The formal definition of genetic engineering given in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “the directed alteration of genetic material by intervention in genetic processes”. Stated in another way, it is a scientific alteration of the structure of genetic material in a living organism. There are many different methods in genetic engineering
, but the goal of all the methods is to manipulate the genetic material (DNA) of the cells in a living organism
in order to either change it hereditary traits or to produce biological products. Genetic engineering techniques have been experimented with in many different areas including in bacteria, naturally produced drugs, plants, livestock, and laboratory animals. Much of the processes dealing with genetic engineering are still in the experimental stages. As a result of this, it is required that most genetically engineered products get approval from specific U.S. governmental agencies such as the FDA.
Genetic engineering has only become possible and more understandable very recently. Since scientists have been able to map out most of the gene locations in DNA, they have discovered ways to manipulate the genes. It is a very serious and controversial matter because it raises many ethical, legal, and moral issues
, especially in dealing with genetic engineering in human beings. There are generally three methods used in the manipulation of human genes and they are cloning, somatic cell manipulation, and human germline manipulation. Very basically, cloning is creating exact copies of an organisms DNA and creating a new organism with this same DNA. The new organisms will be physically identical to the original organism. Somatic cell manipulation is simply injecting new genes into somatic cells in order to cure a disease such as hemophilia. Germline manipulation is altering the genes in sex cells that are passed onto offspring, so that the offspring will posses certain specific characteristics.
From the descriptions of these few processes, it can be seen why genetic engineering has become such a controversial issue. Genetic engineering deals with the very intricate, orderly, processes of human life. Genetics is so complex that it is extremely risky to be getting too far into the engineering without knowing the exact results of the actions. Unfortunately, experimentation is the only way to discover some of the outcomes. Some scientists argue that the medical benefits of genetic engineering could be so great, that the experimentation is worth it. There is the possibility that cures to life-threatening diseases could be found through genetic engineering in somatic cell manipulation, for example. Others say that human life is the way it is because it was meant to be that way. Genetic engineering is tampering with something that was never meant to be changed. It is unfortunate and unfair that there are people who are born with diseases because of genetic disorder, but that cannot be helped. The potential repercussions of genetic engineering are far too large to even be experimenting with.
Genetic engineering has also been playing a big part in food. Scientists are discovering ways to manipulate the genes of crops in order to create plants that can resist things such as herbicides, insects, and pesticides on their own. It is supposed to help in the preservation of crops, but when it is genetically engineered in one way it is possible that other more negative changes can take place. It is possible that because the genetically engineered plants are not natural for its environment, it could throw of many different things within the ecosystem that it is a part of. It is also in question whether or not genetically engineered food is safe for humans to consume.
Similarly, genetic engineering has been used in experimenting with livestock as well. Not only is there the possibility of cloning animals for production of good, healthy livestock, there is also the possibility of manipulating genes in order to create offspring with good characteristics (germline manipulation). These are both potential ways of ensuring good livestock for eating. Genetic engineering is not as controversial in animals as it is in humans. Animals are similar to humans in many ways physically, but they do not have an essence or soul like human being do. The same issues come up, though, with livestock as crops. Is it safe for humans to eat meat of an animal that has been manipulated genetically?
Genetic engineering in all manners is highly controversial and there are very opposite extremes on the position that it should take in our world today. There are those who very heavily promote and support genetic engineer and there are those who oppose it very strong and think it is too dangerous to be messing around with. There seems to be evidence both for and against genetic engineering. The greatest majority of the evidence seems to be against genetic engineering. Many of the experiments that have already taken place have not been very successful. Many people are wary of them because the long term consequences of the genetic engineering can not always be immediately seen. There have, though, been some successes and advances in knowledge concerning genetic engineering. The reason for the weight of the evidence being against genetic engineering may also be a part of the fact that it is a very new technology and scientist have really only scratched the surface. Genetic engineering could play a very large role in the future of our society and it is a subject that should be heavily researched and considered carefully before it advances too far.