You know those places and commercials that display how to build your own stuff animal, well imagine doing that with a child. In the movie, GATACCA, a society does exactly what’s called genome editing. It’s literally changing genes so that parents/guardians can “assemble” their perfect child. This recent development now takes place in real lives that could save many babies’ lives such as my infant cousin who passed
away less than twenty-four hours of birth due to trisomy
18. Yet there is a main risk such as what your personal perspective is on moral ethical issues, how you define perfection, and more importantly how it will affect the society that we live in now.
There are three things you should know before reading any further. Let’s begin with DNA. Deoxyribonucleic acid, DNA in
other words, is in every living thing and takes place in the nucleus of a cell. The cells that do have a nucleus are called eukaryotic and the ones that don’t are prokaryotic. Prokaryotic cells contain DNA in its cytoplasm. This DNA blueprint makes proteins
. It basically appears as a twisted ladder; the rungs of the ladder are bases that are held together with hydrogen bonds. These bonds are kind of like the nails and glue. The rails of the ladder are made up of phosphates and sugars which pretty much is the backbone of DNA. There are also nucleotides that match up in pairs: Adenine with Thymine and Guanine with Cytosine. Adenine and Guanine are both purines that helps a DNA structure to be more stable and balanced.
Now that you understand a little bit about DNA, let me explain protein synthesis. It’s the process that DNA uses to copy itself and once again happens in the nucleus. Protein synthesis makes everyone an individual visually and internally. For example, hair, eyes, and skin color. In order to understand protein synthesis in simpler words, think about a cookbook. The cookbook represents the genome in the nucleus. Then imagine someone or even yourself copying a recipe from the cookbook. This copying process serves as the copy of genes as mRNA. Place the mRNA on a ribosome which is basically placing the copied recipe card on the counter. To make the cake recipe you need flour, sugar, eggs and etc.
These are amino acids that are incorporated with tRNAs. The tRNAs are meant as measuring cups and spoons. As a result, the cake embodies the protein that’s produced through transcription and translation. Transcription is the process in which part of the nucleotide sequence of DNA is copied into complementary sequence in RNA. Translation is the process of decoding mRNA and transferring it into a polypeptide chain; but that was already explained with the cookbook example.
Moving on to more important things is gene editing. In 1986, Steven Howell and his associates isolated the gene for luciferase and put it into tobacco cells. Once these tobacco plants grew, they glowed in the dark due to the enzyme that allows fireflies to glow. Since DNA codes for a specific trait, if we want to change the trait we must change the genes. Gene editing is the process of manually adding new DNA to an organism. The goal is to add one or more new traits that are not already found in that organism. For instance, making insulin for people who have diabetes. Scientists do this by taking a human growth hormone gene from a human cell and combining it with a plasmid from a bacteria cell. This is done by cutting out a piece of the human gene with restriction enzymes and placing it in the plasmid. Both pieces connect with what are simply “sticky ends” of each piece. The final product is a bacteria cell containing a human growth hormone that reproduces and eventually the insulin is separated and purified to produce human insulin. Gene editing isn’t just making medicines, it’s also tweaking things such as food. You may see this in the store, fruits and vegetables labeled “GMO;” genetically modified organisms. Many consider these plan
ts transgenic. Meaning that they contain genes from other species. Transgenic plants are now an important part of our food supply. The majority of these plants contain genes that produce natural insecticide, so the crops don’t have to be sprayed with synthetic pesticides. Transgenic animals have been used to study genes and to also improve our food supply. Some of this livestock now have extra copies of growth hormone genes which lead to animals growing faster and producing leaner meat than ordinary animals. Not only does this have an affect on the population, but so does cloning. Cloning is a member of a population of genetically identical cells produced from a single cell. Ian Wilmut was the first successful biologist to clone an animal and in this case a sheep in 1997. First the nucleus of an egg cell is removed, the cell is fused with a cell taken from
another adult, the fused cell begins to divide, and the embryo is then placed in the reproductive system of a mother; from there on it develops normally. Researchers hope that cloning will enable them to make copies of transgenic animals and could possibly save endangered species. Whether it’s good or bad, genetic engineering has sparked a growth and change in the way we interact with living things.
What does the gene editing future hold for us? Well, the main possibility is changing a living cell’s DNA. Currently, with a new method that’s been developed called CRISPR, it promises to dramatically improve the ability to edit the DNA of any species; including humans. The CRISPR method is based on a natural system used by bacteria to protect themselves from infection by viruses. When the bacteria knows there is a virus, i
t forms two separate RNA’s to cut and replace a part of the virus’s DNA. The virus eventually breaks down and is unharmful. This method can occur in an adult or an embryo, which would be genome editing. Genome editing, using the CRISPR method, would be basically programming the bacteria to detect a mutation in any DNA rather than just a virus DNA. That way the bacteria will get rid of any chance of a mutation occurring for the future of the adult or the embryo. If this succeeds, the capabilities are endless. Scientists could change any DNA sequence in an embryo. That amount of access could make room for parents to extend the lifespan of their child and decrease or even remove diseases entirely. As well as the opportunity to form medicines and vaccines made for specific mutations. In the long run, the potential in our approaching generations are increasing.
An innovation leads to revolutionary findings, but that is not to say that it also presents itself to new problems. Engineering specific traits into select species threatens the
planet’s biodiversity by upsetting the natural balance. Engineered organisms spread their genes into the gene pool. Once edited organisms are released, there will be no recalls, and as they continue to upset nature, it may be impossible to undo the damage. Another leading issue is choosing characteristics of children which could lead to wealthy people being able to afford this luxury while others cannot. People with power could take advantage of the opportunity and make their child/children “perfect” as they want them to be. An entire breakdown in the social order of society would come up and there would be one more thing added to discriminate against. Whether you’re genetically engineered or not, there will always be dangers and risks. A gene could land in a spot other than where you want it and cause harm by being expressed in unusual ways; possibly another mutation/disease or even death. Maybe I’m thinking ahead of myself, but there should always be questionable doubt.
Is genetic editing or any other gene tinkering ethical for our society? I asked myself that question every time I went back to this blog, and I still can’t sort the pros from the cons. Diseases and mutations can be taken out of a person or embryo with gene editing, but
there will constantly be the nagging danger and risk that could leave you off worse than before. Honestly, gene editing shouldn’t be allowed until further research due to all of the questions and concerns the public have from the little information that’s provided and backed up. Perfection is impossible to define and I’d rather live imperfect than doing something to myself that I might regret. Our future is based upon the choices we make and in doing so we should be cautious of the outcome.
Miller, Kenneth R., and Joseph S. Levine. Biology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1993. Print.