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Genetic Engineering - History and Future

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Genetic Engineering, history and future

Altering the Face of Science

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 analytical engine, to calculator, to computer. But science, in the past, has always remained

distant. It has allowed for advances in production, transportation, and even entertainment, but

never in history will 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. 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 dependent

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 father that were encoded one

blue, and the other brown. The same child could also receive two brown genes from his 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 Price 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-high-frequency

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 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. This can be accomplished by 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. Another newly developed

method, called polymerase chain reaction, allows for faster replication of DNA strands and does

not require the use of vectors (Clarke 1).

The possibilities of genetic engineering are endless. Once the power to control the

instructions, given to a single cell, are mastered anything can be accomplished.



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