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With advancements in science and technology it is no surprise that we have eventually found a way to manipulate genes. Genetic engineering, sometimes referred to as genetic modification, is the process of altering the DNA in an organism’s genome. It is used by scientists to enhance or modify the characteristics of an individual organism. This method can be applied to any organism from a virus to a sheep. For example, it even has the ability to produce plants that have higher nutritional value or can tolerate exposure to herbicides.
The latest version of genetic modification is CRISPR, a unique technology that is currently the simplest, most versatile and precise method. Although its the most advanced form of modification there is still flaws within it. There has been a lot of researching and testing focusing on eliminating ‘off-target’ effects, where the CRISPR-Cas9 system cuts at a different gene than the one that was intended to be edited. Prior to CRISPR people were still able to edit genomes just at a smaller scale and pace. The adaptation of CRISPR changed things because you can build a custom re-targeted gRNA for just a few dollars in the lab, which removed the cost and effort barriers that related with other technologies. The process of genetic modification is as follows, first researchers create a small piece of RNA with a short “guide” sequence that attaches (binds) to a specific target sequence of DNA in a genome. This RNA also binds to the Cas9 enzyme. The modified RNA is used to recognize the DNA sequence and the Cas9 enzyme cuts the DNA at the targeted location. Once the DNA is cut, researchers use the cell’s own DNA repair machinery to add or delete pieces of genetic material, or to make changes to the DNA by replacing an existing segment with a customized DNA sequence. CRISPR can be used on a multitude of organisms that cause further questioning to one’s ethics and opinions on genetic modification.
While this advancement of technology is outstanding, there is still so much missing information and questions. It has the ability to have severe human, social, and environmental impacts, which is why it should be something that is regulated and protected or kept away and unused. Several areas have used genetic engineering with major focus on its importance, ranging from increasing plant and animal food production, diagnosing disease conditions, medical treatment improvement, as well as production of vaccines. New organisms created by genetic engineering could present an ecological problem. There is no way to predict the changes that a genetically engineered species would make on the environment. It can go wrong in many ways for example, the release of a new genetically engineered species has the potential to cause an imbalance in the ecology of a region. While the medical use of genetic engineering has been welcomed, critics still believe that disease producing organisms used in some DNA experiments might develop extremely infectious forms that could cause worldwide epidemics. There are lots of ways we can utilize genetic engineering but it brings a lot of uncertainty and possible negative results, this can be proven throughout this discussion.
Futuristically, genetic engineering could become a common method of modifying animals used in food production. Due to the likelihood of an increase in the global population, the demand for meat and animal products will grow with it. Previous research has found ways to create tuberculosis-resistant cows, sheep with healthier fat, and genetically engineered cashmere goats that grow longer hair for softer sweaters. While the benefit of this being the expansion of food supply to support a growing global population, creating disease resistant animals that reduce the number of animals that die prematurely will help produce cleaner, healthier meat. However, there are always cons and risks that come with innovative ideas. As more human genes are being used in non-human organisms to create new forms of life that are genetically partly human, ethical questions become a subject of focus. They question, what percentage of human genes does an organism have to contain before it is considered human? Human genes are currently being used on tomatoes and peppers to make them grow faster, suggesting that one can be a vegetarian and a cannibal at the same time. The opposed also question the safety of genetically engineered bovine somatotropin (BST) used to increase the milk yield of dairy cows for both the cows that are injected with it and the humans who drink the resulting milk. This has been found to likely increase the cows chances of developing mastitis, or infection of the udder and has made them more susceptible to infertility and lameness. One of the best known and controversial uses of genetic engineering is the creation of genetically modified food. A concern of GMOs is the effects it has on pregnant women, it’s possible if consumed it may endanger their offspring by disrupting normal fetal development. Most of the genetically engineered plant foods carry fully functioning antibiotic-resistance genes. The presence of antibiotic-resistance genes in foods could have lethal effects. So consuming these foods could reduce the effectiveness of antibiotics to fight the disease when these antibiotics are taken with meals. The resistance genes could be transferred to human or animal pathogens, making them unaffected by antibiotics. GMOs, although used in a lot of the foods we consume currently, is still questionable. It’s a relatively new development and as a result research on the long term health effects is still something that is unknown. There have been some research and testing done to see the downsides of GMOs but evidence has varied and cannot accurately determine that GMOs are the cause of someone’s decline in health. However GMOs are still a cause for concern, although they haven’t found a direct answer they still don’t have answers to normal concerns.
In conclusion, from an ethical standpoint, it is clear that there are a lot of arguments contesting the use of genetic engineering. A prominent ethical argument stems from the idea of designer DNA and the possible ability to change your offsprings DNA to your choosing. Even the idea of cloning humans raises a variety of social issues, to even consider the psychological issues that would result from a cloned child is a frightening thought. The psychological issues imposed onto a “designer baby” becomes a long list of hypotheticals that are not all positive. The children of enhanced genes may feel like outcasts, or a loss of autonomy, knowing that their genes were one of the few that were manipulated. This process treats offspring like they are commodities rather than people. Without any rules or regulations on this could form into a dangerous social division, highlighting the inequalities that already exists while also introducing new forms that be further damaging. There is such a lack of knowledge about the effects genetic engineering may have. It brings to light possible difficult about what kind of children will be welcomed into the world and how some choices might stigmatized individuals already living with inherited conditions. This mutation would allow parents to alter genes or even introduce new traits possibly increasing the feeling of increased societal inequality. The type of power that genetic engineering brings, is a frightening thought.
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