The concept of playing with the genes that get passed along from parent to child has been the product of science fiction, and movies, for as long as can be remembered. However, scientists today are quickly finding solutions to the technological challenges that they’ve been facing when researching gene engineering.
There is a technique called CRISPR that’s utilized by gene engineering researchers all over the world, and it got used in China. Chinese researchers used the technique to edit genes in a human embryo in efforts to treat a hereditary blood disease. However, the results received were both unintended and possibly dangerous. Let’s take a look at five reasons why gene engineering is scary and exciting.
Treatment of Disease
The most common reason behind gene manipulation is the concept of removing the genes in human gene-lines that cause disease. By doing this, doctors are readily available to treat, and cure, a wide range of illnesses.
Plenty of challenges stand in the way of scientists perfecting the method of changing genes. Given how complicated a single strand of DNA is, replacing the right gene is vital to the success of the therapy. However, gene engineering is being used to treat conditions such as eye disease, and the earlier trials suggest that it’s only the beginning.
Stopping Congenital Disease
With the advances of the CRISPR methods, it’s become easier to pre-screen for congenital diseases such as Huntington’s. With in vitro fertilization, researchers have been able to avoid the hereditary conditions in embryonic pig genes. While the task is more laborious to complete in human genes, the progress is there.
Ethical concerns have been brought to attention by many stem cell biologists who have questioned whether or not the process, and research, is morally acceptable. Research has suggested that scientists are unable to engineer and mutate diseased genes without introducing possible adverse side effects into healthy genes.
Building a Person
In addition to treating disease, gene engineering could get used as a way to create “designer babies,” or “test tube babies.” The concept has mostly been seen in fiction and movies so far, but the idea is becoming increasingly popular. The traits that would be the easiest to manipulate would be muscle density, eye color, height, and memory, according to Harvard Medical School.
The idea of genetically enhancing children has been extremely controversial, and ethics advocates have called it morally reprehensible. Many believe that parents are going to feel pressured to improve their children, and that wealthy families are going to have more benefits than poorer ones. There is also the suggestion that fertility clinics are going to market and promote to sell the latest of upgrades.
There are also many scientists who believe that introducing that type of change into the human genome ecosystem could do irreparable damage. Mostly, everything is balanced. If something potentially harmful gets added, it may be difficult to remove.
Protecting Endangered Species
The same technological methods used to manipulate human genes can get used on animals, too. Wildlife ecologists have stated that adjustments to the genes could postpone the decline of endangered species.
However, with that type of technology comes the chance for not just arrogance, but laziness, and it seems to be something that wildlife experts don’t want to risk. Gene engineering could get used as an excuse for putting off the rescue of a particular species, just because the problem can get solved later.
Think of the Jurassic Park film. It’s a prime example of genetic engineering used to bring back to life a species that had been extinct for years. There are plenty of organizations who support the efforts of mixing the genes from extinct species with those of existing ones.
Just like the others, some scientists and researchers question the morality behind the science and technology. If it were to get into the wrong hands, gene manipulation could be used to create blended species in a petri dish. The results of that could be catastrophic.
For years now there have been high-profile committees made up of researchers and ethics advocates who have discussed the ethics of manipulating human genes. Many believe the manipulations would do more harm than good. On the other end, there are many scientists, technologists, ethicists, and human rights activists who say that genetic engineering is exciting and beneficial.
Now that you’ve read over some reasons why it could be exciting, why do you think? Start a discussion below.