Genetic engineering allows scientists to create plants, animals, and other organisms by manipulating their genes in an unnatural manner. Thorough research shows that genetic engineering is a very risky process. While this technique “increases our understanding of nature and can provide new medical tools”, scientists’ understanding of genetics is limited, and they don’t know the long-term affects it will have on people and the environment (Greenpeace). Genetic engineering is unnatural, unpredictable, and can have a very harmful impact on society with the alteration of life-forms. There are many serious dangers that genetic manipulation presents, I will discuss its weaknesses, health, and environmental hazards. Our civilization as a whole is affected by genetic engineering. It questions our ethics and morals towards other life forms, and allows the use of biological warfare, and tests religious beliefs.
Genetic engineers have very imprecise technology. When they move genes from one organism to another, a gene can be precisely cut from the DNA of an organism; however, inserting the gene into the target’s DNA is done at random. This runs the risk of disrupting the functions of other genes that are essential to the life of that organism (Mothers for Natural Law). The understanding of living systems is too limited to perform DNA surgery without causing mutations that can be harmful to the environment and peoples’ health.
One way that genetic engineers profit is by patenting genetically engineered seeds. Farmers using genetically engineered seeds in their crops, which have identical genetic structure, can have widespread crop failure if a fungus, virus, or pest develops and attacks the crop. “These genetically engineered seeds can be carried by insects, birds, and the wind into other fields, and elsewhere. The pollen from genetically engineered plants can cross-pollinate with natural crops and other wild plants. This means that all crops are vulnerable to contamination from cross-pollination” (Mothers for Natural Law). Is a threat to our entire food supply and biodiversity not also a threat to our survival and future evolution?
No one knows if genetically engineered foods are safe without long-term safety testing, which can’t be done because any new genetic material created has never existed. “Genetic engineering can cause unexpected mutations in an organism, which can create new and higher levels of toxins in foods” (Mothers for Natural Law). It can also produce unknown allergens in foods. Many foods can be misleading to consumers by looking fresh and healthy from genetic engineering, but are actually old and have very little nutritional value left. For example, a shiny, perfectly round apple in a store could really be eight weeks old and you could never tell the difference.
Scientists use genes in our crops that are resistant to antibiotics. Therefore, genetically engineered crops carry genes that can be picked up by bacteria, making the bacteria antibiotic resistant (Mothers for Natural Law). These bacteria can infect whoever ingests it, with no cure. Farmers hope to grow crops in the future “containing their own fungicides and pesticides, substances made inside the cells of each plant instead of being absorbed artificially through spraying” (Dixon). These substances would have to be non-toxic to humans, and be prevented from leaving the sap into the harvested seed, which could be very risky. There could be many side-effects to eating food from crops “programmed to fill themselves with home-made poisons” (Dixon).
Consumers have the right to be protected from the dangers of genetically engineered food. In many countries, including the United States, food manufacturers and corporations are failing to inform the public about genetically engineered ingredients in their products. “Information about a product would enable and assist consumers who would want to take a precautionary approach in their food choices” (Greenpeace). Public health agencies can’t trace any problems back to their source without proper food labels, so if anyone gets sick from a genetically engineered food or bacteria, it’s extremely difficult to find and recall it. In some countries, supermarkets have cleared genetically engineered foods from their shelves, and some global food companies have removed genetically engineered ingredients from their products. “In addition, some leading pig and poultry producers have promised not to supply animals with genetically engineered feed” (Greenpeace). “It is vitally important that the potential and also the limitations of genetic engineering be made accessible to a wide public” (Mckelvey). Commercial interests have denied most people the choice to avoid genetically engineered foods.
It’s estimated that the amount of herbicide use will increase, while scientists make genetically engineered plants herbicide-resistant, which should make its use more abundant. Also, genetically engineered crops manufacture their own pesticides. This puts more pesticides into our food and crops than ever (Mothers for Natural Law). A genetically engineered organism may compete with wild relatives, which “causes unforeseen changes in the environment” (Mothers for Natural Law). Local ecology will then be left damaged. It’s impossible to contain gene pollution once “genetically engineered organisms, bacteria, and viruses are released into the environment” (Mothers for Natural Law). The integrity of our environment is too crucial to our survival to be put at such a risk. Genetically engineered organisms shouldn’t be released into the food chain or the environment until their effects can be reliably predicted (Greenpeace).
