Pros and cons of genetic engineering

Genetic engineering is the alteration of genetic material by direct intervention in genetic processes with the aim of creating new substances or improving the functions of the existing ones. It is a young, exciting, and controversial branch of the biological sciences. It brings with it the possibilities for cure of several genetic diseases and numerous material improvements to the every day life of man. Human genome projects is one of the signs of benefit of genetic engineering where as there are also threats for potential malicious use of the technology.  

Scientists are now able to create new species of animals by transferring genetic material from one or more organisms and genetically modifying them into the genes of another organism. The process results in creation of new organisms which are completely new to the earth and are made to specifically posses the traits that humans desire in either plants or animals (Arnold, para. 3).

This simply implies that through genetic engineering, farm animals can be made to grow faster and have desirable traits like having healthier meat and flesh and tolerant to pain and suffering which are always common in the current farms. Genetically modified animals are also used in research to enable researchers discover treatments for genetic diseases such as breast cancer. Animals which are facing extinction or those that are endangered can be cloned and this serves the wildlife management in achieving their goal of preserving and also ensuring that endangered animals information are not lost when the last of them finally dies (Barash, para. 4).

Principles of genetic engineering
The focal point of genetic engineering is the recombinant DNA which simply means a DNA which is genetically altered via the process referred to as gene splicing. In gene splicing, a DNA strand is divided into a half in terms of its length and joined with genetic material from another organism or another species of organism. Application of gene splicing results in two new important techniques. Gene transfer or inclusion of genetic material into the cell of another organism is achieved through the use of micro organisms that serve as vectors or carriers. Gene therapy is therefore defined as introduction of normal or genetically changed genes to cells so as to replace the faulty genes which are responsible for genetic disorders (Chadwick, para. 3).

It is also possible to divide DNA into shorter strands by the use of restriction enzymes whereby enzyme in this context refers to a type of protein that hastens the process of chemical reactions. The ends of the shorts fragments are highly attracted to complementary ends on the other DNA fragments and will be attracted to those strands found in the target DNA. By simply looking at the size of the fragment created through the use of enzymes, researchers are able to know whether the gene has proper genetic code or not. The technique has been employed in the analysis of fetal cells and in diagnosis of some specific blood disorders such as sickle cell anemia (Branford, p. 23).

Genetic engineering just like any other important technology or human action has benefits and costs. It is just similar to convectional industrial technology which is quite beneficial but can also be extremely dangerous if it is not practiced with caution. When the technology is used exclusively for constructive purposes such as a generation of medicine and research for human diseases, it can be very useful to the society. The use of genetic engineering for biological warfare raises a lot of concerns on the potential of abuse of this technology. In discussing genetic engineering, this paper is going to consider the pros and cons of the technology in the fields of agriculture, medicine, and food production (Perzigian, para. 5).

Pros of genetic engineering
The most famous reason given for the support of genetic engineering is its potential use in preventive medicine. Just a few cells from an embryo can be genetically analyzed to detect harmful mutations or predilection to certain genetic disorders at which point could be genetically taken either through somatic cell or germ line gene modification. Some of the advancements in the field of medicine include discovery of the causes of Huntingtons disease which has enabled the scientists to strive to determine its normal functions (Jeremy, p. 11). Should researchers succeed in these studies, the technology could then be applied in eradicating debilitating and sudden dangerous diseases that affects almost 30,000 Americans and which is also able to affect 150,000 more individuals via genetic inheritance. The second achievement in the field of medicine courtesy of genetic engineering is successful diagnosis of familial adenomatous polyposis coli which is the dominant cancer predisposition syndrome which was realized in three implantation embryos. The cancer predisposition affects 1 individual in every 1000 Americans, British and Japanese therefore it is a common difficulty. Other developments include demonstration that schizophrenia is inherited and birth defects such as Downers syndrome can be eliminated via genetic engineering (Nicholl, p. 126).

The second reason for genetic engineering is the elimination of common defects that differ in seriousness like sensory impairment. Several chromosomes associated with hearing impairment have been identified. Despite the fact that the management of these conditions initially appeared possible, as the eradication of complete blindness or deafness would improve the quality of life of these patients, complete elimination of sensory conditions and actually lifting sensory ability to a level which is above normal are separated by a very small line.

Genetic engineering is widely applied in the field of agriculture. Food crops such as maize, rice, and potatoes are being genetically modified in several ways. Some of the benefits of genetic engineering in agriculture are higher crop yields, production of more nutritious foods, ability of the crops to be grown even in harsh environment, production of crops which are more resistant to pests and this eliminates the use of potentially dangerous pesticides, ability to remove undesirable traits, foods with better flavor and longer shelf life, and possibility of using crops as cheap source of medicine (Barash, para. 7).

Genetically engineered seeds are not eaten by pests and are able to survive in relatively harsh climatic conditions. There is a recently discovered plant gene referred to as At-DBF2 which when introduced into a tomato and tobacco cells is observed to increase their adaptation to harsh soil and climatic conditions. Biotechnology can also be applied in prolonging half life of foods, therefore fruits and vegetables can have their shelf life greatly improved. Genetic engineering in food can be employed to produce completely new substances like proteins and other food nutrients. Genetic modification of foods can also be employed in increasing the medicinal value of foods therefore resulting in homegrown edible vaccines.

