Fostering public engagement in the ethical and social implications of genetic technologies

Genetic Technologies

Genetic Engineering

First coined by Jack Williamson in his1941 science fiction novel Dragon’s Island the term genetic engineering admittedly harbors an eerie connotation. In recent years, the term GMO has gained both positive and negative publicity from several different industries. Understanding the principles behind this technique along with its potential risks and benefits can help to make informed decisions about the ethical and political considerations linked to genetic engineering. By definition, genetic engineering is the process of transferring specific desirable genes from the genome of one organism into another. Genetic engineering equips the host organism with a new trait or function. The strategy improves the quality of products in many fields, including agriculture, industrial biotech, medicine and research. The process of genetic engineering is relatively straightforward. First, researchers isolate a gene of interest within an organism. The gene typically codes for a beneficial attribute or function, such as pesticide resistance. Biological molecules known as restriction enzymes splice the gene out of the host cell genome. The gene sequence is amplified using polymerase chain reaction. Once there is enough DNA to work with, the new gene is inserted into the target organism. This process is called transgenesis. The new gene, now called the…

Gene Therapy

Due to improvements in lab-based technologies and a widespread availability of biomedical data, the past two decades have yielded significant progress in the field of human medicine. Despite the vast advancements, drug treatment success rates for common disorders still remain astonishingly low. According to a 2001 study by Spear et. al, drug effectiveness ranges between 25-70%, with complex disease such as cancer resting at the bottom of the spectrum. The low efficacy may be due to the fact that many drugs only mask the symptoms of a disease without working to fix the root cause. A significant proportion of conditions are created by an underlying genetic mutation. Disorders such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cystic fibrosis, hemophilia, and muscular dystrophy are a few examples of inherited conditions with no known cures. Currently, the only available treatments for many diseases rely heavily on pharmaceuticals. Since the year 2000, there has been an increase in the amount of genetic data available due to studies such as The Human Genome Project, The International HapMap Project, and an abundant pooling of research data available on bioinformatics databases. Using this newly accessible information, researchers are looking to develop treatments that not only correct the clinical symptoms…
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