Recombinant DNA is a modern technology involving the combination of DNA from one organism with the DNA of another. This often involves inserting human DNA into the DNA of another organism. When these genetically engineered organisms are cultured, they produce a human protein. Recombinant DNA gives scientists far greater control over genetic manipulation For example, recombinant DNA techniques have now been used to create bacterial strains that produce human insulin in large amounts, and this insulin has been used clinically with no reported adverse effects.
Other successes of this technique are human interferon (a protein important to the body’s defence system) and human growth hormones. Recombinant DNA has been a leap which is contributing towards genetically engineered micro organisms, modified plants and animals, cloning, human gene therapy (correcting a genetic disorder) and mapping human chromosomes. Scientists can essentially extract, edit and replace the very building blocks of life on earth with our modern technology.
The benefits of recombinant DNA are very prominent however there is a huge moral and ethical debate which has been occurring for decades concerning the morality of this advancement. In this essay I will present and discuss the positive and negative arguments regarding the technology and try to give a clear understanding of the issues at hand. Firstly, I will tell you of all the extraordinary applications recombinant DNA technology has to offer. Humans who have disorders are often in need of proteins, for example Diabetics require insulin injections to help control their glucose level.
Insulin is not easy to create, and here recombinant DNA can be very beneficial. Human genes can be inserted into bacteria, which are then grown in fermenters; these treated bacteria then produce a human protein. Large amounts of insulin and human growth hormones can be produces cheaply on this way. This can help improve the lifestyles of many sufferers, cheaply and effectively. Plants also can be treated in a similar way. Desirable genes can be transferred from an organism to a crop plant.
These can bring about useful changes in the crops, for example potato plants that are resistant to attack by a virus and maize (corn) plants that are resistant to drought have been produced in this way. This has a huge effect on agriculture and has allowed us to grow crops in conditions not usually suitable. Many other proteins useful for humans can also be produced by genetically modifying animals. Human proteins, such as haemoglobin and blood-clotting factors, are already being produced in the milk of transgenic cows, goats and sheep.
Recombinant DNA has been used applied to human gene therapy. This involves inserting a ‘normal’ gene into an organism’s body to correct a genetic disorder. Take SCID, Severe combined immune deficiency leaves some people with almost no functioning immune system. Human gene therapy can be used to cure symptoms of SCID by inserting copies of a gene coding for the enzyme adenosine deaminase (ADA) into the blood cells of sufferers. The whole advent of changing our genes has proved a to be marvel in modern medicine. Gene therapy is getting bigger and bigger.
As more and more research goes into recombinant DNA, the more successful treatments we can make. The ‘Human Genome Project’ includes scientists in over 1000 laboratories around the world contributing towards mapping every human chromosome, identifying the precise location of every gene. With this tool, developing new gene therapy treatments will become a far easier task. Recombinant DNA, despite all its wonders has many negative arguments. Over the past few years there have been a number of demonstrations about the growth of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
There have also been many newspaper articles debating the use of GMOs. Many emotional concerns come into thought with the idea that we are essentially being ‘cannibals’ when we eat an animal which has human DNA inserted into it. Although these are merely the general public’s thoughts, they can put people off the whole idea of GMOs. A great degree of rational concerns about recombinant DNA also exist. Firstly when scientists insert human genes into bacteria or viruses there is a high risk of these transgenic organisms mutating and actually forming new pathogens.
The scare is that we would not be able to treat or handle these new pathogens, resulting in new illness. What we are essentially treating to make substances (e. g. insulin) or our less fortunate could end up being the cause of many more illnesses. There is a huge debate as to whether we are being safe in experimenting with these organisms. Another ethical concern is regarding our crops. The benefits are out genetically modified crops are notorious, however if the pollen or seeds from these crops were carried away from the testing plots, there is a high chance of genetically modified populations growing elsewhere.
It is a known fact that genetic modification could invoke a resistance to herbicides, meaning these crops could grow out of control, (often described a ‘superweeds’) and spread indefinably. The thought of this is a growing concern as more and more foods are becoming genetically engineered. Some crop plants that we engineer have been given a gene enabling them to produce pesticides. With the natural selection of nature, this may increase the rate of evolution of pesticide-resistant insects. These insects, once evolved could then harm our environment to a degree where food supplies start to run low, causing havoc.
Although this isn’t proven, in modern science it is possible, meaning this may a problem soon to be taken into consideration. The food chain is almost essential for our ecosystem to operate correctly, and important to the human race for our food. Populations of transgenic organisms could upset the balance of nature. For example, populations of transgenic salmon have been produced in which the individual fish grow rapidly. These fish would have to compete with other species for food. The size difference could cause the transgenic salmon to dominate over the others and have all the food.
This may cause the other species to become extinct and the natural food webs to change. This change could upset a once natural ecosystem. There is a huge religious debate regarding recombinant DNA, with each religion having its own objections to transgenic organisms. Christian beliefs say that God created us, us, the question arises: what right have we to change what he has made, just to suit our needs and test our new found abilities? Many religious followers think we are destroying God’s will, by interfering with nature. In the Bible it is said: “God created man”.
With the recent advent of cloning, it seems we have ignored this and taken our technology forward to point where we forget about religion. Also, many religious groups could not use products from specific organisms, e. g. to Hindus, cows are sacred animals and to Jews and Muslims, pigs are unclean. With this in mind, the use of products from these organisms might be unacceptable to people from these religions. Eugenics is quite a big part of recombinant DNA.
This is essentially where genes are inserted into humans (or their eggs or their sperm). This technique can be very useful in that it can prevent an early death (e. g. or people with SCID “Severe Combined Immunodeficiency”). However, it could be used to give people characteristics that are considered to be desirable by others. This whole idea is unacceptable by many people as it reminds people of the programmes that have been used throughout modern history to eradicate less power ethnic groups (ethnic cleansing- e. g. WWII Hitler).
People are scared by the prospect that we must all have the same characteristics and loose our individuality. Another concern is how screening for genetic diseases could lead to discrimination against individuals. When a foetus is scanned for genetic disorders (e. . Down’s syndrome), parents often face a dilemma about aborting an affected foetus. This is can to lots of emotional stress and demoralising decisions.
Also, it will soon become possible to screen adults for genes that predispose them to genetic disorders. This might lead to insurance companies discriminating against people with these disorders, when thought they have perfect health. The advent of recombinant DNA has brought medicine, agriculture and our understanding of our genes to a new level. As you can see there are many debates as to whether we should continue with our experiments.
In my opinion the benefits of this new technology outweigh the moral and ethical concerns. This technology is too promising and too effective to cease working on, because in the end it will do far more good than bad. As the technology progresses, it will become far safer to utilise recombinant DNA and all its advantages. If God has given us the ability to experiment with genes, why not use this ability? As long as we can keep it safe; minimising the risks of upsetting nature and proving to the people that it is a good thing by trying to calm any emotional concerns, this technology should prevail.