Denmark, France, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Turkey (Schuman). Yet South Korean scientists claimed last month that they had already taken the first step.
Overlooked in the arguments about the morality of artificially reproducing life is the fact that, at present, cloning is a very inefficient procedure. Even if the technique were perfected, however, we must ask ourselves what practical value whole-being cloning might have. What exactly would be the difference between a “cloned” baby and a child born naturally and why would we want one? Why “copy” people in the first place? Couples unable to have children might choose to have a copy of one of them rather than accept the intrusion of genes from a donor. Each of us can imagine hypothetical families created by the introduction of a cloned child, a copy of one partner in a homosexual relationship or of a single parent, for example. What is missing in all this is consideration of what is in the interests of the cloned child.
There is no form of infertility that could be overcome only by cloning. Copying is also suggested as a means by which parents can have the child of their dreams. Couples might choose to have a copy of a film star, baseball player or scientist, depending on their interests. But what if the copy of Einstein shows no interest in science? Or the football player turns to acting? Success also depends upon fortune. What happens to the child who does not live up to the hopes and dreams of the parent simply because of bad luck? I do not find these proposals acceptable. My concerns are not on religious grounds or as Edward Yoxen says,“on the basis of a perceived intrinsic ethical principle” (Yoxen). Rather, my judgment is that it would be difficult for families created in this way to provide an appropriate environment for the child. We should not be playing God.