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Genetic Engineering: A leap in to the future or a leap towards destruction?
Science is a creature that continues to evolve at a much higher rate than the beings that gave it birth. The transformation time from tree-shrew, to ape, to human far exceeds the time from an analytical engine, to a calculator, to a computer. However, science, in the past, has always remained distant. It has allowed for advances in production, transportation, and even entertainment, but never in history has science be able to so deeply affect our lives as genetic engineering will undoubtedly do. With the birth of this new technology, scientific extremists and anti-technologists have risen in arms to block its budding future. Spreading fear by misinterpretation of facts, they promote their hidden agendas in the halls of the United States congress. They fear that it is unsafe; however, genetic engineering is a safe and powerful tool that will yield unprecedented results, specifically in the field of medicine. It will usher in a world where gene defects, bacterial disease, and even aging are a thing of the past. By understanding genetic engineering and its history, discovering its possibilities, and answering the moral and safety questions it brings forth, the blanket of fear covering this remarkable technical miracle can be lifted.
The first step to understanding genetic engineering and embracing its possibilities for society is to obtain a rough knowledge base of its history and method. The basis for altering the evolutionary process is dependant on the understanding of how individuals pass on characteristics to their offspring. Genetics achieved its first foothold on the secrets of nature's evolutionary process when an Austrian monk named Gregor Mendel developed the first laws of heredity. Using these laws, scientists studied the characteristics of organisms for most of the next one hundred years following Mendel's discovery. These early studies concluded that each organism has two sets of character determinants, or genes (Stableford 16). For instance, in regards to eye color, a child could receive one set of genes from his or her father that were encoded one blue, and the other brown. The same child could also receive two brown genes from his or her mother. The conclusion for this inheritance would be the child has a three in four chance of having brown eyes, and a one in three chance of having blue eyes (Stableford 16).
Genes are transmitted through chromosomes which reside in the nucleus of every living organism's cells. Each chromosome is made up of fine strands of deoxyribonucleic acids, or DNA. The information carried on the DNA determines the cells function within the organism.
Sex cells are the only cells that contain a complete DNA map of the organism, therefore, the structure of a DNA molecule or combination of DNA molecules determines the shape, form, and function of the [organism's] offspring (Lewin 1). DNA discovery is attributed to the research of three scientists, Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins, and James Dewey Watson in 1951. They were all later accredited with the Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine in 1962 (Lewin 1).
The new science of genetic engineering aims to take a dramatic short cut in the slow process of evolution (Stableford 25). In essence, scientists aim to remove one gene from an organism's DNA, and place it into the DNA of another organism. This would create a new DNA strand, full of new encoded instructions; a strand that would have taken Mother Nature millions of years of natural selection to develop. Isolating and removing a desired gene from a DNA strand involves many different tools. DNA can be broken up by exposing it to ultra-highfrequency sound waves, but this is an extremely inaccurate way of isolating a desirable DNA section (Stableford 26). A more accurate way of DNA splicing is the use of restriction enzymes, which are produced by various species of bacteria (Clarke 1). The restriction enzymes cut the DNA strand at a particular location called a nucleotide base, which makes up a DNA molecule. Now that the desired portion of the DNA is cut out, it can be joined to anothe strand of DNA by using enzymes called ligases. The final important step in the creation of a new DNA strand ... more
Find essay on By Natural Selection
Two major mechanisms drive evolution. The first is natural selection, a process causing heritable traits that are helpful for survival and reproduction to become more common in a population, and harmful traits to become more rare. This occurs because individuals with advantageous traits are more likely to reproduce, so that more individuals in the next generation inherit these traits. Over many generations, adaptations occur through a combination of successive, small, random changes in traits, and natural selection of those variants best-suited for their environment. The second major mechanism is genetic drift, an independent process that produces random changes in the frequency of traits in a population. Genetic drift results from the role probability plays in whether a given trait will be passed on as individuals survive and reproduce. Though the changes produced in any one generation by drift and selection are small, differences accumulate with each subsequent generation and can, over time, cause substantial changes in the organisms. This process can culminate in the emergence of new species. Indeed, the similarities between organisms suggest that all known species are descended from a common ancestor (or ancestral gene pool) through this process of gradual divergence. Evolution in organisms occurs through changes in heritable traits) particular characteristics of an organism. In humans, for example, eye color is an inherited characteristic, which individuals can inherit from one of their parents. Inherited traits are controlled by genes and the complete set of genes within an organism's genome is called its genotype. The complete set of observable traits that make up the structure and behavior of an organism is called its phenotype. These traits come from the interaction of its genotype with the environment. As a result, not every aspect of an organism's phenotype is inherited. Suntanned skin results from the interaction between a person's genotype and sunlight; thus, suntans are not passed on to people's children. However, people have different responses to sunlight, arising from differences in their genotype; a striking example is individuals with the inherited trait of albinism, who do not tan and are highly sensitive to sunburn. Heritable traits are propagated between generations via DNA, a molecule which is capable of encoding genetic information. DNA is a polymer composed of four types of bases. The sequence of bases along a particular DNA molecule specify the genetic information, in a manner akin to a sequence of letters specifying a text or a sequence of bits specifying a computer program. Portions of a DNA molecule that specify a single functional unit are called genes; different genes have different sequences of bases. Within cells), the long strands of DNA associate with proteins to form condensed structures called chromosomes. A specific location within a chromosome is known as a locus). If the DNA sequence at a locus varies between individuals, the different forms of this sequence are called alleles. DNA sequences can change through mutations, producing new alleles. If a mutation occurs within a gene, the new allele may affect the trait that the gene controls, altering the phenotype of the organism. However, while this simple correspondence between an allele and a trait works in some cases, most traits are more complex and are controlled by multiple interacting genes. An individual organism's phenotype results from both its genotype and the influence from the environment it has lived in. A substantial part of the variation in phenotypes in a population is caused by the differences between their genotypes. The modern evolutionary synthesis defines evolution as the change over time in this genetic variation. The frequency of one particular allele will fluctuate, becoming more or less prevalent relative to other forms of that gene. Evolutionary forces act by driving these changes in allele frequency in one direction or another. Variation disappears when an allele reaches the point of fixation) when it either disappears from the population or replaces the ancestral allele entirely. Variation comes from mutations in genetic material, migration between populations (gene flow), and the reshuffling of genes through sexual reproduction. Variation also comes from exchanges of genes between different species; for example, through horizontal gene transfer in bacteria, and hybridization) in plants. Despite the constant introduction of variation through these processes, most of the ... more
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