Education

DNA and genetic engineering

Where would we be without our present knowledge of DNA? It was first isolated in 1869, but we have only begun to explore and harness its possibilities. And among those possibilities is genetic engineering. Instead of the traditional methods of plant and animal breeding, genetic engineering involves the use of recombinant DNA, which is artificial DNA made by combining sequences that don’t occur naturally.

Genetic engineering has given us many benefits. It has enabled scientists to produce crops that resist diseases better, and aspens that produce less lignin, a complex compound that comes from wood and which has to be removed before the wood can be made into paper; among other things. Some have proposed using engineering to improve the crops for people in undeveloped countries so they get bigger and produce more vitamins.

Two Harvard University scientists have engineered a mouse known by the trade name of OncoMouse, which they used for experiments in research on cancer. Some animal rights activists object to animals being used this way, but animals cannot be said to have rights. Others point out that any conclusions derived from experiments with mice should be approached with caution, because mice are different from humans. Scientists are also using genetically engineered animals to find out what effects genetic changes have on an animal’s characteristics. Transgenetic goats have been created to produce a protein that prevents clotting.

Of course, genetic engineering has produced much controversy, much of it involving questions of ethics. Some writers have predicted that genetically engineered human beings will be made into virtually soulless machines; Aldous Huxley expressed such ideas in his novel ‘Brave New World,’ and discussed the idea further in ‘Brave New World Revisited.’ Others criticize the whole notion as heretical ? in other words, as human beings attempting to play God. Still others feel that there are too many risks involved in tinkering with the natural way of things.

Whatever some people think, there can be no doubt that genetic engineering is a field that will continue to grow. And only God knows what direction that growth will take us in.

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