Genetic Engineering: Is It Ethical?

The development of science and technology is very fast. Every day, scientists and researchers found new findings which are very groundbreaking. These findings make this world more developed, however, not a little also make controversies in the society of the world. One of them is genetic engineering.

Genetic engineering is the direct manipulation, modification, and recombination of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) or other nucleic acid molecules in order to modify an organism’s characteristics (phenotype). Genetic engineering is not a new thing in the world of science and technology. It is known that the first genetically modified organism to be created was in 1973, by American biochemists Stanley N. Cohen and Herbert W. Boyer, who were among the first to cut DNA into fragments, rejoin different fragments, and insert the new genes into E. coli bacteria, which then reproduced. The following year, two American molecular biologists, Beatrice Mintz and Rudolf Jaenisch, introduced foreign genetic material into mouse embryos in the first experiment to genetically modify animals using genetic engineering techniques. Not only animals and plants that can undergo genetic engineering. In 1994, the first genetically modified foods were made available, which is a tomato.

Since then, genetic engineering has been done in many ways and made more sophisticated. Even, today, genetic engineering is also applied for humans. This process is often called gene editing, which is to make changes to a specific part of a genome. Gene editing in human is not perfect yet and is still being explored deeper. For the past several decades, researchers have been genetically modifying lab animals to determine ways the biotechnology could one day help in treating human disease and repairing tissue damage in people. One of the newest forms of this technology is called CRISPR. CRISPR is a gene editing technology which more precise and inexpensive to make changes to the DNA of a living organism. Researchers are using CRISPR technology to search for cures for cancer and to find and edit single pieces of DNA that may lead to future diseases in an individual. Stem cell therapy could also make use of genetic engineering, in the regeneration of damaged tissue, such as from a stroke or heart attack.

Gene editing in humans, through the technique of recombinant DNA, have been created bacteria that are capable of synthesizing human insulin, human growth hormone, alpha interferon, a hepatitis B vaccine, and other medically useful substances and make genetic diseases can possibly be corrected by replacing dysfunctional genes with normally functioning genes.

In the exploration of genetic engineering, researchers have also discovered a way to create a copy of an existed organism. This is called cloning. Cloning is to copy the DNA of an organism into another organism to create a copy of the organism. In 1996, researchers have successfully created Dolly, the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell, which is by far the world’s most famous clone. Today, several researchers try to clone humans, which is highly controversial. A researcher from China claims to have tested the CRISPR technology to clone human, but then, he has faced harsh scrutiny and was placed under house arrest. This is mainly what causes the debate on the ethicality of genetic engineering, to be more specific, cloning.

The technology of genetic engineering may be available, however, it is still very risky to be done, especially to humans. This technology is still new to be applied for humans, researchers have to think about the intention and different uses of it. Special concern has been focused on genetic engineering on humans for fear that they might result in the introduction of unfavourable and possibly dangerous traits into microorganisms that were previously free of them. Moreover, the application of gene editing in humans has raised ethical concerns, particularly regarding its potential use to alter traits such as intelligence and beauty. Not only that, seeing from the religion aspect, many religions deny genetic engineering on humans, especially cloning, as it is making human as “God” that can create living things and it is unnatural. Furthermore, seeing from the social aspect, genetic engineering could make a social gap in the society as it allows the wealthy can “purchase” their child as they can make the child physical characteristics the same as what the parents want through cloning, meanwhile the poor can’t.

Eventually, the vast majority of the proponents for genetic engineering realize that the technology isn’t ready to be tested on humans yet, and state that the process will be used for good. The goal of genetic modification has always been to tackle problems currently facing human society.

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