Genetic engineering has a great ability in case of human beings. Human genetic engineering is the branch of genetic engineering which is involved with modifying the genes of humans before they are born (Redmond, para. 8). The technique can be applied in altering certain traits in an individual. Positive genetic engineering is concerned with enhancing the good traits in an individual such as increasing life expectancy or human capacity while negative genetic engineering is concerned with suppression of bad traits in humans such as predilection to genetic disorders. Through genetic engineering, treatment for some dangerous diseases can be discovered. If the genes which are responsible for extraordinary qualities in human can be discovered, the genes can be inserted into the genotypes of humans. It can also be used to bring about desirable structural and functional changes in individuals (Branford, p. 23).

Through genetic engineering transgenic agricultural animals can be created. The animals created in this manner are better placed to resist disease, have enhanced growth performance, and possess greater reproductive traits. An example of an animal which has undergone genetic engineering is salmon. Transgenic salmon is able to grow into a larger size and also at a faster rate as compared to other varieties of salmon. The transgenic salmon has already been created and farmed. Genetic engineering is also used in bovines through the use of growth hormones in dairy cows to increase their level of production. With the increased use of the technology, there is a possibility that a transgenic sheep will be produced in future which will produce a better wool, cattle will be engineered to more efficiently convert feed into high quality milk and meat (Perzigian, 6).

Cons of genetic engineering
While genetic engineering is currently making a permanent mark in the society, and its promise of great things to come, the technology is faced with a lot of controversies about the ramifications it has for the society and the environment. The most common people against this practice are environmental advocates together with animal rights activists. For each benefit that genetic engineering brings, there is an intrinsic danger which comes with it. In general, the opponents of the technology maintains that it creates a huge reduction in the position of animals, rendering them as nothing more than testing objects for factory farming, drug and organ manufacturing. There are real and assumed potential risks associated with genetic engineering (Poulter, p. 23).    

Genetic engineering in terms of gene therapy can be a very dangerous business (Nicholl, p. 300). In gene therapy, a micro organism which in most cases is the virus is used as a carrier to deliver the genes being introduced inside the cell, there is some degree of fear about the possible virulence of the carrier virus despite the fact that virulence factors have been suppressed. There is also a possibility of the gene landing in the wrong place and resulting in harm to the individual by being expressed in unusual ways. There have been numerous deaths experienced in gene therapy trials with the most popular case being of Jesse Gelsinger which occurred in 1999 (Chadwick, para. 9).

Opposition to the use of genetic engineering in food and agriculture is based on several fears. One of the fears is that a gene which is supposed to make crops resistance to herbicide may spill to other crops resulting in some kind of super weed or a genetic modification that is transmitted through pollination. Creation of such plants is likely to pose some hazard to the ecosystem. There is also an issue that unusual gene expression may results in crops which are more likely to elicit allergic reactions in the people. There is also a possibility that genetic engineered foodstuffs can result in altered nutritional value in the process of improving tastes and appearance (Barash, para. 6).

Horizontal gene transfer can result in new pathogens. In the process of increasing resistance to diseases in plants, the genes responsible for resistance may get transferred to harmful pathogens. Gene therapy in humans can result in some specific side effects. While trying to treat one problem, the therapy may result in another problem. Since a single cell is responsible for several traits, identification and isolation of a single cell responsible for a single trait is not easy (Mae-Wan Ho  Cummins, p. 149).

Genetic engineering in humans can hinder the diversity of human beings. Cloning can be dangerous to individuality. In addition, such processes may not be afforded by the majority of the people thus making gene therapy impossibility for the common man (Branford, p. 23).

Transgenic agricultural animals pose various threats. There is a possibility that creating more efficient farm animals will bring to a standstill the process of selective breeding thereby resulting in lessened genetic diversity of animals. Through this, a whole hard can become susceptible to new strains of infectious diseases. An example of such a procedure which led to more problems to the animals engineered was implantation of human growth hormone into a pig by the USDA. The resultant pigs were bowlegged, cross eyed, arthritic, and had a faulty immune system which made them highly susceptible to pneumonia. The same thing can happen to cows which are normally administered with growth hormones to increase milk production are also likely to suffer from udder diseases (Jeremy, p. 11).

Should the genetically engineered animals escape into the wild, they expose native animals populations to great risks and are likely to interfere with the overall balance of the ecosystem. These animals are likely to pose ecological roulette because their exact function in the ecology is not clear. There is also another fear concerning genetic engineering that it is likely to reduce the human gene pool thereby making man quite susceptible to several diseases. Cloning also falls under genetic engineering and if the practice is taken over by malicious individuals, clones can be made for doomsday army or anything more serious than that. The practice is also considered both inhumane and unethical. Improper testing on animals is likely to result in some damage to the ecosystem (Arnold, para. 8).

Genetic engineering has the potential of causing more serious problems in the future. According to history, it takes a few decades for the complete set of risks linked with any technology to be realized. One of such development was CFC which people did not predict could cause more harm to the ozone layer like it did. The ability to think about the potential risks of genetic engineering in the future is masked by the available knowledge in the related disciplines such as psychology, genetics, and nutrition. The current pressure exerted in the food production can be equated to that experienced by the UK authorities who made them not to link BSE with a new variant of the incurable condition which was reported in man referred to as CJD. Those individuals who linked the two conditions were criticized. Unlike other faulty technology mistakes which can be fixed by redesigning the machinery, mistakes associated by genetic engineering are a bit complex and cannot be easily rectified (Barash, para. 10).

Genetic engineering is a valuable technology, but is does not lack faults and technical difficulties. Just like other technologies, there is non with absolute safety or zero risk. Every technology comes with risk attached to it and genetic engineering is not an exception. As long as the benefits associated with the technology are far much beyond its negative effects, and there are efforts put in place to ensure that the risks associated with it are minimized, new technologies such as genetic engineering should be pursued with a lot of dynamism.


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