Week4_Genetic Engineering by ilona chadwick

Genetic Engingeering… What better week to discuss this rather interesting and controversial topic than “the human body and medicine?” Of the movie clips we watched in class, I was most familiar with the movie GATTACA, which I saw quite a while ago, but still remember quite well.  It was memorable because it provided such a strange prospect for the future.  Technologies for genetic engineering, and DNA research is all going on right now, so there is a real possibility for a world like that shown in GATTACA.  So, how does genetic engineering work? Wikipedia knows:

1. Isolation of the genes of interest
2. Insertion of the genes into a transfer vector
3. Transfer of the vector to the organism to be modified
4. Transformation of the cells of the organism
5. Separation of the genetically modified organism (GMO) from those that have not been successfully modified

 

Genetic modification, in its early forms, has of course been developed for medicinal purposes. Its first application was to create insulin for diabetic patients. It has also been used to modify plants (especially vegetables and other foods), which has been highly controversial. People fear that because the DNA of the plants has been altered, the fruit will somehow be toxic or harmful. What they don’t recognize is that this type of alteration is simply “speeding up” the evolutionary process, or skewing it in a way that is convenient for us.  For example, it may strike horror into the minds of those who don’t fully understand the process, but fish DNA has been used to modify strawberries.  However, only a very small portion of the fish DNA, which gave it the ability to survive  frost, was used, so that the strawberries could survive colder temperatures.  I think it is important, when considering GMOs, to consider that all DNA on Earth is already remarkably similar; even the most different organisms share quite a bit of it.  So, changing things around just a little couldn’t hurt… right?

 

When it comes to genetic modification in humans, views get even more extreme.  The movie GATTACA is a great example of our fears that genetic modification will get out of hand.  It begins with many fantastic benefits, such as making us less prone to disease (and eliminating genetic disorders completely).  But, as the movie suggests, we don’t really know what the long-term effects of “over-doing” genetic modification could be.  The way that everyone had very conservative looking suites and hairstyles in the movie seemed to suggest that the genetic modifications were making everyone act more alike, and it was stifling our natural culture.  The society was preoccupied with cleanliness and overwhelmed by the underlying notion of genetics.  Subtle images of DNA even appeared in the movie, such as this helix-spiral staircase.  So, although genetic modification, in moderation, may benefit the human race quite a bit, we should be careful how far it goes.  After all, we would be meddling with nature’s already very efficient and time-tested process of random genetic mutation and natural selection, which could have unexpected, perhaps catastrophic effects.

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