Genetic engineering is a scientific process that involves modification of the nature and structure of an organism’s genes via indirect manipulation of the genes using varied procedures like molecular transformation and cloning. DNA is a type of code present within each of the cells; it tells/instructs the cells on how to function. Genetic engineering involves manipulation of the DNA to create transformations and changes in the characteristics and features of an organism.
Just like every other type of science, genetic engineering also comes with its fair share of pros and cons. They are enumerated below.
Pros of genetic engineering
Some of the common pros of genetic engineering are as follows:
- In the field of agriculture: Genetic engineering has immensely benefited agriculture and helped enhance the genetic fitness of different species of plants. A few known benefits include:
- Genetic engineering has helped produce and maintain sustainable agriculture.
- It has helped increase the effectiveness of photosynthesis, thereby facilitating a better growth rate and increased yield.
- Reduction in requirement of nitrogen fertilizers for plant growth, as well as a decrease in the overall usage of pesticides and herbicides.
- Increased resistance of the plants to drought, salinity, pests, viruses, and harsh soil and climatic conditions.
- Increased shelf-life of the crops which allows for a longer storage time.
- Creation of genetically altered breeds that can withstand factory farming and survive it without any harm.
- Creation of more predictable and quicker methods to generate new cultivars. Genetic engineering also offers a better understanding of the properties of cultivars than before.
- New ability to add additional nutrients and flavors to the genes of different grains and crops to make them healthier and tastier.
- In the field of medical treatment: Gene therapy, a type of genetic engineering medical treatment, can help treat different genetic conditions and cancers. The process involves introduction of therapeutic genes to repair/replace/fight the defective/diseased genes.
- Over the years, gene therapy has successfully treated several cases of cardiac conditions and autoimmune disorders. It is believed that ALS, Huntington’s disease, cystic fibrosis and other conditions caused by defective genes can be cured via gene therapy in the future. It would involve suppression of negative genetic traits and enhancement of positive genetic traits in patients.
- Gene therapy has helped in supplying new parts of the body. Research also shows that mal-functioning or damaged muscles can be repaired or rejuvenated, or entirely new muscle cells can be grown, via gene therapy.
- Pregnancy: If the unborn child is diagnosed with health problems during fetus screenings, then parents can prepare accordingly before childbirth. Gene therapy can then be used to correct the defects in the infant. Research is currently on to alter/correct the defects when the fetus is present in the womb as well as to produce ‘designer babies,’ i.e., those babies/embryos whose characteristics/genotypes are altered/modified as per the desire of the parents before being implanted into the mother via in-vitro fertilization.
- In the field of human cloning: Scientists have successfully cloned mammals. For example, Dolly the sheep. Research is on towards human cloning. Human cloning falls under a specialized branch of genetic engineering known as human genetic engineering. It includes the concept of ‘designer babies.’ Once the genes responsible for certain exceptional traits of humans are found, then they can be artificially introduced before birth to produce humans with many beneficial traits. It can also be used to bring about desired functional and structural changes in humans.
- In the field of pharmaceuticals: Genetic engineering has been used on microorganisms to help create drugs which could not be created otherwise. Such products are not only superior to older medicines, but are also more effective in treating diseases.
- The new pharmaceuticals are made by cloning certain genes. The human growth hormone previously acquired from cadavers and bio-engineered insulin previously acquired from cows or sheep are two major examples of genetically engineered drugs.
- Modifying the genetic structure of plant cells has also helped create vaccines and a variety of new medicines.
- Other benefits of genetic engineering: It helps in the bio-remediation processes, i.e., the method of cleaning pollution and waste using living organisms.
- Modification of certain genetic sequences in bacteria helps convert waste matter into ethanol, which can then be used as fuel.
- Genetic engineering is also helpful in varied mining activities. It can be used to extract desirable elements from materials that they are ingrained into.
Cons of genetic engineering
Some of the common cons of genetic engineering are as follows:
- Genetically engineered crops are more resilient than normal plants, thereby superseding natural crops, weeds, etc., and preventing them from growing normally. This can alter plant diversity.
- Increased immunity of crops to diseases may get transferred to pathogens which can then cause greater harm to humans.
- It is believed that genetic engineering may improve the appearance, taste, and shelf life of crops. But in the process they may hamper its nutritional value.
- Genetic mutations in crops can result in new crop allergies.
- Genetically modified pharmaceuticals and human genetic engineering may come with severe side effects. Treatment of a specific genetic defect may trigger the development/mutation of a new one.
- Genetic engineering of varied life forms can lead to a reduction in novel sensations of discovery, joy, thrill, delight, etc. For example, people will know that a genetically modified rose will bloom no matter what. This will result in predictability, lowered appreciation of the beauty of nature, and loss of mystery, uniqueness, and artistic intrigue.
- Human cloning and human genetic engineering can hamper diversity of human genetics. Also, gene therapy will most likely be affordable by the more affluent in the society. This can result in class supremacy and discrimination against the common man.
- According to varied religions, the nature was created as it is by God and this was the way He meant it to be. According to religious pundits, modifying the creations of God is akin to challenging His supreme authority and propagating the notion that His view of the human world is incorrect.