Perspectives in Genetic Engineering
IDH 2121 Valencia Community College
Dr. John Bledsoe
26 April 2005
The Impacts of Genetic Engineering
The scientific discoveries in genetics in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries are numerous in their potential as well as risk. To understand the risks as well as potential of genetic engineering in the future, one must first become familiar with not only the prospective fields of usage, but the resulting effects of such usage in the spheres of agriculture, medicine, and the environment. According to the World Book Encyclopedia, genetic engineering describes techniques that alter the genes (hereditary material) or combination of genes in an organism. Within agriculture, genetic engineering is used to develop additional plant and livestock varieties which result in greater food production for mass consumption. The potential or positive impacts of such breakthroughs in genetically engineering plant life impact crop production through high yield, low input crops that have other added benefits. Other trials in genetic engineering have wrought farm animals with the purpose of increased meat production and in dairy cattle additional milk production. Conversely, the dangers of genetically engineered sources of food lie in the possible allergic responses to those who ingest them. Further cause for alarm rests in fears of ecological complications resulting from the cross pollination of these different modified forms of plant life. In medicine, genetic engineering is used to combat numerous illnesses. Among the numerous positive effects of such research lies in the field of gene therapy which is identified as an experimental technique for treating or preventing diseases by inserting a gene into a patient's cells. Then again possible negative effects lie in possibility of science being able to genetically engineer ones own children. To finish an overview of perspectives in genetic engineering one must assess how genetic engineering can aid in cleansing or improving the environment. In order to help curb pollution, genetic engineering has the ability to modify plants and microbes to reduce many of the world's most disastrous pollutants such as oil spills. Nevertheless even with such great potential, even this use possesses possible undesired effects which could be caused by the plants and microbes used to better the environment. As with any situation there exists differing viewpoints that need to be taken into account before a determination as to whether the negative aspects of a situation out weight its positive benefits.
Beginning in agriculture, genetic engineering is being used to pioneer breeds of plants and livestock so as to increase forms of food production in order to facilitate greater quantities of food production for mass consumption. In the past, it was through crossbreeding, introducing the genes of one type of food into another that reproduced plants or animals with "beneficial characteristics, such as resistance to disease, improved nutritional value, and better growth", that brought about "virtually all common fruits and vegetables" to "look and taste the way they do"" (Goldstein and Goldstein 233). With the aid of biotechnology in terms of genetic engineering the science of selective breeding has become more precise allowing "for the transfer of only one or a few desirable genes, thereby permitting scientists to develop crops with specific beneficial traits and those without undesirable traits. Current technology permits scientists to alter one plant characteristic at a time, thereby not spending years trying to develop the best tasting and hardiest plants" ( 233).
To give a simple example, a traditional breeder interested in producing a yellow tomato must find the yellow trait in a plant that will breed with the tomato by natural mechanisms. The only plants that can breed with tomatoes are closely related ones. Unrelated plants like oak trees or cantaloupes could not breed with tomatoes, and thus could not contribute new genes. A genetic engineer, on the other hand, can consider any organismeven a butterfly or a daffodilas a source of the yellow trait. If the gene that determines yellow color has been identified and isolated, it can be directly transferred into tomato plants (234).
