The idea of studying genetic engineering and revealing those results intrigues me thoroughly. Studying these coded proteins or genes brings about revolutionary advancements in the fields of medicine and bioengineering. The possibilities that genetic engineering make are endless. For example, genetic engineering can improve nutritious quality and enhance the flavor in foods. We can also look forward to new techniques in disease prevention and treatments, improve the quality of life. However, as stated by James Watson, genetic engineering is also has ethical, medical, and societal implications. If genetic engineering is not used wisely and ethically the results can reduce our health and seriously endanger the environment. It is up to us, as a society to make the correct choices involving genetic engineering.
Genetic Engineering is the alteration of an organism’s genetic, or hereditary, material to eliminate undesirable characteristics or to produce desirable new ones. Since Watson’s discovery in 1953, genetic engineering has made profound advancements. Through Recombinant DNA or gene splicing scientists can directly alter genetic material. Recombinant DNA is DNA that has been created artificially. Recombinant DNA is made from two or more sources that are incorporated into a single recombinant molecule. The first step in recombinant dna is to isolate the genes in question. Then two molecules or genes are treated with a restriction enzyme. Restriction enzymes are DNA-cutting devices found in bacteria (and harvested from them for use). A restriction enzyme recognizes and cuts DNA only at a particular sequence of nucleotides. Treating the DNA of two different organisms with the same restriction enzyme produces complementary fragments, or fragments with ends that fit together. These ends that fit together are called “sticky ends” because they are able to join with any DNA molecule that contains the complementary sticky end. Mixed together, these molecules can join with each other by the base pairing between their sticky ends. The union can be made permanent by another enzyme, DNA ligase, which forms covalent bonds between the molecules. The result is a molecule of recombinant DNA (rDNA). The ability to produce recombinant DNA molecules has not only revolutionized the study of genetics, but has laid the foundation for much of the biotechnology industry. In humans, recombinant DNA is the basis of gene therapy, in which the DNA is introduced into body, or somatic cells, where it may alter their genetic makeup. These alterations cannot be passed to future generations since sperm and eggs, or germ cells, are not affected.
There are many methods of introducing new genetic material into a cell or organism, or altering the existing material. A vector is something that can carry the gene into the host, or rather into the nucleus of a host cell. Special viruses have been altered and put to use, which can introduce new genetic material to an organism. One such virus is the adenovirus, which affects the respiratory system. The adenovirus equipped with genetic altered material is inserted into the host and then the virus inserts its genome into the host. The host then divides spreading the genetically engineered material. Another way is through liposomes, which are injectable microscopic fatty globules that can enclose and protect DNA. In lame man’s terms it means to enclose the gene in the cell membrane of an organism and then the membrane will recognize certain cells. Vectors are commonly bacterial plasmids (see below and next page) or viruses Another method is the “SHOTGUN TECHNIQUE” which blindly shoots masses of tiny gold particles coated with the gene into a plate of cells, hoping to land a hit somewhere in the cell’s DNA
I’m strongly for the uses of genetic engineering in advancing medicine. Gene therapy can be used to treat desperately ill patients, or to prevent a disease. Under the Hippocratic oath doctors are obligated to help patients in any way possible. Doctors, patients, and scientists have rights to explore gene therapy and create new medicines to save people. The uses of gene therapy are unlimited. Presently patients are being saved. Patients with clog arteries in the lower extremities can be injected with genes that make the protein to manufacture new blood vessels. By making new blood vessels, the clot can be bypassed, saving the patients life. Another treatment is growing new skin to heal wounds, or to increase the effectiveness of the immune system using specific genes. The long-term uses will include the treatment of disease. Gene therapy can be used to prevent mental illness or even alcoholism. But more importantly cancer and HIV can be prevented by expressing genes that block or protect us from growth of infectious agents (carcogens or viruses). Finally gene therapy will likely be developed for correction of genetic defects in families by transferring genes to reproductive cells (germ-line). Whether gene therapy will be used for enhancement is questionable, but it does seem inevitable. Presently gene therapy can save lives and in the future it will save more live. But although I have hopes for the positive effects of gene therapy, I have fears about the negative consequences of gene therapy.
There are many societal concerns arising from genetic engineering. The public is concerned that insurers will use genetic information to deny, limit, or cancel insurance policies. Also that employers will use genetic information to deny, limit, or cancel insurance policies. But already Ex-President has taken steps to protect citizens from unfair uses of gene therapy. On February 8, 2000 President Clinton signed an executive order prohibiting every federal department and agency from using genetic information in hiring or promoting action. Some skeptics state that germ-line (reproductive) gene therapy experiments would involve too much scientific uncertainty and clinical risks, and the long-term effects of such therapy are unknown. Germ-line therapy should be banned. The problems that arise from future generations such as malformed babies make germ-line therapy intolerable. For now only laboratory and animals are allowed to under go germ-line therapy. Another skeptic might hypothesize that gene therapy is very expensive, and only the wealthy will be allowed the benefits of gene therapy. Presently gene therapy such as making new blood vessels is cheaper than surgery or medicine. Prevention has always been cheaper than treatment. Plus only single-cell gene diseases are currently treatable such as heart disease. This treatment is relatively low in cost compared to surgery and rehabilitation.
the environmental magazine jan/feb 2001 “designing people”