Great minds combined with technological advancements have a lead to creations and achievements that would have been impossible. Whatever great scientist of the past has achieved have already been surpassed or improved through modern and innovative ideas and processes. An excellent example of which is the direct manipulation of an organism’s DNA, also known as genetic engineering or genetic modification (GM). Coming from the terms genes and modify, the entire process is something out of a science fiction movie. Well, it used to be that way until the practice was perfected and used in actual applications. Genetic engineering made it possible to add new DNA or alter bad ones.
Because of what it can achieve, reception is torn between good and bad. People who abide by the laws of nature believe that modifying genes is a blatant disregard and interference of what should happen naturally. There is no need to mess up what is part of a grand design. Those who have seen the many benefits that genetic engineering offers, on the other hand, champion the practice.
What most people don’t know, however, is that GM has been going on for thousands of years, although not through biotechnology. Humans have performed selective breeding or artificial selection to alter genome of certain species. This is, in a way, still in contrast with natural selection. The set of technology used today enables transgenics where a genetic material from one species is removed and then added to another through more scientific and engineering processes. Call it a case of creating Frankenstein, which has both advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages of Genetic Engineering
1. Contributes significantly to biotechnology research
Imagine what people can do if they can transplant genes from one species to another. The possibilities are endless. In the field of biotechnology, genetic engineering paved the way for xenotransplantation or the process of transplanting living tissues or organs from animals to humans or vice versa. The research revealed the possibility of using pig organs as replacements for human hearts and kidneys, considering that they have similar physiology and size. It also led to tissue engineering that is now considered an alternative to replacement of cartilage, cerebrospinal shunts, heart valves and other organs. Suffice to say that plenty of things can be achieved with genome editing.
2. Increases the possibility of eradicating hunger
Among the many species and items that are genetically modified, plants are a favorite subject. Companies that want to create a sweeter tomato, bigger cherries and herbicide resistant crops can do so through GM. There may be health and safety concerns attached to the genetically engineered food and crops, but proponents assure that the breeding process is only an extension of the natural way. After all, the tissues used for the cell culture still come from a living organism.
Because it is now possible to produce food and crops that are bigger and grow faster, resistant to disease, can thrive in different environments, or can be customized based on the soil composition and availability of water in a location, world hunger could be minimized if not completely eliminated. But there is still a question of what genetically modified crops can do to human bodies, their effects and long-term impact.
3. Remove disease as part of human existence
This may seem an impossibility now, but imagine what the world would be like if diseases are taken out of the equation. If bad genes inherited from parents are detected and then removed, the next generation will be healthier and would live longer. Any genetic mutation caused by environmental mutagens may also be corrected through genetic engineering. When a human body is made less susceptible to infections, mutations can be kept under control and diseases, such as cystic fibrosis and Alzheimer’s, would be no more.
Genetic engineering enables researchers to isolate the exact gene that is causing diseases and illnesses, giving them insights to the cause and possible cures that can be initiated.
4. Has the potential to increase people’s life span
With the possibility of making disease a thing of the past, everyone has higher chances of living a longer, fuller and healthier life. In fact, studies in genetic engineering showed that it has the ability to increase the life span of human beings anywhere between 100 and150 years, and this only involves slowing down the aging process by changing a healthy individual’s genome. Combined with other engineering processes, this can be more than possible. These include treating infectious diseases by implanting genes with antigen and antiviral proteins. Genetic engineering also allows desirable traits of certain organisms to be pinpointed and then integrated to others’ DNA. It also acts as an aid for genetics, enabling pharmaceutical companies to produce highly graded products that can help fight illnesses.
Disadvantages of Genetic Engineering
1. Has associated consequences and possible irreversible effects
Even scientists themselves believe that genetic engineering can have irreversible side effects, especially with hereditarily modified genes. After all, the process at the present uses viral factor to carry functional genes to the human body. Viral genes as they are, they are likely to leave certain side effects. Also, where the functional genes are placed in the genome is not exactly known. In the event that they replace other important genes instead of the mutated ones, other forms of diseases or health conditions are likely to develop. Is the world equipped to battle new illnesses that may turn out to be deadlier than ever?
2. Increased food supply can lead to adverse effects
Genetically modified wild rice is added with better carotene, which is needed by the human body to make vitamin A. This provides a perfect solution for vitamin A deficiency. Unfortunately, there are worries that GM organisms might actually be harmful to people. The added beta carotene levels aren’t high enough to even make a difference as well. Herbicide resistant crops, on the other hand, may reduce the quantity of herbicide requirements, but it can lead to the growth of weeds that are resistant to herbicide and the loss of weed species that are essential to animal food and shelter. Suffice to say that modifying genes can have uncertain effects on humans and the environment.
3. There are risks in the method
In the case of transgenic biotechnology, blending animal and human DNA can have uncertain effects, including the creation of entities that possess degrees of intelligence or sentience atypical in non-human animals. Many also believe that there are health risks associated with genetically modified foods as well as in the experimental use of animals, long-term environmental impact, increased suffering of transgenic organisms, and possible creation of new diseases.