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Genetic Engineering: The Truth

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Genetic engineering techniques should not be used to custom tailor children. It is morally wrong because it overrides natural selection. Humans should not have the right to play God. It is also unfair for those who are born naturally. Instead of allowing nature to decide, humans might choose what their descendants will be like. Nature alone should be the judge of one's skin color and other features. Genetic engineering should only be used for medical purposes. Otherwise, it is unfair to those who do not have access to these procedures, while genetically designed people will have an advantage over those who relied solely on nature. Thus, certain forms of genetic engineering should not be permitted.

Genetic engineering is a broad term referring to the alteration of an organism's genes in order to remove unwanted characteristics of the organism or to add desirable characteristics (Levine). Genetic engineering has been applied to plants and animals for greater and more efficient food production ever since the agricultural revolution. It is also used on humans in the medical industry. Genetic engineering techniques are used to identify and treat certain diseases as well as aid doctors in creating custom made drugs for specific patients (Gorman 81). While the applications of genetic engineering on humans is currently limited, genetic engineering has the potential to eventually be able to treat virtually every disease.

There are several genetic engineering techniques currently used on humans. One is in vitro fertilization, or IVF. In IVF, a female's eggs are fertilized outside of the body, after the eggs are extracted, they are placed in a fluid similar to that found inside the woman's body. Then, a sample of semen is washed and incubated. The semen is then placed into the fluid with the eggs and left alone for approximately 18 hours. The eggs are then removed and placed into a special medium that promotes growth. Forty hours later, if the eggs have been properly fertilized and developed, the embryos are transferred to the mother's uterus. Usually multiple eggs are inserted to increase the likelihood of pregnancy. If, however, more than four embryos develop, the donor is given the option of cryo-preserving the embryos left over. This lowers the risk of multiple pregnancies (twins, triplets etc.) After a single IVF cycle, the probability of pregnancy is about twenty percent greater.

IVF, has been used on animals by farmers for a long time to yield better products. It was used successfully on humans for the first time in 1978.

Another genetic engineering technique used on humans is called gene therapy. Gene therapy is based on recombinant DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), also known as gene splicing. In this technique, the genes of one organism are introduced to another organism. This alters the genetic structure of the organism, thus altering its traits. These changes, however, will not be passed on to future generations because the sperm or eggs of the organism are not affected (Levine).

Gene therapy is currently used to correct genetic diseases. These diseases are caused either by inherited defective genes or by miscoded genes, which are generally created during cell growth and division (Blaese). Gene therapy works by inserting good genes into the cells of people with diseases. These new genes provide new instructions to the cells. These new instructions usually counter the effects of the disease, thus curing the patient.

To insert the gene into the cells of patients, scientists usually use viruses. Because of their infectious nature, viruses easily embed themselves into the host patients cells. To do this, scientists use recombinant DNA techniques. They strip a virus of its genetic coding and insert the genes that will go into the cell. The virus is now a carrier, for the genes and the genes can now be easily inserted into the cells of the patient (Jaroff 68).

Scientists, however, have encountered several problems when using viral carriers. For one, the carriers are usually recognized by the immune system of the body and are treated as foreign invaders. This usually causes inflammation and swelling (Jaroff 68). During a gene therapy trial for the genetic disease cystic fibrosis, the inflammation caused by the viral vector was so bad that the FDA ordered that no further efforts be made (Jaroff 68). Because the vectors are treated as enemies by the body, they may be destroyed completely before they have the chance to transport the genes. Sometimes, the genes just failed to activate upon insertion into the cells and were thus unable to properly command the cells. Others just stopped working after a while. As a result of the shortcomings of using viral carriers, many gene therapy techniques have not been certified by the FDA. Due to the human body's reaction to viral carriers, gene therapy procedures failed the FDA's first testing phase (Phase I), in which the safety of the therapy is tested on a few patients. Most of the procedures which were proven to be safe, were proven to be too ineffective in Phase II. So far, only one gene therapy procedure has made it to Phase III, in which the treatment is tested on a larger number of people. The treatment, however could not be passed due to bad side-effects (Jaroff 69)

Despite all the research, gene therapy still has quite a way to go. "There is still no conclusive evidence that a gene therapy protocol has been successful in the treatment of a human disease" (Jaroff 73). The main problem facing genetic researchers in the field of gene therapy is transporting the genes. The viral vectors, which have been in use since 1990, are inadequate. Aside from the side effects, the viruses just do not have the capacity to carry the larger and more complex genes required for most procedures. Scientists are currently hard at work developing new and more effective viruses to transport genes. One virus, Adeno-associated Virus, is a benign virus that does not cause disease like any of the others. In addition to the AAV's non-inflammatory nature, it is also efficient in delivering the genes. The AAV easily invades non-dividing cells, and has allowed the genes to express themselves for over two years (Jaroff 73).

Currently, parents can use genetic testing techniques to determine their children's gender before conception. Within a decade, it will probably be possible to screen for other traits as well. Hospitals will eventually use gene therapy and IVF as preventive medicine to ward off diseases that may plague the child after birth. Eventually, parents may be able to use the same technology to insert genes of their choosing into their children, thus selecting what their children's physical appearance as well as personality will be



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