Using similar techniques, livestock can be genetically altered to give maximum output at minimum cost to farmers. By genetically engineering bacteria, the resulting product has triggered "dairy cows to produce more milk, and beef cattle to have leaner meat. Similarly, a genetically engineered pig hormone causes hogs to grow faster and decreases fat content in pork" (Rubenstein npg). With a basic understanding of how agriculture can put to use genetic engineering makes it easier to envision its potential for the future.By combining genetic engineering with agriculture the potential for constructive benefit's to society are many. Among the many benefits of these crops would be low input but high yield crops with increased longer shelf-life, increased flavor as well as nutritional content (Anderson 20). Other "crops such as cotton, corn, soybeans, papaya, and squash have been engineered to resist disease or injury from herbicides, insects, or viruses" which reduce cost for their production and help the ecosystem around the farms through less chemical pollution of soil and water (Rubenstein npg). Additional genetically engineered plants produce antibodies, for potential use in medicines (Rubenstein npg). "Cows could be engineered for high milk production or high meat output, depending on their intended function. Sheep could be engineered for optimum wool growth, and pigs could be altered to have large amounts of meat with a minimum of fat" (Goldstein and Goldstein 232). Moreover, with the advent of genetic engineering "livestock of superior quality could be cloned for farmers" that would "yield higher quality meat, milk, and wool" (npg).This could be the beginning of even healthier type of food being grown and possible a decline in its price it in time. Although their are numerous potential positive uses for genetic in agriculture however as with any thing there are two side to the debate over its use.In addition to having many positive aspects, genetic engineering in agriculture could have many potential negative consequences as well. There are many questions about the ecological impact of these alterations. The addition of any genes into crops could result in these genes' escape into the wild. "Perhaps the most-likely scenario is that a transgenic crop could pollinate a wild weed cousin, giving rise to "super weeds" resistant to pests and herbicides" The addition of any genes into crops could result in these genes' escape into the wild (Anderson 20). Ecologists are uneasy about adding herbicide resistance to crops, fearing that this will eliminate any desire on the part of the farmers to refrain from using too many chemicals, which could affect wild animals. In addition, the concern exists that disease resistance could cause relatively harmless diseases to mutate and become more dangerous, perhaps even infecting humans. Pest resistance also could kill off insects, depriving birds and frogs of food, which could lead to a dangerous imbalance in the ecology of an area (Goldstein and Goldstein 232). "Disadvantages are more nebulous: a reduction in genetic diversity; potential and unforeseen health problems from genetically altered products" (232). Some people even object to the ethics of the actual alterations, saying that it is wrong to view animals as production machines for food. More imminent is the concern of food allergies developing from these genetically engineered foods.In the sphere of medicine, through gene therapy genetic engineering is used to combat numerous illnesses which are caused by the failure of certain genes. There are many techniques of gene therapy, all of them still in experimental stages. The two basic methods are called in vivo and ex vivo gene therapy ("Gene Therapy"). The in vivo method inserts genetically altered genes directly into the patient; the ex vivo method removes tissue from the patient, extracts the cells in question, and genetically alters them before returning them to the patient("Gene Therapy"). Other uses of genetic engineering in medicine include creating plants that are used to produce antibodies, for potential use in medicine as well as research into stem cells that are defined as cells that have the ability to develop into any of the different cell types that make up the tissues and organs of the body (npg). After gaining a basic understanding of how genetic engineering can be used in medicine, it then makes investigating the positive and negative aspects of its use easier to discover.Their are many positive features to using genetic engineering in medicine. Large quantities of insulin have been produced in bacterial "factories" by splicing the insulin gene isolated from human cells to plasmids from cells of Escherichia coli bacteria and then given to patients who need it. "Researchers also have engineered E. coli to make proteins called interferons. These proteins are normally produced by body cells in response to viral infections. They have been tested against many diseases" (npg). In another approach, the DNA of viruses is modified by replacing disease-causing genes with normal human genes. The modified viruses become vehicles to replace defective genes in patients' cells with normal genes ("Gene Therapy"). This method of gene therapy may help doctors to treat cystic fibrosis and various liver diseases. "In another technique, researchers are introducing genes into cancer cells to make them more vulnerable to drugs that can kill them" (npg). In the future, the potential exist for stem cells to be harvested and grown to replace damaged tissues and treat such diseases as diabetes and Parkinson's disease (Avise 205). Through genetic engineering of plants it is possible for antibodies to be grown and harvested for use as vaccines in humans ("Dow to Make Vaccines" C12). With the great potential that exists for positive uses of genetic engineering, the question has been raised as to existence of possible negative effects resulting from its developments.There are many different possible negative effects resulting from using genetic engineering in medicine. The first and of greatest concern is that it could soon be possible to genetically engineer one's own children. What happened to a child being born as a symbol of their parents love and devotion and as a physical representation of their love, not as what they wish their love would produce? Will the number of unique people in this world disappear? Gene modification it is a very precise process that can tolerate no errors lest causing "extreme deficiencies and horrendous mutations" in patients (Anderson 20). It is the fear of some that genetic advancements will lead to a "state-sponsored eugenics program giving rise to a genetically superior, ruling race. A more plausible scenario, especially in Western nations that value personal freedom and choice, is that genetic enhancement of offspring will be guided by parents' personal decisions" (Anderson 20). There are also ethical questions as to the validly of sources of stem cells for research. Besides having uses in medicine, genetic engineering also has potential for use in the environment.
