Some scientists involved in the field of genetic research have been moving toward the goal of being able to change DNA.
To some people, this is the chance for a better and healthier life, but there are other people fear that it is "playing God" and trying to "program" a human being. Each of these views is right in certain ways. Genetic engineering could be used to enhance peoples lives, but it could also be used to harm peoples lives.
If future research produces more effective and accurate processes to manipulate human DNA, scientists will be able to create cures for diseases that are not curable today. Even birth defects could be almost totally eliminated if doctors were able to change a childs genes before birth. The process could also be adapted to cure hereditary diseases and prevent them from passing to future generations. It could also allow people with family histories of diseases, such as cancer, to "fix" their genetic predisposition to the disease.
Another way that genetic engineering could affect our lives is its application to genetically modified plants and animals used for food. If farmers breed plants and animals specifically engineered to produce more meat or fruit, faster and easier than normal, then food would become cheaper and more plentiful. In addition, genetic engineering might allow the creation of better tasting, or more nutritious foods.
Genetic engineering can also be applied in the fight against diseases.
People of the world would not have to live in fear of contracting a deadly virus or hereditary disease. In theory, genetic engineering can accomplish this.
Genetic engineering can improve the health of society tremendously then as it is known today. Today genetic engineering is used in the fight against problems such as cystic fibrosis, the "bubble boy" disease (* see below), diabetes, and several more.
Cystic fibrosis is the leading hereditary cause of death among Caucasian Americans, affecting one in every two thousand children and young adults.
Another deadly disease now being treated by genetic engineering is the "bubble boy" disease (Severe Combined Immunodeficiency). This disease is characterized by a gene mutation that causes a deficiency in ADA, which causes the cells of the immune system to be destroyed.
In 1990, copies of a normal ADA enzyme were inserted into an inactive virus a carrier; the carrier was then introduced to a young girl s system who was suffering from the "bubble boy" disease. The virus began to infect the girl s T-cells and the colony began to grow. She was then given several other transfusions. In 1992 her treatment had proven successful and her immune system had grown very strong.
Although they might have a positive effect, new organisms created by genetic engineering could present an ecological problem.
The changes that a genetically engineered species would make on the environment of a region are unpredictable. Just like an exotic species, the release of a new genetically engineered species would also have the possibility of causing an inbalance in the ecology of a region. An accident or an unknown result could present several problems. An accident in engineering the genetics of a virus or bacteria could result in a stronger type, which, if released, could start a serious epidemic. Even worse, accidents in human genetic engineering could cause problems ranging from minor medical problems, to death.
Genetic engineering could also create unknown side effects or outcomes. Certain changes in a plant or animal could cause unpredicted allergic reactions in some people which, in its original form, did not occur. Other changes could make an organism toxic to humans or other organisms.
Genetic engineering will ultimately arise many concerns.
These concerns range from ethical issues to a lack of knowledge on the effects genetic engineering may have. One major concern is that once an altered gene is placed in an organism, the process cannot be reversed.
Other concerns include:
Newly introduced genes may act differently within a new host and the overall only term effect on an organism is unpredictable. There are also certain ethical issues of major concern.
"Playing God" has become a strong argument against genetic engineering. Despite all of these current concerns, the potential for genetic engineering is tremendous. However, further testing and research will be required to educate society on the positives and negatives to genetic engineering. With the newfound breakthroughs in cloning, the capabilities of changing human characteristics are unpredictable.
The most frightening scenario is the destructive use of genetic engineering.
Terrorist groups or armies could develop more powerful biological weaponry. These weapons could be resistant to medicines, or even targeted at people who carry certain genes. Genetically engineered organisms used for biological weapons might also reproduce faster, which would create larger quantities in shorter periods of time, increasing the level of devastation.
Like many other things, genetic engineering is a two-edged sword.
Actually using genetic engineering would eventually unleash all of its effects, both positive and negative. After genetic engineering starts being used, our society will not simply be able to "put it back", "turn it off", or otherwise remove it. Once it becomes reality, it will always be with us.
A study of all of the effects of genetic engineering can lead to responsible use of the technology when it is fully developed. Right now, however, there are no specific limits are on genetic engineering. We, as a society, are technologically ready to carry out genetic engineering, but we may not be ready for the responsibility it brings.
* Bubble Boy Disease - Severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) represents a group of rare, sometimes fatal, congenital disorders characterized by little or no immune response. The defining feature of SCID, commonly known as "bubble boy" disease, is a defect in the specialized white blood cells (B- and T-lymphocytes) that defend us from infection by viruses, bacteria and fungi.