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What is Genetic Engineering?

Man has created many such things that seem to challenge the Mother Nature; genetic engineering is one of them. With the advent of this new technology, scientific extremists and anti-technologists have raised their concerns to block its budding future.

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Image Source: foe.org/system/storage/877/2e/4/328/DNA_Lab_website.jpg

Genetic engineering is a safe and powerful element that will yield unprecedented consequences, specifically in the field of medicine and health. It will usher in a whole new world where gene defects and disease will be thing of the past.

The basis for changing the evolutionary process is dependant on the understanding of how individuals pass on characteristics to their offspring. Genetics acquired its first foothold on the secrets of nature’s evolutionary process when an Austrian monk named Gregor Mendel worked out the “Laws of Heredity”. According to him, the genes govern the various traits. For instance, in regards to eye colour, a child could receive one set of genes from his father that were encoded one blue, and the other brown. The same child could also receive two brown genes from his mother. The deduction for this inheritance would be – the child has a probability of three by four of having blue eyes. 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.

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The new science of genetic engineering aims to take a sharp short cut in the slow process of evolution. 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, with a new set of encoded instructions; a strand that would have taken Mother Nature millions of years of natural selection to reach this point of time. Isolating and removing a desired gene from a DNA strand involves complex techniques. DNA can be broken up into fragments by exposing it to ultra-high-frequency sound waves, but this is an inaccurate way of isolating a desirable DNA section. A more precise way of DNA splicing is the use of “restriction enzymes”, which are produced by various species of bacteria. The restriction enzymes cut the DNA strand at a particular location called a nucleotide base, which constitutes a DNA molecule. The portion of DNA can be joined to another strand of DNA by using enzymes called ligases. The final important step in the creation of a new DNA strand is giving it the ability to self-replicate. Using special pieces of DNA, called vectors, that permit the generation of multiple copies of a total DNA strand and fusing it to the newly created DNA structure can do this.

The advantages of genetic engineering are infinite. Once the power to control the instructions, given to a single cell, are mastered anything can be achieved. For example, insulin can be created and grown in huge quantities by using an inexpensive gene manipulation method of growing a certain bacteria. Recombinant factor VIII, the blood-clotting agent missing in some people suffering from haemophilia, can also be created by genetic engineering. Almost all people who were treated with factor VIII before 1985 acquired HIV, and later AIDs. Being completely pure, the bio-engineered version of factor VIII eliminates any possibility of any kind of viral infection. Other uses of genetic engineering comprises developing disease resistant crops, formulating milk from cows already containing pharmaceutical compounds, generating vaccines, and altering livestock traits. In the not so distant future, genetic engineering will become a principal tool in fighting genetic, bacterial, and viral disease, along with the power to control aging process and to provide replaceable body parts for humans. Many people suffer from genetic diseases ranging from thousands of types of cancers, to blood, liver, and lung disorders. These disorders can be treated by gene therapy. The basis of gene therapy is to supply a functional gene to cells lacking that particular function, thus correcting the genetic disorder or disease. This genetic method could, in the future, solve many genetic birth defects such as Down’s syndrome.

Some people claim that genetic engineering will cause unseen disasters and push our world into chaotic darkness. Genetic engineering too is in its period of uncertainty, but like every great discovery in history, it will certainly enjoy its time of realization and will provide full-fledged use to the society.

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