Genetic Engineering: Modifying the Human Genome One Allele at a Time

At the heart of the technological society that characterizes the United States lies an unacknowledged paradox. Although the nation increasingly depends on technology and is adopting new technologies at a breathtaking pace, we are not equipped to make well-considered decisions or to think critically about technology.

Technology is a product of engineering and science. Science has two parts: a body of knowledge about the natural world and a process of inquiry that generates said knowledge. Engineering, too, consists of a body of knowledge (in this case, knowledge of the design and creation of human-made products) and a process for solving problems. Science and technology are tightly coupled. A scientific understanding of the natural world is the basis for much of technological development today. In the broadest sense, technology is the process by which humans modify nature to meet their needs and wants. An especially critical area of knowledge is the engineering design process, of starting with a set of criteria and constraints and working toward a solution–a device, say, or a process–that meets those conditions; manipulating one’s genes.

Genetic engineering is the process of manually adding new DNA to an organism. The goal is to add one or more new traits that are not already found in that organism. The ability to change an organism’s genome is very controversial, especially when it comes to the impact it has on human beings.

Human genetic engineering is but one aspect of the overall field of human biotechnology. It is the most fascinating aspect of human biotechnology, with the power to improve everyone’s quality of life, healing all of our genetic diseases permanently. We will soon be able to heighten our mental, physical, and emotional capabilities. We’ll be able to introduce regenerative functions found in other animals, increase longevity, and ensure a healthy diversity in the human genome. It carries the promise of enabling humanity to survive a wider range of environments on alien worlds, ensuring our long term survival.

Because of how complicated the human genome is and how much information it carries, you can virtually change anything about a person by messing with their genes, from how tall they are to what skin color they have. This could potentially, in an extreme case, change our species. There are outcomes that are both positive and negative to this science. Senior Efran Himel addresses the topic at hand. “One of the biggest current issues about gene manipulation at the moment is the big question about it, because especially in the United States [there is] this constant debate about abortion and stem cell research and things of that nature. There’s a moral question of should we be able to ‘play God’ or something along that ballpark. It seems ethically questionable… how much should we alter in babies to our needs?” Another issue is the huge risk that comes with this new science. How do we know how much is enough? “It’s basically uncharted territory” says Himel. “It’s a fairly new science in the sense that we don’t know how far we can take it and we don’t know what we can do, [and] because of that there can be unforeseen side effects.”

We want to know if we should be putting people at this risk.“People who have more resources can easily, if the technology is perfected, get better gene manipulation technology for their kids then for people who don’t have that. This can lead to a massive divide in society between people who have these superior genes that cause them to be physically better than everyone else because of the fact that their genes have traits that can make them smarter or stronger and all these other traits that can give them an advantage in life. It will force other people to try to keep up, those who can’t will be left in the waste.”

Another factor is deciding what type of laws should be set place for this. It puts countries at an arms race, nations could be competing with each other with a different race of human beings. China is more open to gene manipulation and nations like the U.S and being forced to compete.

On the positive side, this is more of a necessity. It can potentially lead to the end of many diseases and problems that people encounter. According to an article from MIT technology, (as it was previously mentioned) scientists in China say they are the first to use gene editing to produce customized dogs. They created a beagle with double the amount of muscle mass by deleting a gene called myostatin. The scientists messed with the genes of dogs and basically found a way to counteract muscular dystrophy, and those dogs ended up getting super strong and because of the genes they manipulated.

It’s great that we can come back and resolve these issues people deal with. It also allows parents to give their kids a head start. “Is it necessarily wrong for a parent to want to give their kids an advantage? There can be an effective way to give your child a better chance in the future because of the fact that they have all these benefits.”

Genetics determine a lot about us. “Psychopaths are gene based. Maybe somewhere along the future they can find the gene that associates people with the lack of empathy then, as a parent, you find out your child has a strong chance of becoming a psychopath… but we can get rid of that. Can you not blame a parent for not wanting that?” expresses Himel.

The children who have these genes will cause their children to inherit the same genes. After generations of doing this, people wouldn’t even be human anymore. It could lead to a super race, although the path leading to it could be messy. “It’s basically putting evolution on steroids.”

The reason for science is to understand the world around us. Not addressing gene manipulation anyways is basically saying no to curiosity and exploration of different ideas. “Human beings have always been hard wired to be curious. There’s always going to be someone who wants to see how far that can go, and how far we can take things. We want to understand it.”

“In my opinion, I don’t think it matters whether or not it happens because it’s kind of an inevitability based off the fact that human beings are always striving for more and right now it’s something that we need. I think gene manipulation will be used to make great strides in curing human elements and problems and lead to ways of vastly improving ourselves. I was born with 6 fingers. It’s just an example, and It’s not something I’d want my kids to have. It’s something that will happen eventually. The important thing is how can we regulate, moderate, understand, and also brace society for it so that it’s a much cleaner transition.”

This science is something we can explore because it’s this part of innovation and technology that we haven’t seen yet, despite the moral issues and despite the backlash of gene manipulation, “it will definitely be one of those great game changes, especially in humanity.” It could potentially lead to great leaders and thinkers save millions of lives. “The best thing to know is that it’s coming, and you should learn about it and understand it. It will happen in your lifetime.”

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