Genetic Engineering Is The Future Of Humanity

Where It All Begins

Humans have been editing the genes of animals for thousands of years. By using a process that is known as “selective breeding”, our ancestors were able to change the traits of whole populations of plants and animals. Dogs were bred to be less aggressive.

Fruits, such as the watermelon and banana, had thick rinds and a small amount of edible flesh. But over time they would lose those attributes and now have thin rinds, with a large amount of the fruit becoming edible and sweet. Although this method is effective, it still has many downfalls.

First and foremost, selective breeding leads to a less diverse gene pool, which can lead to an epidemic that could kill a significant portion of the population and can also lead to an increase in genetic diseases caused by recessive alleles.

A New Age Dawns

At the cusp of the modern century, humanity has developed more precise methods of editing the genetics of organisms. The development of ZFN(Zinc Finger Nucleases), TALENS(Transcription Activator-Like Effector Nucleases), and CRISPR(clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) has led to a new age in genetic engineering, where scientists can target very specific areas and alter the genome in a very surgical way.

How Do They Work?

All of these new genetic editing methods use a type of enzyme called “nucleases” and they cleave specific parts of a DNA segment. They can be thought of as genetic scissors, that allow you to cut any part of the genome with unparalleled accuracy.

The nucleases have genetic parts that are able to target and latch onto a specific segment of DNA and allow for precision. The nucleases are normally used in bacteria to destroy foreign DNA that is detected. That is a bacteria’s way to protect against viruses.

However, scientists have found a way to highjack the system. By injecting a DNA segment that scientists want to target into the bacteria, they can code the nucleases to target those specific genes. Once a nuclease latches on to the correct segment, they will cut one side of the double helix. Once the DNA is cut on both sides, the cell tries to fix this and tries its hardest to repair the cut.

However, most of the time, the repair is not successful, leading to missing base pairs, and thus leading to a gene being deactivated. This deactivation can tell scientists what the point of the gene is.

Scientists can also add base pairs and thus add a new segment into DNA. This surgical method that is now used can allow for very specific gene edits and allows us to study the function of every gene.

Learning the function of these genes can allow us to edit the human genome, and maybe even permanently cure diseases such as cancer.

Cas-9 enzymes editing DNA in a method called CRISPR

The New Vaccine?

We have already located many biomarkers that can cause many different diseases. Over 3,000 genetic diseases such as Huntington’s disease and sickle cell disease are caused by only one gene.

With the introduction of the specific gene-editing methods, these diseases could be eradicated from existence, leaving the world a healthier place. Improving the immune system is also a fantastic way that gene-editing can be used.

Retroviruses dwell within body cells, avoiding the detection of the immune system and can quickly lead to death. Cancer is a similar foe, as they hide among living cells, not wanting to die. They disrupt nearby cells, and an abundance of cancer cells can spell certain death.

If the immune system is engineered to locate these specific cells, then they could be spotted and cured by the body itself. Far in the future, genetic engineering may also help cure things like depression and other small but annoying problems that are part of the human condition.

Although there are many good things that genetic engineering brings to the table, there are still many practical and ethical problems that need to be answered.

“We are currently just children who have just about learned the genetic alphabet, but cannot read yet.” -Exurb1a

What Are The Problems?

The main problem with genetic engineering is the fact that currently, we don’t know if changing one gene can have multiple effects. Currently, editing large scale things like personality traits is also an almost impossible task.

There is no smart gene, and there is no athletic gene. Not every trait is associated with one gene. Smaller things could build-up to these traits. Having a good metabolism, increased muscle mass, and many other things would be responsible for creating someone that is athletic.

We also don’t know what every gene does, and what genes are responsible for what. This parallels with the problems of selective breeding.

By making a dog fluffier, we might have just given it some nasty genetic diseases that were very rare among the dog species. Once we learn more about the function of each gene, editing will begin in humans, first in curing different diseases, but after, maybe we humans may even start to edit our future children.

Is Genetic Engineering Worth It?

Although this technology can revolutionize the development of humanity as a whole, it does not have a shortage of moral and ethical problems. Genetic engineering may alter our moral judgment as well as laws present in our current society.

Designer Babies

By harnessing the power of gene editing, babies could have specific traits altered. Although this may be a revolutionary cure to birth defects and different genetic diseases, genes affecting people’s attributes like their intelligence or physical capabilities will almost definitely be changed in this process.

Every parent wants a healthy child, and this may be the key that unlocks that door. But this key can also unlock a much darker door towards the extinction of our own species itself.

The introduction of designer babies may lead to the creation of a genetically modified subclass of humans that can outcompete Homo Sapiens in every possible way, ultimately leading to the extinction of our species. However, if we do manage to coexist with these altered beings, a new problem may come back.

Discrimination

The creation of genetically modified humans is almost a guarantee if genetic engineering gets any amount of funding. If many people have designer babies, then, being un-edited might be in the minority. We un-edited people may face genetic discrimination to an extremely high degree, which may throw the social balance in society off the chart.

Mismanagement

If genetic engineering is not handled correctly, then things like genetically engineered soldiers or diseases may be a common occurrence in the army and in wars. Imagine if a country had an army of supersoldiers. They could rule the world and dominate everything and everyone.

Superbugs are already a major problem in today’s society, killing hundreds of thousands a year. Superbugs are bacteria that are resistant to different antibiotics that were meant to kill them. If an evil person were to genetically modify a strain of Ebola or any devastating disease, and release it into the world, then there would be major consequences, with the extinction of the human race being a plausible answer.

The Next Step

Like many sciences, genetic engineering faces many technological and moral problems. Should we even fund genetic engineering if there are this many problems? My answer is yes, yes we should.

The ethical and technological problems we ask might eventually be solved once we advance genetic engineering. We would do ourselves a disservice by not exploring the untapped potential that genetic engineering has to offer. The problems are there not to hinder the progress, but to lead genetic engineering in the right direction.

Although many of those looks into the future may be a bit scary, the future is almost impossible to predict and there is no way of knowing what will truly happen. Genetic engineering is one of the pillars that will hold up humanity may be the essential step that humans take to solidify our existence on Earth and to advance as a species.

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I’m a high schooler who is interested in learning more about the world and finding the impactful intersections between a wide range of disciplines.

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Sam Li

Sam Li

I’m a high schooler who is interested in learning more about the world and finding the impactful intersections between a wide range of disciplines.

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