Ethical or Not?

By: Sabrina J & Nusaiba M.

Are the risks involved in DNA sequencing outweigh its benefits?

DNA Sequencing

DNA sequencing is determining the order of nucleotides in an individual's DNA. This information yields what that individual's genes codes for and what genes that individual possesses.

Ethically Required- There are benefits that deem DNA sequencing ethically acceptable and advantageous to society.

  • Determining a disease or disorder- There is a benefit and an ethical purpose in trying to help an individual. Sometimes DNA sequencing can clarify a disease or disorder that cannot be determined through other methods.
  • Opens up the Possibility of Combating Sicknesses through genetics- By using a person's genetic information and genetic engineering, a viable way to help this person with a disease can be established. This would require the person to give up their genetic information, but doing so would help them in the long run. Establishing methods of treatment could help many more people in the long run.
  • With this new science, people have a right to understand what constitutes their identity.- Now that there are methods to learn about one's own genes, these methods should be available to the general public so that a people can understand what makes them who they are. Whether people are susceptible something and this gives them the opportunity to plan accordingly or adjust their lifestyle with this new information in mind.

The Method of DNA Sequencing

Early DNA Sequencing Techniques (Human Genome Project)

  • Use of different chemicals to pinpoint different sequences/bases
Wandering-Spot Analysis
  • Gilbert and Maxam
  • 1970s Frederick Sanger developed a faster way to do this (Nobel Prize Chemistry in 1980)
  • Further refining of this method
  • DNA is replicated in the presence of chemically altered (but similar) versions of A,C,T,G
  • These bases stop the replication process as they are incorporated into the growing DNA strand
  • This results in varying lengths of DNA, and these lengths are ordered by size and by reading the letters at the end of the shortest and longest piece, the whole sequence is decoded
  • Machines were created that stimulated the Sanger Process automatically for the Human Genome Project
  • Also called chain termination, dideoxy method
  • uses purified DNA polymerase to make the DNA strands
  • Four parallel sequencing reactions using a single sample
  • Specific primers to start the reaction at different points
  • The resulting strands are put through capillary tube or gel electrophoresis
Industrial Sequencing (Automated Sequencing)

  • Started in 1966 by Applied Biosystems
  • DNA Sequencing machines based on the Sanger
  • Ran 24 samples at a time
  • Flourescent Dyes used to distinguish better
  • 100,000 dollar machines
  • Craig Venter used to get the Human Genome Project going faster
  • About 1,000 base pairs can be generated from a single reaction (contrary to 250, from before)

Unethical Aspects of DNA Sequencing

  • Opens up the Possibility of Discrimination Based on Genetics- With more knowledge on one's own genetic make up and new methods of genetic engineering, it is possible to judge a person based on their genetic make up and this could open up to negative things such as discrimination based on genetics. Discrimination based on biology is not unheard of. Historically, there have been drastic things done against those who did not have the "right" genetic makeup. This is sometimes linked to the false science "Eugenics." While it is unheard of to have such events happen again, people are still judged and possibly to a greater extent with DNA sequencing, by biological aspects genes code for.
  • Invasion on Privacy- When you send in your DNA to be sequenced, there is a risk involved. You are giving strangers access to your DNA, that which literally constitutes you. People would know personal things about you and, indirectly, your family (because family members have similar DNA). (George Annas (Boston University): " That is one possible future—where this becomes so routine that at birth, everybody gets a profile. It goes right to their medical record. One copy goes to the FBI so we have an identification system for all possible crimes in the United States. One copy goes...where? To the grade school? To the high school? To the college? To the employer? To the military? Like, a horrific future. Although I have to say there are many in the biotech industry and the medical profession who think that's a terrific future."

  • Rights- Furthermore, there is the question as to who owns that DNA after being sent for DNA sequencing. Does that company have the right to sell/use that DNA for its own purposes? What if this information is used for research, unbeknownst you and possibly against your wishes? These are issues that are debated. Technically, since that DNA is your own you should have the rights to it/own it. But after doing a service to you, a company could claim rights to it and use your DNA as they choose to.

