Genes affect health and disease as well as human characteristics and behavior. The researchers are currently using gene technology to decipher the genomic contributions to these different phenotypes. They also discover a host of other potential applications of this technology. For example, as advances progress, it becomes more and more likely that scientists will one day be able to genetically engineer humans to have certain desired properties. Of course, the possibility of human genetics raises many ethical and legal questions. Although such questions rarely have clear and unambiguous answers, the expertise and research of bioethicists, sociologists, anthropologists, and other social scientists can tell us how different individuals, cultures, and religions consider the ethical limits to the use of genomics. In addition, such insights may be helpful in developing policies and guidelines.
Which forms of genetic engineering can be made in humans?
Genetic engineering has the potential to change the human species forever. The forthcoming Human Genome Project will support genetic researchers with a textbook on human biology. The genes in all our cells contain the code for proteins that give structure and function to all of our tissues and organs. Knowledge of this complete code will open new horizons for the treatment and perhaps cure of diseases that have been mysteries for millennia. However, the praiseworthy and compassionate use of genetic engineering has both shadows and malignant goals.
For some, the abuse potential is reason enough to close the door completely – the benefits are not worth the risk. In this article I want to examine the application of genetic engineering to humans and apply biblical wisdom to any ethical sums that are not very far away. In this section we explore the different ways people can be constructed.
Since we have introduced foreign genes into the embryos of mice, cows, sheep and pigs for years, there is no technological reason that this is not possible in humans. There are currently two ways to track gene transfer. You just have to try to relieve the symptoms of a genetic disease. This includes gene therapy that attempts to transfer the normal gene only to those tissues most affected by the disease. For example, bronchial infections are the leading cause of the early death of cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. The lungs of CF patients produce thick mucus, which is an excellent growth medium for bacteria and viruses. When the normal gene can be introduced into the lung cells, both the quality and the quantity of their life may possibly be improved. However, this is not a complete cure and they will pass the CF gene on to their children.
To cure a genetic disorder, the defective gene must be exchanged throughout the body. If the gene defect is detected in an early embryo, it is possible to add the gene at this stage, whereby the normal gene may be present in all tissues, including reproductive tissue. This technique was used to add foreign genes to mice, sheep, pigs and cows.
However, it is not yet known that a laboratory tries this sophisticated technology in humans. Princeton molecular biologist Lee Silver has two reasons. First, it only works at 50% even in animals. Second, the new gene is placed in the middle of an existing gene in about 5% of cases, creating a new mutation. At present, these opportunities are not acceptable to scientists, and in particular to potential customers hoping for their offspring’s genetic engineering. However, these are only technical problems. It is reasonable to assume that these difficulties can be overcome by further investigation.
Should genetic engineering be used to cure genetic diseases?
The main application in human genetics concerns the healing of genetic diseases. But this too should be approached carefully. In a Christian world view, the relief of suffering, wherever possible, is in the footsteps of Jesus. But what diseases? How far can our ability to intervene in life go? So far, gene therapy is being tested primarily for debilitating and ultimately fatal diseases such as cystic fibrosis.
The first gene therapy study in humans corrected a life-threatening immune disorder in a two-year-old girl who is now doing well ten years later. Gene therapy required dozens of applications, but saved the family from a yearly US dollar bill for the necessary drug treatment without gene therapy. Recently, 16 heart disease patients literally awaiting death received a solution containing copies of a gene that induces blood vessel growth by injection directly into the heart. As new blood vessels grew around clogged arteries, all sixteen showed improvement and six were completely cleared of pain.
In each of these cases, gene therapy was the last resort for a fatal disease. This seems to be within the medical limits of seeking cure while doing no harm at the same time. The problem will arise when gene therapy is sought to relieve a condition that is less life-threatening and is considered by some to be simply one of the inconveniences of life, e.g. A gene that may provide resistance to AIDS or improve memory. Such genes are now known and many suggest that these targets will and should be available for gene therapy.
The most difficult aspect of gene therapy was determining the best way to deliver the gene to the right cells and get them to build the gene into the cell’s chromosomes. Most researchers have used crippled forms of viruses that naturally incorporate their genes into cells. The entire field of gene therapy had suffered a severe setback in September 1999 following the death of Jesse Gelsinger, who had undergone gene therapy at the University of Pennsylvania for innate enzyme deficiency. Jesse was obviously suffering from a severe immune reaction and died four days after injection of the developed virus.
The same virus vector has been used safely in thousands of other studies, but in this case the researchers, having published clinical data patches and answered questions for two days, did not fully understand what had gone wrong. It was also noted that other institutions had not submitted direct reports of serious adverse events in their processes, leading to a review of the Congress. All this should indicate that the answers to the technical problems of gene therapy have not been answered and progress is slowed down when guidelines and reporting procedures are examined and reassessed.
Genetic engineering examples
- Cloning – One of the most controversial applications of genetic engineering has been the cloning or production of a genetically identical copy of an organism. While the ethic of cloning is hotly debated, in 1996 the first sheep (called dolly) was cloned by scientists.
- Glow-in-the-dark cats – That sounds weird, but in 2007, scientists in South Korea changed the DNA of a kitten so that its fur glowed in the dark, and then knocked other cats on it, making the world glow for the first time cats
- Crop Repellent Resistant – Rapeseed is a flowering plant used to produce certain vegetable oils. Genetic engineering has allowed these plants to be resistant to certain types of pesticides so that the plants remain intact in the treatment of pest-removal fields.
- Cows that give less gas – Methane is produced by the cow’s flatulence, and the chemical contributes significantly to global warming. Cows that stain less than average were produced to combat the harmful effects of flatulence on the environment.
- Pollution Control – Poplar trees, developed by scientists at the University of Washington, can pick up and purify polluted water through their roots before releasing the water back into the air. The plants were many times more efficient at cleaning certain pollutants than normal poplars.
- Golden Rice – Genetic modification is often used to produce “healthier” foods