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Genetic engineering, also known as genetic manipulation, is a controversial topic. A Harvard study states that around 10,000 medical conditions are related to genetic mutations. Technologies like CRISPR Cas9 and prime editing could potentially decrease those numbers. These same technologies could be used to improve medical treatments and possibly eliminate particular genetic diseases.
Many believe that editing the genes of sperm, eggs, or embryos is a line science should not cross due to the fact it may result in new diseases, accidental mutations, and unwanted mutations of humans.
Therefore, many scientists fear on the advancement of research on certain genetic technologies. Though genetically engineering genes could end up with negative side effects, I still believe being able to use these technologies to eliminate genetic disorders outweighs the cons.
You might think genetic engineering is something more recently studied and made but in fact, it’s been around for thousands of years. The earliest sign of genetic engineering dates back to 7800 BCE. Scientists found artifacts that suggest artificial selection was used to alter corn and other plants.
Corn first began as a wild grass called teosinte. It was made up of very few kernels and tiny ears. Over hundreds of years, teosinte was selectively bred to grow more kernels and larger ears. This isn’t the only plant that was selectively bred, others such as bananas, broccoli, and apples were as well.
They were modified to only have desired traits like fewer seeds, sweeter taste, and to grow larger. Plants weren’t the only organisms to be genetically modified, so were dogs.
Around 32,000 years ago, dogs were selectively bred to have specific traits such as size, hair length, color, and body shapes. This brings us to the dogs we have today. Dogs like Great Danes are very tall and slim but dogs like Corgis are short and wide, this was a result of selective breeding. In more recent times scientists have upped their game by actually creating GMOs. In 1970, restriction nuclease enzymes were discovered. They recognized and chemically cut specific chemical sites on a DNA molecule. Three years later, Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer were the first scientists to use restriction enzymes to develop a genetically modified organism or GMO.
As we speak, scientists are developing better and more reliable technology for genetic engineering. One of them is CRISPR Cas9, a gene-editing tool used to cut any genetic material, which was invented in 2012. Scientists have already used CRISPR to correct genetic diseases in animals and to repel viruses. In November 2018, He Jiankui, a Chinese biophysics researcher, became the first scientist to use CRISPR Cas9 to genetically edit human embryos. Scientists have created more technologies like CRISPR such as TALENs and prime editing. TALENs stands for transcription activator-like effector nucleases. They act as tiny scissors that can cut and fix a broken gene in a cell. The problem is TALENs can only fix diseases that are caused by problems in a single gene. Prime editing is a new technology that was developed in 2019. It builds on CRISPRs basic components. Instead of cutting the double helix prime editing slightly opens one strand of DNA at a targeted site. Prime editing has been tested on human and mouse cells and has proven to have been effective. This new technology could address many genetic diseases that CRISPR could not.
Gene manipulation has many pros. With gene manipulation scientists have the ability or in the future will have the ability to create “designer babies.” This means scientists will be able to genetically edit human embryos to have specific characteristics. This is useful because scientists could eliminate debilitating and life-threatening genetic conditions some embryos might develop. Gene manipulation could also prevent parents from passing on devastating diseases to their children. Building upon this, scientists have already been genetically modifying food for years. To be more nutritious, disease and drought resistance, and faster-growing plants and animals. Animals like dairy cows and sheep have been genetically modified to produce more milk and to grow more wool. Animals who are specifically bred for meat were genetically modified to grow bigger and faster. Not only that but scientists have even created new plants by combining genes from different species.
There are some cons to gene manipulation as well. Many see gene manipulation as being unethical and that it violates religious principles. It could also turn human life into an industry, which is just plain wrong. If people who will use it for bad get there hands on this technology that could also be an issue. They might use this technology to potentially clone themselves, which would not be good. Others feel that genetically engineering human embryos is a line science just should not cross. Growing plants big and quickly could decrease the nutritional value of them. As scientists modify plants to repel bacteria and diseases these same diseases get stronger and more resistant which then negatively impacts non-genetically modified plants. Continuing, if genetically engineered species were put into the wild, they would harm domestic species. Since these modified species tend to be stronger they would wipe out unmodified species so they would disappear. This would result in a decrease in diversity.
In the future I expect genetic engineering to be more reliable and used more frequently. I still think more research should be put into it to see in the long run if GMOs suffer any more just because they are genetically modified. It could have lots of benefits if it’s used for the right reasons by the right people. These benefits healthier people in the future and scientists might be able to permanently get rid of diseases passed down from parents. Genetic engineering has already been proven to be able to potentially correct about 89% of genetic diseases. Therefore, in the near future genetic engineering could be used on a daily basis.
Despite those concerns, genetic engineering has immense potential. However, more research and testing should be put in to see if genetic engineering is reliable and safe to use. There’s no uncertainty that genetic engineering technology will continue to progress and intrigue more scientists. How do you feel about genetic engineering? Is it ethical?
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