Altering genetics is a controversial topic as questions about the ethics of modifying genes often arise. But scientists continue to propel forward in genetic engineering and have made progress concerning this touchy topic. At the University of California, graduate student Valentino Gantz “found a way to get brown fruit flies to produce blond-looking offspring most of the time.” Though this discovery may seem insignificant, it “showed that scientists had a very fast and easy way to permanently change an entire species.”
The process used by Gantz is known as “gene drive” in which “a sequence of DNA that [causes] a mutation to be inherited by the offspring of an organism with nearly 100 percent efficiency.” The organism modified to have the particular characteristic then passes it on to its offspring, hence “driving” changes into a species.
Application of the process includes changing the genetic makeup of organisms carrying diseases, such as mosquitos that carry Malaria, as a disease prevention method. Other uses include modifying insects to stop eating crops or engineering bacteria to clean oil spills. These potential benefits are appealing, but what is to happen upon releasing the genetically modified organisms? The unintentional effects are yet to be known. There is concern in disrupting ecosystems that could then introduce different diseases.
Aside from natural disturbance, germ warfare may also develop from the technological advancement. There are as many benefits that could stem from altering genes as there are disasters. Scientists are currently “working on ways to program any living things [modified with gene drive to also have] molecular switches they could turn off if something bad does happen.”
The risks associated with genetic engineering do not necessarily qualify putting an end to the research. Ethics pose an obstacle for conducting the studies as some view the modifying of genes morally wrong. But so weren’t other practices condemned for being “unethical.” I believe genetic engineering will too gain more support and those opposed may soon favor the potential benefits offered by the gene drive along with other genetic modifications.
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