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Genetic Engineering: Should we or Shouldn’t we?

Genetic engineering is a process in which scientists transfer genes from one species to another totally unrelated species. Usually this is done in order to get one organism to produce proteins, which it would not naturally produce. The genes taken from one species, which code for a particular protein, are put into cells of another species, using a vector. This can result in the cells producing the desired protein. It is used for producing proteins which can be used by humans, such as insulin for diabetics and is also used to make organisms better at surviving, for example genetically modifying a plant so that it can survive in acidic soil.

There is debate about whether genetic engineering should be used or not, and to what degree. There are many problems that can occur from the process and many of these cannot be avoided currently. There are known problems and there is also the fact that the whole process is unpredictable and unforeseen problems could crop up. A good example of this was the influence of a genetically engineered organism on a food chain, which sometimes damaged the local ecology. The new organism could now compete successfully against other species, causing unforeseen changes in the environment.

This could then have a knock-on effect that could lead to the destruction of whole species. Due to the quite random nature of genetic engineering, there is a risk that it may disrupt the functioning of other genes in an organism. This could mean that the organisms do not survive at all, or become some sort of mutated freak, which is completely different and maybe even more dangerous. Genetic engineers also intend to profit by patenting genetically engineered seeds. This means that, when a farmer plants these genetically engineered seeds, all the seeds have an identical genetic structure.

As a result, if a fungus, a virus, or a pest develops which can attack this particular crop, they might all be at risk, resulting in widespread crop failure. Insects, birds, and the wind can carry genetically altered seeds, which can cross-pollinate with genetically natural crops and wild relatives. All crops, organic and non-organic, are vulnerable to contamination from cross-pollinatation, meaning that problems in the original genetically modified organisms can be spread and can now affect other plants that have not been genetically modified.

Genetic engineering in food now uses material from organisms that have never been part of the human food supply, and so could have unforeseen consequences for the humans who eat them, as our bodies have not had to deal with these substances before. Genetically engineered bacteria have also been known to kill. 37 people died, 1500 were partially paralysed and 5000 temporarily disabled from a syndrome that was finally linked to a substance made by genetically engineered bacteria. Genetic engineers use antibiotic-resistance genes to mark genetically engineered cells.

This means that genetically engineered crops sometimes contain genes, which confer resistance to antibiotics. Bacteria that may infect us could pick up these genes and would be much harder to treat with their immunity to some antibiotics. Genetic engineering can produce unknown and unforeseen allergens in foods that obviously affect some people negatively, can cause unexpected mutations in an organism, which can create new and higher levels of toxins and transgenic foods may mislead consumers with false freshness. A luscious-looking, bright red genetically engineered tomato could be of little nutritional worth and already several weeks old.

Farmers also have started to use more and more herbicides, now knowing that many of their genetically-altered crops now have resistances to some herbicides. The extra use of herbicides causes it’s own problems, in the environment, on people and on fishes. What makes these problems even worse is that once genetically engineered organisms, bacteria and viruses are released into the environment it is impossible to contain or recall them. Unlike other forms of contamination, negative effects are irreversible, forever.

These are just a few of the reasons why strict regulations need to be placed on the level and amount of genetic engineering that is carried out. For now many of the companies, which are involved in these processes, are only concerned with making money with scant regard for the environment and the people in it. However there can be great advantages to genetic engineering. Biotech industries argue that by using genetic engineering they can produce crops which grow faster, produce better crops and can reproduce more easily, they argue that this has the potential to solve world hunger.

However there is little evidence to suggest that this is possible as the companies evidently find it hard to get many genetically engineered crops to survive, let alone thrive. Another benefit is that they can improve the shelf life of our food. But who really wants a tomato that’s been sitting out on the shelf for 6 weeks? Even if it still looks nice the flavour will likely suffer and the beneficial enzymes and vitamins that are so essential to our health will have been destroyed. Genetic engineering can certainly be used to produce needed proteins such as insulin.

This is undoubtedly a great advantage because it means that insulin, which keeps diabetics alive, can be produced quickly and cheaply. Genetic Engineering could also increase genetic diversity, and produce more variants of the same species that could also be crossed over and implanted into other species. Animals and plants can be ‘tailor made’ to show desirable characteristics. Genes could also be manipulated in trees for example, to absorb more CO2 and reduce the threat of global warming. This would actually help the environment. However many of these things have not been tested and are much more difficult in practice than in theory.

That added to the massive uncertainty about the effects and results of genetic engineering would suggest that the benefits do not outweigh the risks taken to obtain them. A religious question also arises. By changing the cells of living organisms are we playing God’ and if we are should we be allowed to? In conclusion I would say that genetic engineering is certainly a good thing saving lives in many cases. However more tests need to be carried out, and profit-hungry companies should not be allowed to do whatever they want in their quests for profit.

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