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- Category: Science
O ne of the greatest problems facing our naive civilisation goes significantly unnoticed. The problem is that human beings are haphazard creations designed to experiment with the impossible, creating artificial futuristic possibilities. The advance of perfecting the human race has rapidly increased through the manipulation of genetic material. On the 31st October 2011 , the population of planet Earth exceeded 7 billion according to the UN. The continuous desire to rearrange genetic sequences will trigger the struggle for survival of humanity.
We are born with physical structures that were designed to help us survive adapting through evolution over billions of years. They did their job well, so is it necessary to change the intricate genetic code? The beauty of nature is that it is unpredictable, giving every living organism unique appearances and qualities allowing different species to thrive in their natural habitats. The advance of genetic-engineering has given humans the ability to predetermine the presence or absence of the characteristics of their unborn child. This is referred to as “Designer Babies”.
This modification could lead to an improvement in health, physical ability and intelligence of the human race, but more importantly there is a vast variety of biological risks within the genetic modification. Irreversible genes may get passed from generation to generation creating a Germ-line. Germ-line cells have the potential to reproduce indefinitely because of the activity of the enzyme known as Telomerase. New diseases may form which we will not be able to predict until they appear and may be incurable.
While inserting one gene to benefit the embryo, we may cause other traits to be harmful against us. For example, it is known that the gene for sickle cell Anaemia is resistant to Malaria. This involves an instance called Pleiotropy. If we completely eradicate sickle cell Anaemia then more people could possibly die from Malaria. Although genetic-engineering has unethical issues and dangers towards the human race, it has also adopted dangers towards our environment. Genetically modified organisms can interbreed with natural organisms causing contamination of our natural environment. This will cause an uncontrollable and unforeseeable future putting strain upon planet Earth with our globalised lack of knowledge of the harmful possibilities of genetic pollution. Science Quarterly interviewed Dr Brian Mayfield, trained as a plant geneticist and is a science advisor of Green Peace US on the genetic-engineering campaign. His focus is the effects of genetically-engineered organisms in the environment.
What are the main problems that have already appeared with genetically engineered crops?
“In terms of laboratory experimentation,there has been a lot of unpredictable effects. You engineer an organism to do one thing but it does another. In terms of the crops that have been released, the effects that we have seen have been soy beans whose stems crack in the heat because of the unpredictable increase in lignin content. There's corn pollen that kills monarch butterfly larvae and other related larvae and corn plants that exude pesticide into the soil. It's been shown that the pesticide then remains in the soil for over 200 days. That wasn't predicted and wasn't tested for.”
Are these changes irreversible?
“Yes, the changes are irreversible because you are talking about organisms that reproduce and distribute itself in the environment. Once an organism invades a particular environment, it is extremely difficult to recall the organism. I don't know of any instance where eradication is one hundred percentcomplete.”
What is your opinion of genetic engineering as a scientist?
“The truth is that some scientists are wholeheartedly against genetic engineering and some are wholeheartedly for it. In this situation I agree with the improvements to benefit the human race in long-term matters. There will be side-effects through the experimentation processes but they help scientists to become closer to the final modification. Like everything in life you have to have trials and practices before settling with the final product.”
However, genetic-engineering can be beneficial for humans. By experimenting with human cells, scientists can discover cures for people with faulty genes - which trigger Cystic Fibrosis and Huntington’s disease -by injecting the normal gene into the patients. Scientists could discover cures to incurable diseases in our present time such as Cancer in the future and by manipulating bacteria they can produce new or improved anti-biotics. Genetic-engineering has advanced to in vitro fertilisation (IVF) which is the process where the egg cells are fertilised by sperm outside the body. IVF would improve the survival of the human race and through a social perspective provide happiness for couples with fertility problems. Genetic-engineering can also be very beneficial for the environment as specialised genes could be stimulated into trees to absorb more carbon-dioxide therefore reducing the on-going threat of global warming. By improving the produce from animals, we can alter nature and select specified qualities most convenient humans.
There isn’t a clear image of how the world could evolve any further, so could genetic-engineering be the answer to further evolution? Despite the dangers of genetic-engineering, if it continues to advance improving life beneficially without breaking the boundaries of ethics, genetic-engineering would be the rise to the human empire.