Genetic Engineering is highly controversial since some people believe that it is a form of playing God. There is a lot of opposition to the progression of the field by people who do not see the value in genetic engineering, or they fear what genetic engineering may lead to for us as people. There is a history of discovery that belongs to genetic engineering which has led to numerous products that have emerged. These have brought numerous applications to the society of the world. Though there are benefits, there are also drawbacks to genetic engineering. Some of which are the ethical and legal issues being dealt with throughout today’s society to try and regulate the growth of genetic engineering.
Genetic engineering seems like a convoluted subject to broach. But the form practiced today is a more efficient method than what was practiced for hundreds of years known as selective breeding. Farmers, scientists, and all ranges of humans practiced selective breeding. Which is the intentional breeding of selective animals with desirable traits. Those traits are passed on and present in the offspring of those animals (Selective breeding). Genetic engineering is a streamlined version of selective breeding. Instead of choosing two organisms with desirable traits and compelling those organisms to mate, you take a splice of DNA, called gene splicing or recombinant DNA, and place it in a bacterium or a developing organism. This process can produce the desired trait from the original organism in a completely different organism. With this process you could theoretically go as far as being able to develop a cow that has the DNA of a shark to develop gills and being able to survive under water.
The standard of genetic engineering today began more than a hundred years ago, when in 1859 Charles Darwin published the origin of species which was one of the first publications that gave extensive information on the subject or breeding at that time period (A brief history of genetic modification). Then the field advanced further when in 1865 Gregor Mendel published his discovering on the breeding of peas, which became a basis for the study of modern genetics. A more important discovery occurred in 1869 when Friedrich Miescher discovered nuclei, which is a major component in the formation of DNA, in the nucleus of a cell. In 1910 T. H. Morgan expanded the knowledge we have of chromosomes by demonstrating that genes are carried by chromosomes. Then in 1913 A.H. Sturtevant constructed a gene map giving people knowledge of where genes were located. Then in 1927 H. J. Muller demonstrated how X-rays could generate mutation in genes, expanding on knowledge that waves can affect the cells of organisms (A brief history of genetic modification).
A major step forward in genetic engineering occurred in 1941 when George Beadle and E. L. Tatum managed to pin a gene defect to a single point of origin in the biochemical pathway which would have been carried out by an enzyme that was missing (A brief history of genetic modification). They managed to reinstate the normal growth of a mutant micro-organism by adding in the missing enzyme, proving that humans can correct gene defects by adding in the missing ingredient. Furthering the study of DNA in 1953 James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the double helix structure of DNA which finally allowed the gene map to make sense to scientists (A brief history of genetic modification). Then furthering the understanding of the genetic code in 1966 Marshall Nirenberg & Har Gobind Khorana finished the unraveling of the genetic code. Then furthering the knowledge of enzymes in the late 1960s Stewart Linn & Werner Arber made the discovery of restriction enzymes in E. coli.
In 1973 Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer did the unthinkable (A brief history of genetic modification). They invented DNA cloning, which allowed genes to be transferred from one organism to another. Then in 1974 for the first time in human history Stanley Cohen, Annie Chang and Herbert Boyer created the first genetically modified organism. In response to this event a conference was held in the United States in 1975 where scientists met secretly to deliberate how they should proceed with this discovery of new recombinant DNA technology, also to find a way to self-regulate the technology (A brief history of genetic modification). To then further assist scientists in 1976, The National Institute of Health in the United States, created guidelines on how genetic modification research was to be conducted. In 1977 Frederick Sanger developed chain termination DNA which enabled scientists to read the nucleotide sequence in a DNA molecule (A brief history of genetic modification). In 1980 the first genetically modified mouse was produced, and then in 1982 a giant mouse was produced by transferring growth hormones from a rat to the mouse. In 1983 Kary Mullis, who is a biochemist, created the polymerase chain reaction which is a technique that allowed scientist to recreate fractions of DNA at greater speeds than scientists could previously do (A brief history of genetic modification). Kary Mullis was given the Nobel Prize for this invention in 1993.
From the 1980’s to the early 1990’s China placed the first genetically modified crops on the market, which were a virus-resistant tobacco plant and a virus-resistant tomato plant. In 1982 Ralph Brinster and Richard Palmiter inserted the gene for the human growth hormone in the embryo of a mouse, which the resulting mouse was twice the size of the average adult mouse (A brief history of genetic modification). Richard Palmiter and Ralph Brinster’s experiment with the mouse resulted in the fact that scientists can use mice to test genes and that fact has led to many scientist using mice to test genes for causes, and treatment options for numerous diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, and sickle cell (The Transgenic Mouse). In the assistance of criminal apprehension genetic fingerprinting was developed in 1984 which allowed police to find and identify criminals by DNA when left at a crime scene or on a body.
In 1985 the first genetically engineered domestic animal was produced, a pig (A brief history of genetic modification). In 1988 the first pharmaceutical producing genetically engineered plant was created. In 1989 data about the Beltsville pig was publicized. The Beltsville pig was named after the agricultural research station in Maryland, USA. The genetically modified pig had a gene from human growth hormone and as a result of the gene suffered from multiple pathological conditions (A brief history of genetic modification). This example shows the danger of mixing genes from different species because the result will not always end in the way it is desired to end.