“There are three types of “modern” genetic engineering used on animals” (The Virtual High School). The first one is called xenografting, which uses human DNA in animals, and vice versa. In most cases, humans have been given animal tissue and valves. Scientists were successful in giving humans pig hearts and valves, but weren’t sure why or how it worked. Attempts will be made to also have pigs grow human hearts with human DNA. Cloning animals has been successful in some cases. It has a “great potential as a money making industry and also in producing genetically identical animals for testing” (The Virtual High School). Cloning is done by inserting DNA from one animal into the fetus of the same species with a vector that is supposed to replace the embryo’s DNA with the new. The new DNA can be rejected by the fetus, making them very susceptible to mutations and miscarriages. It is very likely that cloned animals will remain infertile. There are many downfalls and failed attempts that result from cloning animals.
Gene manipulation has had good and bad results in changing animals’ DNA. There has been success with one pig being engineered to “produce human insulin that can be used to treat diabetes” (The Virtual High School). Scientists are making certain pigs viable for heart and valve transplants in humans. However, major problems with these manipulations lie in the vast differences between animals and humans. “Even once pig hearts can be used in humans they will still have a different circulatory system and life expectancy to contend with among other problems” (The Virtual High School).
Genetic engineering has no morality and complete disrespect towards its victims. Animals are sentient beings. Their well-being is very important to the environment and our future. “The human food supply is already inundated with excesses of animal products so it is difficult to justify the suffering involved in the genetic engineering of animals by touting an increase in animal production” (HSUS). Production limits on most farms are already at their peak. Increasing animal production through genetic engineering results “in widespread pain and suffering for farm animals. Genetically engineered animals are as sensitive to physical and psychological suffering as are other animals” (HSUS). There are few survivors of genetic engineering, while most genetically engineered animals die as embryos, or from behavior problems and pain. “What can be done with genetic engineering far surpasses what researchers can know and predict” (HSUS). The failures have outweighed the benefits in the genetic engineering of innocent animals. How does genetic engineering surpass hundreds of years of selective breeding, where animals were unharmed in the process of choosing desired characteristics?
Genetic engineers have begun to modify human genes. Their three approaches include cloning, somatic cell manipulation, and human germ-line manipulation. “Cloning uses the DNA of an existing individual to create a new individual” (Massey). Humans haven’t been cloned yet, but it’s being attempted. The two different types of cloning are “embryo cloning,” which could create new human parts for replacements of failed body parts, and “reproductive cloning,” which would produce a complete new person as a genetic copy of another (Massey). Their only difference would be the experiences and environment that the clone grows up with. “In the U.S., federal funds cannot be used for reproductive cloning, but there is no federal law against it” (Massey).
Somatic cell manipulation is also called “gene therapy”.”Somatic cells do not pass DNA to the next generation” (Massey). Manipulation of these cells adds genes to existing cells in part of the human body. The effects of this process can be lethal. “In one case, a teenager died after researchers at the University of Pennsylvania tried to introduce genes into his liver cells, using a modified virus to carry the genes to their destination. Evidence suggests that the virus invaded many organs and triggered a severe immune reaction” (Massey). The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) says that this process has the threat of changing or disrupting the functions of existing DNA, and also “introduces foreign genes into the patient’s sperm or egg cells” (Massey). This may change the genetic information passed to the child from the parent. Out of all trials made, most failed, and all of the patients involved were never cured.
Germline manipulation changes germ cells that will be inherited by successive generations. This idea is to design people of the future. The changes to inheritable characteristics passed on to next generations would be permanent. The “aim to improve future generations of human beings” is unnecessary because it can’t relieve any sicknesses in an existing person, and other measures to produce a healthier child can be taken, for example, using donated sperm or eggs (Massey). Eugenics is unethical because no one has the right to change a person’s DNA to make them more superior, without their consent, and also who is going to judge whether or not a person has undesirable traits?
There is a new and extremely deadly threat to be afraid of that could kill and infect millions of people. “Biological warfare involves the use of living organisms for military purposes” (Rifkin). The tools and materials needed to create biological warfare agents are easily accessible and cheap. “The new genomic information being discovered and used for commercial genetic engineering in fields of agriculture, animal husbandry, and medicine is potentially convertible to the development of a wide range of novel pathogens that can attack plant, animal, and human populations” (Rifkin). The ability to design and mass-produce these weapons isn’t difficult to gain. Graduate students in laboratories everywhere have the capabilities, which is very alarming. Most biological pathogens can develop feasible niches and live indefinitely in the environment that they are released into. This technology was hardly used because of the danger it poses and high cost of materials, however, “advances in genetic engineering technologies over the past decade, have made biological warfare viable for the first time” (Rifkin). These “designer weapons” can be created in various ways, programming genes to become micro-organisms that infect with higher antibiotic resistance and environmental stability. “Scientists say they may be able to clone selective toxins to eliminate specific racial or ethnic groups whose genotypic makeup predisposes them to certain disease patterns. Genetic engineering can also be used to destroy specific strains or species of agricultural plants or domestic animals” (Rifkin). Therefore, no one is safe.
