- Plant Genetic Engineering
- Animal Genetic Engineering
- Human Genetic Engineering
- In-Vitro Fertilisation
- Case Studies
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- Genetic engineering- The technology involved in cloning, gene therapy and gene manipulation.
- Embryo- The developing bundle of cells in the womb up to eight weeks gestation.
- Stem cell- A master’ cell that can become any kind of material.
- Therapeutic cloning- A method of producing stem cells to treat diseases
- Cloning- A form of genetic engineering by which a plant, an animal or a human is created with the same genetic identity as another.
- Blastocyst- A fertilised egg at about four to five days of development.
- Zygote- A ‘proto-embryo’ of the first two weeks after conception - a small collection of identical cells.
- Human genome- A map of the human genes,
- Germ line engineering- Changes in the parent’s sperm or egg cells with the aim of passing on the changes to their offspring.
- Somatic cell engineering- Changes in somatic (body) cells to cure an otherwise fatal disease. These changes are not passed on to a person’s offspring
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Plant Genetic Engineering
- Plant GE usually involves the modification of plants to give them characteristics that will decrease their cost and increase their yield, shelf life and\or nutrition. There’s great potential for genetically engineered plants to solve starvation problems in developing countries, and make people healthier in the developed world.
- But they also come with moral problems. It raises the question: should human beings be creating new life? Humans have been using selective breeding techniques for centauries, but genetic engineering is a much faster and more precise method.
- There are also concerns that genetically modified plants could cause unforeseen long-term problems (if GM foods spread to the wild, there is no way of stopping them from contaminating non-gm plants), or harm the human digestive system.
- As in the case of Golden Rice, which could potentially save many lives, the controversy surrounding GE has prevented it from being fully utilized by society.
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Animal Genetic Engineering
- Genetically engineered animals, such as Tracy the Sheep, can be used for the benefit of humanity (in Tracy’s case, she was genetically modified to produce a protein in her milk to treat emphysema). They can also be used for ‘xenotransplants’ – the transplanting of animal organs into humans. Waiting lists for transplants are long and this kind of technology could potentially save many lives.
- Not all genetically engineered animals are treated as well as Tracy. Some say this kind of experimentation is not justified, and that humanity’s own goals cannot justify the suffering of animals. It is worth pointing out, however, that GE carries with it the potential to ease the suffering of animals, especially those reared for food. But for many, the question is simply ‘are we overstepping our mark (as stewards)?’
- There are still big risks, both in permanent damage to gene pools and species-to-species transmission.
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Human Genetic Engineering
- Somatic Therapy refers to using a vector (a carrier of genes) to insert new genes into sufferers of genetic diseases. The effect is temporary, which means there are no long term consequences, but also no long-term health benefits. Somatic therapy is generally accepted medical practice.
- Germ-Line Therapy refers to modification of reproductive cells. Because of its permanent effects on the individual’s DNA (and thus, the gene pool), it is currently illegal in the UK. There is also controversy over what to change
- Reproductive Cloning creates a genetically identical ‘cloned’ egg. Its potential use in humans could be for organ transplants (the saviour sibling debate)
- Therapeutic Cloning refers to the growing of individual organisms from stem cells which have had their DNA replaced. It can be used for tissue and organ transplants.
- Much of the problem with GE lies with its low success rate, its use and destruction of human embryos and its unpredictable effects in the future.
- some feel that allowing scientists (and indeed the public) more freedom with genetic engineering could lead us down a ‘slippery slope’ to eugenics
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In Vitro Fertilisation
- Many of the embryos necessary for Genetic Engineering come from IVF. Normally, these embryos would be destroyed – but these can also be used in scientific research, drug testing or treating people with genetic diseases.
- Some people are opposed to embryos being used in this way. Among their arguments are the (now familiar) sanctity of life principle, the slippery slope argument and the ‘playing god’ argument. Supporters of this type of treatment cite that these embryos would have been destroyed anyway, and that they are clusters of cells which should not be personified. The use of these embryos certainly benefits humanity, but its relative morality is most certainly down to opinion, not fact.
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