In 1990 genetic modification produced chymosin, another name for rennin which is used to curdle milk, an enzyme used in making hard cheese (A brief history of genetic modification). In a substantial bound in human progress, in 1991 the first gene therapy trials occurred on human beings. In 1993 the United States Food and Drug Administration approved Bovine somatotropin, a metabolic protein hormone which is used to increase milk production in dairy cows. Scientists were able to accomplish this by determining which gene in cattle controls the production of Bovine somatotropin, and they isolated this gene from cattle and injected it in a bacterium called Escherichia coli. Escherichia coli produce large amounts of bovine somatotropin which scientists purified and then injected into cattle allowing them to produce more milk (A brief history of genetic modification).
At a business standpoint in 1994 the first genetically modified crop plant to be wide spread sold in the United States was the FlavrSavr transgenic tomato. In 1995 the BT potato plant, BT stands for Bactillus thuringiesis, was approved safe by the Environmental Protection Agency, which made the Bactillus thuringiensis potato the first pesticide producing crop to be sold on the market in the United States.
In 1997 an announcement of the cloning of a transgenic lamb named Polly occurred. It was cloned with the cells engineered with a human gene and a marker gene. With this the cloning of a lamb was combined with genetic modification technology, which creates animals that produce a new protein (A brief history of genetic modification). Unfortunately, in September of 1999 the first publicized patient death involved in gene therapy, where the death was caused by the gene therapy itself, was announced. In 2003 the human genome was sequenced (A brief history of genetic modification). Genetic modification has had a long and productive history with steps forward and steps back. Regardless of the hurdles genetic modification faced, it is still a part of today’s society and science and will not easily disappear.
Genetic engineering has given society numerous products over time. The products that have resulted from genetic engineering range from the creation of healthier food, to creating cheaper and more abundant source of medicine, to helping clean up the environment. Most likely the largest amounts of products that result from genetic engineering are food. The cause of this fact is that food usually has the least amount of public resistance to it. Also, with food you can have meager alterations to the nutrients contained in the food, or the food may have considerable alterations to the food’s nutrients. Along with making food healthier, plants may have alterations that result in the plants being able to produce their own pesticides. This provides the plant the ability to repulse insects and provide alterations that cause the plants to be resistant to specific herbicides. The plants may even undergo genetic modification that allows them to be resistant to a disease that affects plants of the same species (Genetic Engineering).
Genetically engineered foods that have been approved by the federal government include corn, cotton, potatoes, rice, tomatoes, squash, soybeans, sugar beets, rapeseed, or canola (Genetic Engineering), honey, sugar cane, sweet corn, flax, red- hearted chicory, which is no longer on market, cotton seed oil, tobacco, peas, vegetable oil, dairy products, and meat (Genetically Modified Food- GM Food List and Information). Genetic engineering produces not only food but medicine as well. Medicines produced by genetic engineering are vitamins (Genetically Modified Food- GM Food List and Information), human growth hormone, and insulin (Genetic Engineering). Genetic engineering can also yield bacteria that can break down oil slicks, and the products of industrial waste that allows for a cleaner and safer environment (Genetic Engineering).
Genetic engineering is a field that needs constant watching and management. To that end, the United States government has two branches that regulate genetic engineering products and research. The United States Department of Agriculture, or USDA, and the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, along with most state governments monitors genetic engineering products and research. They monitor the development and testing of a product to determine of it meets the safety requirements needed to be able to reach market (Webber). The United States Department of Agriculture monitors genetic engineering products through the division called the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS. The organization administers, The Federal Plant Pest Act, or FPPA, which allows them to monitor interstate movement, importation, and testing of plants and animals altered or produced through genetic engineering. APHIS regulates the experimentation and creation of genetically engineered products by requiring you to acquire one of three types of permits. The three permits are a permit for release into environment, a permit for movement and importation, and a courtesy permit. The courtesy permit is for transporting or releasing products that are not regulated by APHIS (Webber). The FDA regulates new foods and food additives, while meat and poultry are regulated by the USDA (Webber). The legal side of genetic engineering provides a hurdle that prevents negative testing and as well attempts to prevent products that could do harm to the environment or to people from being released.
People opposed to genetic engineering usually share the same concerns. Some of those concerns are the lack of sufficient testing of genetic engineering products to determine their safety for the environment and the public (Genetic Engineering). Other concerns, also expressed over the consumption of genetic engineering foods are; allergic reactions, antibiotic resistance, gene mutations, gene pollution, loss of nutrition, and environmental damage (Genetic Engineering). Other concerns are over the inadvertent development of a super weed, which is a weed that takes the herbicide resistance of a genetically engineered plant and adapts to it (Engdahl 19). The issues that people have with genetic engineering are highly similar to the issues with genetic engineered crops that genetic engineers seek to eliminate.
Genetic engineering has a great history and has had numerous advances throughout the years. It has yielded numerous products, which have practical uses in society. Because there are numerous legal boundaries you need to go through to be able to obtain the ability to experiment with genetic engineering; the government can regulate what is being tested and so therefore can, to a degree, manage what products are being created and or how far the field can progress. There are issues with genetic engineering though as not all genetic engineering is great in what it produces. There have been issues with genetic engineering involving lack sufficient testing to alleviate the fears of the opposition to genetic engineering on how genetic engineering can affect the direction of where the world is headed. Although genetic engineering can propel humans to new degrees of success, we must always be vigilant. For anything that has a great potential for good can have an equal potential to cause disaster for the very people it was supposed to help.
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- Engdahl, Sylvia. Genetic Engineering. Detroit: GreenHaven Press, 2006. Print.
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- Webber, Glenda D. 'Regulation of Genetically Engineered Organisms and Products.' Jan 1995. Biotechnology Information Series. Web. 8 November 2013. .