Questions to Ponder: Should you be given a royalty fee if you obtain your own DNA sequencing and a company wants to use it?

If the company plans to use that DNA for purposes other than the service promised to the customer, a royalty fee should be payed. The DNA was provided by them and new legislation has been created to protect the DNA of people whose DNA was used for research.

Does information from the human genome project belong to everyone? Some private biotech companies have patented genes they have discovered. Is this ethically right?

  • The information of the human genome should be released to the public. The human genome constitutes every genetic makeup and this research should be used to benefit people and educate them.
  • Consider this in the context of other scientific achievements. How would the world be today if scientists hoarded what they have discovered? How would if information was only given to the priveledged (i.e. those who can pay?)
  • In addition to this, last year it was unanimously decided by the Supreme Court that human genes cannot be patented. However, (unnatural) synthetic DNA can be patented.


Embryonic Stem Cells

Embryonic Stem Cells are able to develop into any type of cell. Embryonic stem cell research can cure a wide range of diseases and illnesses. The process is where the embryo is actually taken is only valuable for a few days till it is wasted. There is a question raised whether or not an embryo is an actual living human being or not. Should we consider someone a human when the embryo is developing or once someone exists the womb? This has raised many questions and much ethical questions as well. Are we really taking away someones human right against their will just for the benefit of others?

A Divison of Stem Cells

Embryonic Stem Cells is a division of Stem Cells. Stem Cells have the capacity to divide and give rise to more identical stem cells or to specific specialized somatic cells. Stem cell transplant is the infusion of healthy cells to replace diseased or damaged ones. If successful, the healthy replacement stem cells will integrate into the body and give rise to more cells that can all take on the necessary functions for a specific tissue.

Unethical Aspects

Some consider this as the destruction of embryos, like abortion of fetuses, as murder, almost as a sacrifice of the weakest among us for the interests of others. There is also the ethical acceptability of destroying embryos. Are we really killing a living human being? Are we taking away the rights of the living for the benefits of others?

This can also give rise to human cloning, a subject that is very controversial. There are many ethical and moral questions and concerns regarding human cloning and as far as we know it has not been attempted, only on a sheep.

Part of a Speech given by President Obama regarding Stem Cells.

“I believe we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research -- and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly....We will vigorously support scientists who pursue this research. And we will aim for America to lead the world in the discoveries it one day may yield...But in recent years, when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values”

Questions to Ponder: What differences are there in reproductive and therapeutic cloning?

Reproductive cloning is a process for creating an exact whole copy of an already existing life form. In one case, human cloning. There has been no humans have been cloned. We don't know the effects of human cloning and many scientists are apprehensive to explore that aspect.

Therapeutic cloning involves the creation of a whole copy of an already existing mature life form but not allow the cloned embryo to come to full term resulting in birth. The objective is to grow replacement organs or engineer tissue to design to heal or cure disease in human beings.

Questions to Ponder: It took 277 tries to clone Dolly the sheep. So, what happened to the 276 others? Consider the consequences of cloning.

The embryo transfers don't always work. The embryo may die for many reasons. After placing the new cells into ewes oviducts, the researchers collected them and saw how well the developed but only recovered 247. Some were lost in the first few days because they are so difficult to find. Some might have died early or decomposed. The 276 resulted in malformed animals. Even with the success with Dolly, she only survived for 6 years, proving that cloning is not fully successful and its not guaranteed that once cloned, it will survive. Cloning is an unexplored section in science and is not widely wanted to be explored because of the ethical and moral implications.

Work Cited

"Sanger Method of Sequencing." Biointeractive. Howard Hughes Medical Institute, n.d.<>.

Adams, Jill U PhD. " DNA Sequencing Technologies." Scitable. Nature Education, 2008. 1(1):193. <>.

"Sanger Method of Sequencing." Biointeractive. Howard Hughes Medical Institute, n.d.<>.

"The Nature of Stem Cells." Learn. Genetics. University of Utah: Health Sciences, 2014. <>.

"Stem Cells." Learn. Genetics. University of Utah: Health Sciences, 2014. <>.

"Stem Cells in Use." Learn. Genetics. University of Utah: Health Sciences, 2014.