Benefits and Risks of Genetic Engineering

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Genetic engineering is the process of inserting DNA or genes from other species, and placing them into another species. This biotechnology, while its potential benefits could be great, also has severe risks. Prior to recent advances in biotechnology, gene therapy was unheard of, and unfixable. Today genetic testing is widely available, and fairly inexpensive. We can even remove faulty genes, and replace them with functioning ones. This means that the human species will be transformed, both intentionally and unintentionally, and in doing so, will make us something other than what we currently define as human.

Genetic engineering can damage the environment and ourselves be it through unnatural viruses, wrongful gene mutation or any other method. Genetic engineering is unnatural, and is not conducive to healthy life on planet earth. Heedless of the warning and dangers clearly present, we are rushing on at full speed in almost every branch. The pharmaceutical chemical, industrial, and medical industries are all attempting to stake a claim in genetic engineering.

When 50,000 species are expected to go extinct in the next year, it is well understood that nature has its own delicate balance. Genetically engineered organisms, with their new and unprecedented genes will have great effect on this balance, and could potentially topple this fragile system. Nature is a complex system with its own mechanics, and to ensure the long term welfare of this system, it is required that the equilibrium be maintained. Recently, we have put great strain on this system with man made pollutants and contaminants infecting the biosphere. Fortunately we have the and technological capability to detect natures’ warnings.

But sadly, due to our own sensory limitations, we can rarely detect such changes and warnings until widespread damage has been done. If we accept that nature has its own mechanisms for cleansing and self regulating, then we must also accept that the damage done to the ecosystem is directly related to the corrective forces necessary to correct the damage. But this does not mean that nature is capable of correcting all types of damage done to it. Genetically engineered organisms are new, radical and unnatural forms of life, and have no place in the biosphere. Nature cannot be expected to correct something it never intended to create.

In nature, plant, animal and human viruses all play a major role in the ecosystem. They have the ability to enter an organism, break apart its genetic material, and recombine it to form new viruses. When the host reproduces, there are definite differences between the host and its offspring, meaning that genetic change has occurred. We can assume that all naturally occurring viruses play a role in the ecosystem, and are regulated by said ecosystem. If we begin to genetically engineer human cells, when a virus enters the shell, it will use the modified genetic material in the shell to form new viruses.

All organisms in an environment have certain protections against the viruses that exist in that environment. But if the virus were to contain genetically modified material, there is no guarantee that that there will be natural defenses to protect us against them. To quote Stephen Hawking “The danger is that either by accident or design, we create a virus that destroys us” (Hawking) Difficulties already occur if we transmit a virus to organisms outside of its natural ecosystem. If we were to create a so called “super virus”, the consequences would be immense, leading to the widespread death of humans, animals or plants, permanently affecting the ecosystem.

The usage of human genes in animals has sparked debate as well. It bears rise to the question, to what percentage of human genes must the animal have before it can be considered human? If humans have a special ethical status, then how does the presence of human genes in an animal change its ethical status? Currently, we are using pigs to essentially “farm” human organs. The basic idea is that an individual is to have a pig with the humans genes implanted in it. When one of your own organs fail, you are able to use the pigs organs. The problem with this is the danger of cross species disease transmission. If one were to look at prior examples of cross species transmission, such as AIDS, Herpes B, or Ebola, one would find that the risks far outweigh the rewards. There is not enough evidence to prove that xenotransplantation is effective enough to justify the potential loss of human life should a new infectious agent be transmitted.

3.5 billion base pairs of the haploid human genome serve no known purpose and are known as junk DNA. The concept of junk DNA bears great similarity to the concept of prefrontal lobotomies. Prefrontal lobotomies are a surgery in which the prefrontal lobe is removed or otherwise destroyed, and its effects are obviously both detrimental and irreversible. In the latest research done at the time of these surgeries, the prefrontal lobe was thought to have no importance, much like junk DNA is considered now.

It could be shown later that this DNA has important function, and thus, we cannot change or remove them. In these prefrontal lobotomies, the surgeons operated blind-they could not see what they were doing. This is also the case with genetic engineers. They use a scattergun approach, not knowing where the DNA is going to end up, having only the most crude measures to determine accuracy and effects. Much like prefrontal lobotomies, genetic therapy is irreversible. The damaged brain cannot be replaced or repaired, and genetically engineered organisms cannot be adjusted or fixed.

In 1971 the United States Supreme Court held the Diamond vs. Chakrabarty case, which dealt with the patentability of living organisms. It was passed, and later that year the first patent to a living creature, a genetically engineered bacterium built to break down oil in the environment, was dealt. There have now been several human genes that have been patented, often without the consent of the person having their DNA taken, or any benefit being passed to them. Unfortunately, life (especially in the US) is often valued in the proportion to the individual. If one can own a home or car, why can one not own himself? With the United States historic role as the greatest proponents of human rights, one would think man could own the very things that make him human. To quote Vandana Shiva “Genetic engineering has never been about saving the world, its about controlling the world.” (Shiva)

Genetic engineering is the Pandoras box of the 21st century. Like Pandora, we hold the power to open the box, but must first deliberate with ourselves on a moral stage. Genetically engineered organisms have great potential to harm society, and willingly opening ourselves to this affront is dangerous and irresponsible. Genetic engineering is a dangerous and morally incorrect practice, with dangerous and potentially lethal consequences.


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  2. Shiva , Vandana. “Food Justice .” Just Food . Just Food , 26 Feb. 2012, Antigonish, Nova Scotia .
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  4. Zheng, Ming Y. “Genetic Engineering .” Gorden.edu, www.gordon.edu/download/pages/Salem-Genetic Engineering2003.pdf.

Cite this paper

Benefits and Risks of Genetic Engineering. (2021, Mar 21). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/benefits-and-risks-of-genetic-engineering/

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