I am sure you have heard a lot about genetic engineering in newspapers,TV shows,the internet,etc. Perhaps, sci-fi movies like X-men have also aroused your imaginations as to what miracles are possible merely by altering genetic material. Surely, it must have raised curiosity and wonder into your minds as to what exactly is genetic engineering and how does it concern you as an individual.
So, what does genetic engineering mean?
Genetic engineering is the branch of biotechnology that deals with the manipulation and alteration/deletion of genes (a portion of the DNA strand responsible for physical,chemical and behavioral traits of a living entity) with a view to satisfy certain objectives. Therefore, in a nutshell, genetic engineering is the Editing of the Blue Print of Living beings. This editing provides the scientists with astonishing power over living organisms and also over the natural balance at large. This power can be either a force for good or a force for evil. As citizens of a global village, it is our duty to know what exactly are the changes being done in the fabric of nature so that we may scrutinize and analyse the elements of the new world being built.
Let’s take a look at the changes being brought about by genetic engineering in the present as well as the near future:-
(1) Engineered babies:-
It may seem straight out of science fiction but this breakthrough is near at hand. Already, rapid advancements are being made to identify parts of the Human DNA responsible for different physical and behavioral aspects of a person. After this is done, it is only a matter of time when the recently discovered CRISPR technology is used to cut off undesired genes and introduce the desirable ones. Perhaps, one day very soon parents would encounter such advertisements as follows-
“Opt for a designer baby today. Want your baby to have straight hair,curly hair,blue eyes, brown eyes, higher intelligence, good character? Visit us today for the best deals!”
(2)Overcoming diseases and old age:-
Many terrible genetic disorders like Down’s syndrome, sickle-cell anaemia ,Turner syndrome etc., are permanently curable by removal of the defective genes causing them. Moreover, several new genes can be introduced that increase immunity against a host of other diseases. Perhaps, even cancer and AIDS can be totally eliminated by the appropriate genetic manipulation. With further understanding of the genes responsible for the bodily changes resulting in old age, we can expect the slowing down of aging by genetic manipulation. With enough luck, we might even be able to reverse aging! Our generation may in fact be the first to enjoy a longer and disease-free lives with our family!
(3)Genetically Modified plants and animals:-
Most of the advancements in genetic engineering have been done in the arena of agriculture. In the early days of modern genetic engineering, scientists exposed plant genes to radiation with a view to create useful genetic mutation purely by chance. In the modern times however, the methods have been refined and slicing up the undesirable genes and adding the desirable ones is done using CRISPR. Already , several GM food crops have reached the market . These include pest-resistant,nutrient-enriched and drought-resistant varieties and those with longer shelf lives. This means we can win the battle against hunger and malnutrition with Genetic engineering soon!
A cause of concern:-
Till now, you have seen the miracles caused by genetic engineering but like any other scientific knowledge,it isn’t without drawbacks. Some such ethical and scientific dangers are:-
- Firstly,it can distort the idea of “humanness” as we experiment with hybrids constituted by combination of human and animal genes.
- Secondly, introduction of “designer babies” also poses a unique dilemma and may create a sort of divide/discrimination between the “designed” and “natural” human beings.
- Thirdly, GMO need to be thoroughly tested lest they cause greater harm than good for humanity as well as the natural ecosystem at large.
Despite all the red signs revolving around Genetic engineering, it can be concluded that it is more of a blessing to the human society. In reality, it can be even said to be mankind’s next step in the direction of evolution. Through careful observation of the ethics surrounding it and the active role of organisations like the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) it is possible to develop genetic engineering as a tool to build up our civilization. Let us all move ahead to a new future free of diseases and suffering!