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Genetic Engineering

Genes, or chromosomes, are often referred to as "blueprints" which are passed down from generation to generation. From the study of these hereditary materials, scientists have ventured into the recent, and rather controversial, field of genetic engineering. It is described as the "artificial modification of the genetic code of a living organism", and involves the "manipulation and alteration of inborn characteristics" by humans.

Like many other issues, genetic engineering has sparked a heated debate. Some people believe that it has the potential to become the new "miracle tool" of medicine.

"Advances in the field of genetic engineering

could mean progress on an unprecedented scale for all civilization"

- Gail Dutton

To others, this new technology borders on the realm of immorality, and is an omen of the danger to come. They are firmly convinced that this human intervention into nature is unethical, and will bring about the destruction of mankind.

"... the promise of genetic engineering as a tool of medicine is matched only

by the threat it would pose to human society and civilization."

- Ann E. Weiss

Rapid advances in medical science have fuelled the question of bioethics. However, as science takes leaps and bounds towards its goals, ethics are often just learning how to crawl. In fact, it has even suffered major backslides in some cases. Genetic engineering "raises serious ethical questions about the right of human beings to alter life on the planet". Changing the basic physical traits of an organism can lead to an unprecedented threat to life on the planet". With such dire consequences, where do we draw the line?

What View Does Science Have on Genetic Engineering?

For the first time in history, evolution has taken a backseat to the meddling of humankind with their own genetic makeup. There is an "ongoing realization that humanity is capable of directly shaping its own and other species' evolution".

As we ease into the twenty-first century, we realize that genetic engineering is undoubtedly going to have a dramatic effect on our lives. It seems that "with genetic engineering, science has moved from exploring the natural world and its mechanisms to redesigning it." Now, we must ask ourselves this, will that influence be for better, or for worse?

However, even the responses of science differ in this topic. Scientists remain divided in their opinions. Some have warned against the hazards of genetic engineering, while others have dismissed these perils as inconsequential. Two opposing viewpoints, which is right?

Lewis Wolpert, professor of biology as applied to medicine at University College London, says that, "There are no ethical issues because you are not doing any harm to anyone." And indeed, the gist of his statement is staunchly supported by James Watson, a Nobel Prize winner and president of Cold Spring Habour Laboratory. "If we can make better human beings by knowing how to add genes, why shouldn't we do it? The biggest ethical problem is not using our knowledge." They are both extremely critical of excuses that genetic engineering is a bad idea. Are they absolutely right? Are the predictions of "doomsday" just insubstantial bits of fluff with no proof to support these claims? Are we truly so confident as to proceed with no holds barred?

Both scientists seem not to have the slightest bit of anxiety regarding potential glitches. They have found a fascinating "playground" in genetic engineering, and appears that it is not only a way for them to earn their livelihood, but also gain fame and fortune. Is their attitude towards this serious issue too cavalier or biased? Are they too unclear about the likelihood of threats to civilization?

In contrast, two other prominent scientists have displayed their displeasure about genetic engineering. They have made no secret of the rather strong feelings against genetic engineering. George Wald, Nobel Prize-winning biologist and Harvard professor, wrote:

"Recombinant DNA technology [genetic engineering] faces our society with problems unprecedented not only in the history of science, but of life on the Earth. It places in human hands the capacity to redesign living organisms, the products of some three billion years of evolution. It is all too big and is happening too fast. So this, the central problem, remains almost unconsidered. It presents probably the largest ethical problem that science has ever had to face. Our morality up to now has been to go ahead without restriction to learn all that we can about nature. Restructuring nature was not part of the bargain... For going ahead in this direction may be not only unwise but dangerous. Potentially, it could breed new animal and plant diseases, new sources of cancer, novel epidemics."

Erwin Chargoff, an eminent geneticist who is sometimes called the father of modern microbiology too echoed Wald's concerns. He commented:

"...The principle question to be answered is whether we have the right to put an additional fearful load on generations not yet born. Our time is cursed with the necessity for feeble men, masquerading as experts, to make enormously far-reaching decisions. Is there anything more far-reaching than the creation of forms of life? You can stop splitting the atom; you can stop visiting the moon; you can stop using aerosols; you may even decide not to kill entire populations by the use of a few bombs. But you cannot recall a new form of life. An irreversible attack on the biosphere is something so unheard-of, so unthinkable to previous generations, that I could only wish that mine had not been guilty of it.

Have we the right to counteract, irreversibly, the evolutionary wisdom of millions of years, in order to satisfy the ambition and curiosity of a few scientists? This world is given to us on loan. We come and we go; and after a time we leave earth and air and water to others who come after us. My generation, or perhaps the one preceding mine, has been the first to engage, under the leadership of the exact sciences, in a



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