Last Updated on March 9, 2021 by Filip Poutintsev
Genetic engineering is the process of altering the structure of genes in either animal, bacteria or plants. This can be achieved by adding, deleting or changing specific genes within one’s DNA and, also, by extracting DNA from any other organism’s genome and adding to another new individual.
This direct manipulation of the gene allows scientists to subtract unwanted traits and replace them with preferable traits, allowing them to achieve the desired results.
The use of genetic engineering can bring substantial changes specifically in the field of medical, agricultural, science and research. It has the potential to cure rare diseases, improve our health and increase our lifespan. However, at the same time, genetic engineering is a progressive scientific process whose long term effects are yet unknown.
There are a high probability and risk of forming a deadlier disease while trying to cure an existing one. Like any other issue, genetic engineering has its benefits and drawbacks. In this article, we’ll take a further look at the advantages and disadvantages.
History of Genetic Engineering
Before genetic engineering was introduced in the year 1973 by Herb Boyer and Stanley Cohen, people relied on selective breeding which helped them breed animals or crops with useful traits. However, selective breeding brought many useless variations along with the useful variations.
In the 1970s, the introduction of genetic engineering based on recombinant allowed scientists to cut DNA into fragments, add different fragments and insert new genes into E. coli bacteria. It allowed the transformation of genes between unrelated species and to remove unwanted variations.
In 1982, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first recombinant DNA drug, human insulin. Then in the 1980s, genetic engineering was used to produce genetically modified organisms (GMO).
It introduced crops that could withstand harsh climatic conditions and that had higher resistance to infection and diseases. Over the years, genetic engineering has extremely advanced. It’s, now, used for scientific purposes in order to find treatments for genetic diseases and has been used to treat patients with diseases such as cancer, cystic fibrosis, AIDS, muscular dystrophy and blood disorders.
Advantages of Genetic Engineering
When it comes to genetic engineering, most people focus on its negative aspects. However, there are numerous substantial benefits one can achieve from this complex branch of science. Here are the pros of genetic engineering:
Combating and Defeating Diseases
Humans are susceptible to countless risky diseases which can be wiped out by genetic engineering. Hereditary diseases caused due to defective genes present in one’s body can be altered by the use of genetic engineering to create new defensive genes.
Also, diseases such as Cystic Fibrosis and Sickle cell anemia, which are caused by the mutation of a single gene, can be treated by replacing the gene with a healthier gene. Another remarkable invention of genetic engineering has been the drug that limits the production of huntingtin protein and cures Huntington’s disease.
Genetic engineering is also used when a baby is found to have a disease such as Down syndrome, while in the womb. Doctors are able to curb the risk by modifying the genotype with the aid of genetic engineering technology.
Produce Foods with Higher Nutritional Value
Genetic engineering can be applied to not only humans but the food we eat, as well. When crops undergo the genetic engineering process, it increases not only their nutritional value but their yield too. Scientists can alter the genes to make foods tastier, healthier and to prolong its lasting period.
This means fruits and vegetables that are not suitable for warm temperatures can grow in places with high temperatures and vice versa. An example of a genetically modified food is the “golden rice” which is modified to have a higher level of Vitamin A. This does come as an advantage as when this crop is distributed to the regions where people don’t have an adequate amount of nutrient, it can help improve their health.
Our body naturally adapts to changes but it takes years and years to evolve. This long evolving period can be shortened with genetic engineering. For instance, our bodies can be modified to adapt to the changes in temperature.
Over time, our body’s cellular level gradually decreases making us prone to more diseases. So, genetic engineering can be used to curb the risks of various illnesses and conditions. With this advanced technology, various vaccines and drugs can be invented to outlast viruses and bacteria and increase our lifespan.
Increase in Food Resources
With the rapid growth of the population, the availability of adequate food resources in the future is at risk. Waiting for the crops to naturally grow won’t solve the problem as it takes a long period of time. This means that the pace of the natural processes and the ever-growing population is unmatched.
Thus, there is a sheer number of possibilities for genetic technology to play a role here. For instance, cows can be altered to give more milk to the farmers daily and sheep can be genetically modified to produce more wools. This process makes enough food resources available at a faster rate.
Cons of Genetic Engineering
Nevertheless, genetic engineering has its cons too. It’s a rather complex topic that could potentially create more problems. Here are its cons:
The primary issue with genetic engineering is created when seen from an ethical point of view. Oppositions, mainly religious people, argue that tampering with the genes of any individual is playing with God’s creation. People are against the idea of allowing parents to choose their child’s traits like the color of the child’s eyes, hair, skin or even sex.
It raises questions such as what will happen when these “designer babies” are brought to countries such as China and India, where a son is more preferred by many. Will it unbalance the ratio of males and females in the future?
The whole process just seems to create more disputes as it goes against many religious beliefs. When seen from an ethical and religious point of view, it makes one wonder if it is the right thing to do in the first place or not.
Diversity is extremely important and is needed in all species. The problem lies within the fact that genetically modified species are created to be stronger. For instance, if any genetically modified animal is sent to the wild, the probability of it outlasting others and surviving is more.
Over time, the diversity in species will dwindle. On the other hand, only rich people can afford genetic engineering. This means that the rich will thrive whereas the poor will suffer, creating an unfavorable level of diversity.
Could Lead to New Diseases
Another problem with altering at the cellular level is that all of its possible outcomes are yet unknown. Scientists are yet to understand the functioning of a human body 100%. Whilst trying to cure diseases, unanticipated errors and harmful defects can be created. The risks are even higher for genetically modified babies as they’ve got high chances of complications such as miscarriage, stillbirth or premature birth.
To recapitulate, genetic engineering is a rather controversial topic that can begin a momentum of debates. Is the use of genetic engineering good or bad? On one hand, technology has the potential to cure rare and deadly diseases.
It has the possibility of creating a healthier world. However, on the other hand, there’s no certainty over its success. Genetic engineering is a new emerging topic with countless loopholes and scientists are yet to dig deep into all of its dimensions. There’s a possibility for it to create more problems rather than solving it.