Whole populations can be targeted by this weaponry, from terrorism to various military purposes. Biological warfare is claimed by governments to be used only as a defense tactic towards nature because that is all that is allowed in the existing treaty. “Yet it is widely acknowledged that it is virtually impossible to distinguish between defensive and offensive research in the field” (Rifkin). Any laboratory, no matter how secure and contained it is, isn’t failsafe. Security breaches and natural disasters are always possible, as well as terrorists turning to biological warfare. Biotech companies want to limit protocols and enforced provisions to protect their trade secrets and commercial information. Negotiators must overlook these companies’ commercial desires and look out for the welfare of the people (Rifkin). Everyone is at risk of an attack by these new destructive and easily accessible weapons.
Researchers from Europe and America have made the most biotechnology progress. Religion and God have made the morality of genetic engineering a serious question. Many geneticists move to Asia because they have fewer restrictions and new labs to work with. There, they have “a different view of divinity and the afterlife. Therapeutic cloning in particular jibes well with the Buddhist and Hindu ideas of reincarnation” (Tierney). China, India, Singapore, and other Eastern countries support embryo cloning for medical research and genetically engineered crops. Europe doesn’t accept genetically engineered crops, but cloning is supported in England and other countries. However, it is banned in many including France and Germany. North and South America use genetically engineered crops but ban cloning research.
Christians and many Eastern religions are divided among their beliefs and issues with genetic engineering. “Traditional Christians” believe it is wrong to clone human embryos and harm them during research. On the other hand, they don’t worry too much about genetically engineering animals and plants because they are considered “lower” than humans (Tierney). Some “New Age Thinkers” (post-Christians), believe that the natural world shouldn’t be tampered with. Environmental activists and some conservatives campaigned to ban embryo cloning. “A Green Party leader in Germany, Vocker Beck, referred to cloned embryonic stem-cell research as “veiled cannibalism” (Tierney). However, many critics of genetic engineering don’t use their religious beliefs to oppose it, many “focus on the possible dangers to ecosystems and human health” (Tierney). Some leading opponents of cloning say they are defending “human dignity”, not religion.
If scientists figured out how to use stem-cell research to treat diseases, then it’s likely that people will accept it in the future. Cloning is hardly supported by the public, and many scientists don’t wish to pursue it because of the danger it would pose for the child (Tierney). “Even if human cloning becomes safe, it may never have much demand because most people will prefer having children the old-fashioned way” (Tierney). The battle between the natural world and the scientific world will mold our society for the future. Our natural environment has brought our people so far, does it not fulfill its purpose anymore, to the point where it must be tampered with?
Genetic scientists are altering life itself. Our environment has become a huge experiment that poses irreversible effects. Everything that lives on this earth is needed to continue our evolution, but it is all being put in danger from genetic engineering. Our ethical limits are being tested, where do we draw the line? Different beliefs and peoples’ motives make these decisions very difficult to litigate. Keeping the entire world more informed on experiments and their outcomes from genetic engineering would help everyone figure out where they stand on the subject, whether they agree or disagree with it. People need to consider if the lives’ being tested and mutated in the process are worth being jeopardized. Research thus far has proved that genetic engineering has had no advantages towards the way we live our lives now.
Dixon, Dr. Patrick. “Genetic Revolution.” Dixon, Dr. Patrick. Genetic Revolution. Kingsway, 1995.
Greenpeace. www.greenpeace.org. 25 April 2003.
Massey, Rachel. “www.sfsu.edu.” 15 March 2001. www.sfsu.edu.
Mckelvey, Maureen D. “Evolutionary Innovations: The Business of Biotechnology.” Mckelvey, Maureen D. Evolutionary Innovations: The Business of Biotechnology. Oxford University Press, 2000. 76.
Mothers for Natural Law. www.safe-food.org.
Rifkin, Jeremy. “www.sfsu.edu.” 27 September 2001. www.sfsu.edu.
The Virtual High School. “www.govhs.org.” www.govhs.org.
Tierney, John. “www.nytimes.com.” 20 November 2007. www.nytimes.com.