Pandora's Box
Genetically Engineering People

Pandora's Box
Genetically Engineering People


The genetic engineering of humans has raised many controversial ethical issues. While negative genetic engineering does indeed raise a debate, the use of genetic engineering for human enhancement arouses the strongest feelings on both sides.

Genetic engineering is tested on animals, often including primates. Some animal rights activists find this inhumane.

The heart of the debate lies in who has the right to modify an unborn human. Some believe that every fetus has an inherent right to remain genetically unmodified.

Others believe that parents hold the rights to change their unborn children. Still others believe that every child should have the right to be born free from preventable diseases.

James Watson gives a tour of the future of DNA science. He believes it should be used to change the human race. His views are both extraordinary and extremely controversial.

Watson argues for a new kind of eugenics - where parents are allowed to choose the DNA of their children - to make them healthier, more intelligent, even better looking.

This film is his journey through the subject, from a gas chamber in Germany where the mentally ill were murdered by the Nazis to labs today where scientists have found ways to create new strands of DNA.

In the program, Dr. Kay Jamison, a renowned neuroscientist who is manic depressive, and the parents of a child with Down's Syndrome make a case for the value of differences among people in society.

Human genetic engineering is the alteration of an individual's genotype with the aim of choosing the phenotype of a newborn or changing the existing phenotype of a child or adult.

It holds the promise of curing genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis, and increasing the immunity of people to viruses.

It is speculated that genetic engineering could be used to change physical appearance, metabolism, and even improve mental faculties like memory and intelligence, although for now these uses seem to be of lower priority to researchers and are therefore limited to science fiction.

"The capacity to blunder slightly is the real marvel of DNA. Without this special attribute, we would still be anaerobic bacteria and there would be no music." 

–– Lewis Thomas

The first gene therapy trials on humans began in 1990 on patients with Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID). In 2000, the first gene therapy "success" resulted in SCID patients with a functional immune system.

These trials were stopped when it was discovered that two of ten patients in one trial had developed leukemia resulting from the insertion of the gene-carrying retrovirus near an oncogene.

In 2007, four of the ten patients had developed leukemia. Work is now focusing on correcting the gene without triggering an oncogene.

Trial treatments of SCID have been gene therapy's only success; since 1999, gene therapy has restored the immune systems of at least 17 children with two forms (ADA-SCID and X-SCID) of the disorder.

Human genetic engineering is already being used on a small scale to allow infertile women with genetic defects in their mitochondria to have children.

Healthy human eggs from a second mother are used. The child produced this way has genetic information from two mothers and one father.

The changes made are germline changes and will likely be passed down from generation to generation, and, thus, are a permanent change to the human genome.

Other forms of human genetic engineering are still theoretical. Recombinant DNA research is usually performed to study gene expression and various human diseases.

Some drastic demonstrations of gene modification have been made with mice and other animals, however, testing on humans is generally considered off-limits. In some instances changes are usually brought about by removing genetic material from one organism and transferring them into another species.

DNA: Playing God

The information stored in the DNA controls the management of biochemical process of each organism.

The life, development and unique characteristics of the organism depend upon on its own DNA.

The aims of the study, development and practice of genetic engineering are noble and beneficial for mankind.

Genetic engineering may help make crops resistant to herbicides used to kill the unwanted plants and weeds which obstruct their full growth.

Though some herbicides are selective and kill only the specifically targeted unwanted plants, there are others which are non selective and besides killing the useless and obstructive weeds, kill any plants they come in contact thus killing the plants which are sought to be protected. The domain of genetic engineering can extend from plants to cover both the animal and human life.

It can, for example, hybridize the production of the animals and promote the growth of healthy species of milk producing animals, stronger and healthier horses, cows and bullocks which can better withstand the wear and tear of life. Recreation of vital human organs to replace the sick and missing ones is another example of how genetic engineering can prove beneficial to human beings.

The possibilities of the scope of genetic engineering are limitless and the horizon is widening with every day of research. Genetic engineering like many other branches of science, for example, nuclear science, can be used nobly and ignobly. The human genome project to categorize all the genes in the human species is a remarkable effort to determine the complete structure of the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the human genetic material, and understand its functions.

This research in human genetics aims at determining why the human being resemble or differ from each other. On the other hand, genetic engineering can also be misused by mutilating the beautiful creation of God by launching, for example, Nazi style schemes for population control or produce a biological devastation through bungling with man made viruses.

Cloning is one such example how genetic engineering can be beneficial as well as detrimental. Molecular biologists have discovered numerous enzymes which can alter the structure of the DNA in living organisms.

Using them the scientists can cut the specific genes from the DNA and build customized DNA.

With this knowledge they can alter the genes of living organisms. For example the biological engineers have been able to change the growth patterns of tomatoes. Tomatoes are sensitive to frost that shortens their life span.

Fish on the other hand thrive in the cold and chilly water. Scientists found out the gene in fish that resists the cold and transferred it to tomatoes thereby immunizing them against the frosty cold and prolonging their growing season.

There are innumerable such projects that are creating new strains in the agricultural areas which have great economic potential. Genetic engineering can boost the growth and yield of a variety food crops--pulses and cereals-- and alleviate the problems of food shortage and mitigate the suffering of the starving millions across the world.