The Biological Revolution
The year is 2025, parents can now ensure that their children will not be prone to addictions, mental illness and are even resistant to AIDS. Diseases are considered a burden of previous generations. Even the process of aging can be manipulated to suit man. No longer will people worry about looking or feeling old. Science has now found a way around the clock. Human genetic engineering, which is just fiction now may not remain fiction in the future. Recently the multi-billion dollar Human Genome Project has made astonishing gains in mapping the entire human genome. Once complete the Human Genome Project has the potential to open doors once thought to be locked. It will allow scientist to bring ideas that were once fiction into reality (Deneen 1). Genetic engineering is a powerful tool that will yield unprecedented results in the field of medicine. This tool of the future will be the result of many years of study and experiment. To fully grasp the possibilities of GE one must have a solid understanding of genetics, the study of heredity and DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid).
People often say it runs in the family. If it runs in the family it also runs in the genes. Genes - a specific sequence of nucleotides in DNA or RNA that is located in the germ plasma usually on a chromosome and that is the functional unit of inheritance controlling the transmission and expression of one or more traits by specifying the structure of a particular polypeptide and especially a protein or controlling the function of other genetic material (Webster s Dictionary). In layman s terms genes are what are
transferred between two people. Genes can be can be compared to a deck of cards each parent has a set containing the same instructions for his or her bodily features, but when traded they combine to make whole new person (offspring). Thus, this trading of cards (genes) is called heredity. Heredity is the transmission of traits from one generation to another. If both parents have brown eyes, are alcoholics, or are prone to cancer, their children will more than likely have brown eyes or be especially acceptable to alcoholism or cancer (Webster s Dictionary heredity ). Both genes and heredity are the directly related to DNA or deoxyribonucleic acid.
In 1990, The Arizona Republic stated that All genetic information is contained in deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, and that the information is faithfully copied in the production of proteins and other cellular components. This startling realization was just the first in the study of DNA. Most recently the study of DNA has become so fast paced that it almost impossible to stay current with its present state. New ground breaking discoveries are made almost every day. DNA is formed in a double helix structure, it is comprised of four bases: Adenine (A), Cytosine (C), Guanine (G), and Thymine (T). together A, C, G, and T make up the alphabet of all living things. Words in this language are formed in pairs. A and T can only pair up with each other, similarly C and G also can only pair with each other (Kitcher 29,30). This knowledge has become extremely important to scientist who now regularly read DNA, and can pick out deformities by using the pairs to identify all kinds of potential health hazards. The technique of identifying potential health hazards has recently received much media coverage as genetic testing has become more popular.
This new ability raises both high hopes and grave concerns. On the one hand, predictive gene testing holds out the possibility of saving thousands of lives through prevention or early detection. On the other, the implications of test results are enormous, not only for the individual but also for relatives who share this genetic legacy, and for society as a whole. (Access 1,2). These hopes and fears are very real for people who undergo these new types of tests. What make genetic testing so much different from any other kind of testing is how accurately it can predict if a person is at high risk for a certain type of disease or even when it will set in. Tests results have devastated people s lives by this accuracy. On the contrary it has also saved many lives by helping people identify possible health hazards and thus avoid illness by lifestyle changes or early treatment. This new technology and future technologies will rapidly change every day life. Sooner than later people will have many different choices when it concerns the field of medicine and their personal health thanks to technology.
Amniocentesis, for instance, is a procedure for diagnosing certain genetic disorders early in pregnancy (National Genetics Foundation). Technology currently in use in the field of genetics has increasingly become important in helping people make difficult choices. For a family with a history of a genetic disease such as Down syndrome or chromosomal abnormalities, tests using technology similar to amniocentesis can be extremely helpful in tough decisions such as abortion or risky medical treatments concerning an unborn child. Another technology that is currently in use is DNA testing. DNA testing has become famous because of its recent use the judicial system. Forensic DNA testing which is used in the judicial system aids in the conviction criminals of
violent crimes, rapes, murder, and has many other uses. Another such use of DNA tests is paternity testing. This is a test where DNA is used to prove with out question who is the biological mother of father of a child. A blood sample or a mouth swab is taken from the mother or father and is used to determine the child s biological parents with a 99.9% certainty. This test is very useful in court where people are fighting for custody or child support (DNA 1). In brief, most of the current technologies concentrate on testing and or prevention. Although current technologies are very effective and useable, the next step in genetics is engineering.
