Genetic Engineering

Also called Genetic Modification

What is it?

It is the direct manipulation of an organism's genome using biotechnology. (Indirect genetic modification through artificial selection has been practiced for centuries.) New DNA may be inserted in the host genome by first isolating and copying the genetic material of interest using molecular cloning methods to generate a DNA sequence, or by synthesizing the DNA, and then inserting this construct into the host organism. Genes may be removed, or "knocked out", using a nuclease. Gene targeting is a different technique that uses homologous recombinationto change an endogenous gene, and can be used to delete a gene, remove exons, add a gene, or introduce point mutations.

Genetic Engineering for Human Enhancement.mp4

The connection between Genetic mutation

A genetic mutation is a permanent change in the DNA sequence that makes up a gene. Mutations range in size from a single DNA building block (DNA base) to a large segment of a chromosome.Acquired (or somatic) mutations occur in the DNA of individual cells at some time during a person’s life. These changes can be caused by environmental factors such as ultraviolet radiation from the sun, or can occur if a mistake is made as DNA copies itself during cell division. Acquired mutations in somatic cells (cells other than sperm and egg cells) cannot be passed on to the next generation.

Mutations may also occur in a single cell within an early embryo. As all the cells divide during growth and development, the individual will have some cells with the mutation and some cells without the genetic change. This situation is called mosaicism.

Therefore genetic engineering is a genetic mutation.

Ethical issues surrounding Genetic Mutation

Many people feel the use of genetic engineering in food and farming is wrong, that it goes against nature or their spiritual beliefs. Others think it's wrong because it allows big companies to gain more control of the food chain.
The fact is that genetic engineering allows scientists to take a gene from one species and insert it into a completely different species with which it could never naturally breed. Thus it is possible vegetarian, halaal, kosher and other rights may be infringed. We should consider whether we should have the right to experiment with the blueprint of life and commercialize living organisms.

  • Consider the series micro-organism-plant-animal-human. Should we draw a line limiting genetic manipulation at some point? If so where, and on what grounds?
  • Which potential benefits, if any (e.g. therapeutic medicines), might be thought to justify animal genetic manipulation, which would not? What criteria might we apply?
  • In what sense does genetic modification by biochemical methods differ ethically from age-old selective breeding practices? Are we exceeding ethical limits even in selective breeding?
  • What constitutes proper and improper human use of animals? Should animals ever be used in research? Do animals have "rights", as we think of "human rights"?
  • Should animal organs, e.g a pig's heart genetically modified to counteract tissue rejection, be transplanted into humans to overcome the large and inevitable shortfall in donor organs?
  • Should we eat foodstuffs which had been genetically manipulated using human genes? Why, or why not? How does this affect religious and other groups with strong dietary laws?
  • Should anyone be able to patent a genetically modified animal or plant? If not, how else could a company protect the results of a huge research programe?
  • Is the profit motive too dominant a driving force in research in biotechnology? What other criteria are important? Are we reducing animals, and nature in general, to the status of just commodities?
  • What other system of funding might you apply?
  • How great are the potential risks involved in releasing genetically modified organisms into the biosphere without knowing all the possible consequences?
  • Is genetic engineering to make a staple crop more resist in marginal conditions (e.g. drought, cold) a potential boon for Third World agriculture, or another danger of increased dependence on rich "developed" countries?

By Rosie Carnegie