To finish an overview of perspectives in genetic engineering one must look at its potential use in aiding in cleansing or improving the environment. This is done using techniques that have already been described in the afore mention paragraphs through genetically engineering plants and microbes. After having looked at the mechanisms for the would-be uses of genetic engineering in the environment, it is time to look at the resulting positive and negative effects of its usage.
By using genetic engineering in the environment there are expected to be many positive results. In agriculture, crops that produce their own pesticides will reduce the need for spraying and lessen the possibility of offsetting the ecosystems surrounding farms (20). Advancements in genetic engineering will assist in cleaning or improving the environment. "Plants engineered to "naturally" produce additives for paints and plastics will eliminate the need for environmentally unfriendly chemical processing facilities" and customizing microbes are being used to clean oil spills and other toxic waste" (20). Researchers are working to develop genetically engineered microorganisms that break down garbage, to eliminate the problem of overfilling waste sites (npg). It can be used to help preserve genetic diversity because "when humans fail to correct problems that cripple our ecosystem, many organisms are in peril. Most of the world's political, economic, and health problems are intimately linked to the way we manage the world's impressive variety of wildlife and natural resources,' says Andrew Dobson, author of Conservation and Biodiversity (20). From the positive aspects of genetic engineering one must then consider its negative possibilities.
Unbelievably there are some negative aspects as to using genetic engineering in the environment. Like those associated with agriculture, their exists the problems of cross pollination which would lead to mutated plants species whose effects would be unknown. There are also fears about what effects the microbes used to clean the environment could have on the environment. Only time and more research will tell if these fears are justified.
In summary the risks as well as potential of genetic engineering are numerous. In agriculture the potential or positive impacts of genetically engineering plant life are high yield, low input crops that have been genetically engineered to have added benefits. Other trials in genetic engineering have wrought farm animals with the purpose of increased meat production and in dairy cattle additional milk production All of which could potentially lower the cost of feeding a family. Conversely, the dangers of genetically engineered sources of food lie in the possible allergic responses to those who ingest them as well as ethical issues. Further cause for alarm rests in fears of ecological complications resulting from the cross pollination of these different modified forms of plant life. In medicine, genetic engineering is used to combat numerous illnesses. Among the numerous positive effects of such research lies in the field of gene therapy which is identified as an experimental technique for treating or preventing diseases by inserting a gene into a patient's cells. Then again possible negative effects lie in possibility of science being able to genetically engineer ones own children, thereby losing the diversity that has made this world the multifaceted gem it is today. To finish an overview of perspectives in genetic engineering one must assess how genetic engineering can aid in cleansing or improving the environment. In order to help curb pollution, genetic engineering has the ability to modify plants and microbes to reduce many of the world's most disastrous pollutants such as oil spills and garbage. Nevertheless even with such great potential, even this use possesses possible undesired effects which could be caused by the plants and microbes used to better the environment mixing with other elements in the environment. In order to understand the risks as well as potential of genetic engineering in the future, one must first have become familiar with not only the prospective fields of usage, but the resulting effects of such usage in the spheres of agriculture, medicine, and the environment.