Human genetic engineering, will be the largest turning point medicine will see in our life time. It will affect the way people perceive the world. Engineering of humans will almost certainly be the largest controversy man will have to face, both religiously and politically. With the recent accomplishments in cloning it is not such a far off reality that people will be able to manipulate future man. Although genetic engineering s possibilities are so far reached that it would be impossible at this time to predict an outcome, many scientists have their own ideas of what future man could experience. Some popular visions are of societies where children will not be subject to illnesses, whether mental or physical. Diseases such as AIDS, Down syndrome, and Cystic Fibrosis will be in text books of the future, describing the horrors of the past:
The Modern Civics class, taught by a young woman serene warmth, uses the most up-to-date materials, including the fifteenth edition of the famous text Your Reproductive Responsibilities, published just last year in 2069. The teacher starts with the darkness of prehistory, the days before prenatal
testing was available to responsible citizens. Once, she tells her students, many babies were doomed to die in infancy, there were special institutions for defective children, and the more enlightened nations diverted large sums from other health and education projects to provide special care for children with genetic disabilities. But the progress of the reproductive responsibility movement has been heroic: Tay-Sachs is a thing of the past, Down syndrome is virtually eliminated, congenital forms of heart disease are now extremely rare, there are far fewer people with mutant tumor-suppressor genes, far fewer fat people, far fewer homosexuals, far few short people. All this is the work of molecular geneticists, doctors, counselors, and-she smiles modestly-of the teacher who have helped teenagers recognize their reproductive responsibilities. (Kitcher 205)
In a sense it is human nature to try to weed out the undesirable and promote the desirable. Although the exert from Kitcher s book The Lives to Come sounds almost cold far few short people the young woman does describe a society that could evolve from the new technologies to come. This glimpse in to a classroom of the future may well be accurate. The future could evolve into a situation similar to the one described using reproductive selection (genetic screening and testing), but it is likely it will follow a path more directly related to genetic engineering. Future genetic engineers will not only concern themselves with disease, but with the fundamentals of all life, such as aging and even death.
Life and death are a facts of nature. Since time all organisms that have been born grew old and eventual died. This cycle of life and death is the nature of all living things. In the cycle of life and death nature is assumed to control how long we live, but human intervention has shown ways around the aging process. In Roman times the average life expectancy of a human was around twenty-five years old. Presently the life expectancy is around seventy four years old. That is an enormous difference of forty nine years. This controlling of our life span is a direct result of our ability to reason. Extensive knowledge of health and medicine has extended our live spans tremendously. Even though this gain in our life span already seems amazing it is small in comparison to the gains we could experience with genetic engineering. (Stableford 98-99).
The advances in genetics today are so fast paced it may not be long before the fountain of youth is discovered. Scientist are already aware of some of the processes involved in aging.
If we are lucky, the fundamental aging process will turn out to be a kind of biochemical deterioration that can be counteracted, slowed down or prevented by some kind of drug treatment. If that is the case, then we could discover in the near future a way to maintain youth and vigor longer and perhaps also to add many years to the normal life span.
For instance the life span for some tortoises are around one hundred and fifty years. Life span thus seems to be determined by the genes, giving genetic engineers a good chance of being able to influence it. (Stableford 105) Although the engineering of
life spans seems reasonable it may not be the answer many people are looking for. Currently the industry of cryogenics is gaining more popularity among people who can afford it. This field of science appeals to people who are in search of immortality or a cure for their disease in the future. The hope is that one day in the future people will have the technology to unfreeze people who were cryogenically frozen. This process of deep freezing is to preserve people from cellular decay which in at some point in time could be revived and cured of a disease or illness which caused their death. Even though this seem far fetched any hope may be better than none. Given that people cannot take their money with them when they go, why not spend it on the slim chance that they will one day be able to come back? (Stableford 106) With genetics promising the possibilities of immortality, long life, eradication of diseases and so many other far reaching implications, it is easy to see how this could become the most controversial topic of all time. Even though not a mainstream issue yet it is almost a guarantee it will be in the near future. The topic of genetics will make arguments like abortion seem small in comparison, not because of its lack of importance but because genetic engineering will incorporate all controversial issues within it. Its moral concerns alone will touch base on abortion, politics, religion, and many other topics we can not yet foresee. People in the near future will have to ask themselves were to draw the line, make tough decisions concerning the morality of tampering with not just human life, but life as we know it.
We ve all known that the day would come when we d have to decide whether or not to allow the reconfiguration of human beings through genetic technology says Dr. David King, editor of GenEthics News in London. Well, that day is now. (Hayes 1)
The consequences are difficult to comprehend because they stem out socially and politically, thus changing human relationships and society dramatically. Princeton cell biologist Lee Silver predicts a future were every aspect of life could be manipulated. He invasions a society where there is two different types of humans. The GenRich will control the media, economy, entertainment and even the business of knowledge. On the other hand the Naturals will work as low-paid service providers or as laborers. (Hayes 1) Eventually, both GenRich and Naturals will become so different that they will lose the ability to crossbreed with each other (Hayes 2).
With so many different views on the issue of genetic engineering it is impossible to decide who is right or wrong. It has already been shown that there is much conflict in the manipulation of human genes. In 1983 a collection of 58 leaders of their religious comities joined together and declared that engineering of the human genome represent a fundamental threat to the preservation of the human species as we know it, and should opposed with the same courage and conviction as we now oppose the threat of nuclear extinction. (Hayes 3) Even with this type of opposition, genetic engineering still has support from many private companies. Companies such as Geron Corporation, which is refining technologies that could allow the cloning of humans and manipulation of the human germline. Advocates of this company believe it could use the technology to grow tissues and organs to replace ones that are diseased. Other companies such as Advanced Cell Technologies have engaged in risky and controversial experiments such as the creating of an embryo by combining human and animal cells. This experiment was so widely condemned that President Clinton asked for investigation by the Bioethics
Advisory Committee. With so many different views on genetic engineering, a person would be narrow minded at this point in time to just chose one view over the other. Genetic engineering should be approached with much research and responsibility. If this is accomplished the future of man should be one of prosperity.