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Kathleen Morrison-Inquiry Project Revised

Kathleen Morrison-Inquiry Project Revised

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Kathleen Morrison Instructor: Malcolm Campbell English 1103 Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Genetic Engineering Advancements Leading to Super Humans or Split Society?

Have you ever looked into the mirror and noticed the similarities between yourself and your parents? This is because you are a mixture of the genetic makeup given to you by your Mother and Father. What if, in the future, when someone looked at themselves they noticed no similarities between how they look and how their parents look because they were given the “desired” traits. What if you never got sick or hurt? Genetic engineering is evolving, it has become more popular in certain crops to make them grow faster and be resistant to pesticides. Not only has it become popular in plants, but animals as well. This can be seen through the cloning of Dolly the sheep in Scotland during 1996. The medical procedure hasn’t just begun within the past decade, it’s been in motion since 1869 when DNA was first discovered. What could advancements in genetic engineering hold for the human race in the future? A possible answer is a new race or a split in society of haves and have-nots. Before genetic engineering became known there was a question of what held our hereditary material. In the year 1869, Friedrich Miescher discovered DNA. He used cloths stained in soldier’s blood to study the proteins within white blood cells. White blood cells are cells that are a part of the immune system that digests bacterium. While examining the protein he came across something unfamiliar, nucleic acid (DNA). After the research of Miescher, Phoebus

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Levene continued the investigation by studying the structure of DNA (“History of Genetic Engineering”). Levene is credited with many firsts. For instance, he was the first to discover the order of the three major components of a single nucleotide(phosphate-sugar-base); the first to discover the carbohydrate component of RNA(ribose); the first to discover the carbohydrate component of DNA(deoxyribose); and the first to correctly identify the way RNA and DNA molecules are put together (“History of Genetic Engineering”). Erwin Chargoff furthered the research and determined that the same nitrogenous bases always paired up with each other. Adenine + Thymine and Cytosine + Guanine. Then, in the year 1953 all of this data was compiled by James Watson and Francis Crick to create a model of DNA structure. The structure is a double helix that can be explained as being a ladder. The rails of the ladders are sugar and phosphates, which alternate, and the steps are nitrogen-containing bases held together by hydrogen bonds (Figure 1). This discovery helped to guide scientists to DNA splicing. This is the procedure of “cutting” out a section of DNA and placing it into another organism.

Figure 1

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Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer used the model made by Crick and Watson to proceed with gene splicing (Figure 2) in 1973. This technique “laid the foundations for today’s modern genetic engineering industry” (“The First Recombinant DNA Organisms”). Not only was the model important in the evolution of genetic engineering but Gregor Mendel’s genetic theory as well. Mendel studied the theory of how characteristics are inherited. Through his study he examined pea plants, he determined Figure 2 through observation that different versions of the same gene result in variation, as well as, one gene is given from both parents. Scientists in Europe used this information to breed two plants together to produce desired traits. To fully understand genetic engineering you must understand your genetic “makeup”. Humans are composed of 46 pairs of chromosomes. Chromosomes are strands of DNA that carry genetic material. 23 of these chromosomes are given from your Mother while the other 23 from your Father. 22 pairs of chromosomes are autosomes (regular chromosomes which transmit genetic traits) and the other 2 pairs are sex chromosomes (XX-female, XY-male). You are given two alleles (alternate versions of a gene), one from your Mother and one from your Father. Which of the two is expressed is determined through dominance. A trait that is dominant will appear over a trait that is recessive. For example, in eye colour you may receive a gene for blue eyes while your father gives you a gene coding for brown eyes. Since brown is dominant over blue, you will have brown eyes. This

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all depends on if your parents are carriers (carry recessive traits) where the recessive may be expressed instead of the dominant. Genetic engineering takes away chance within which genes will be expressed. Genetic engineering is the development and application of scientific methods, procedures, and technologies that permit direct manipulation of genetic material in order to alter hereditary traits of a cell, organism or population (Dictionary.com). Neal Connan and Rob Stein, journalists in biology and members of NPR discuss genetic engineering in an interview. During this interview both positives and negatives of the scientific process are touched upon. Today, scientists are able to decode a genome (the full set of DNA present in an individual) within hours compared to the days it used to take (Stein). The positives included using genetic engineering for medical purposes such as fixing problems with mutations within DNA. This could help numerous people that are suffering with diseases due to chromosomes not being how they should be. An example of this is on chromosome 21 there may be three chromosomes instead of two which would lead the child to be born with Down Syndrome. Not only could this cure but it could prevent as well. By looking at an unborn baby to detect whether it will be a carrier of a disease or not offers the opportunity for it to be corrected with genetic engineering. The negatives of this interview included job loss, discrimination in employment, health care and health insurance. If super humans were created or even a new race produced there would become a split in social classes. If an employer was looking at hiring two people and one of them is resistant to injury while the other is “average”, who would they chose? By having an

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employee that can not be hurt or fall ill the company would save a great amount of money. This would cause job loss among people that are not genetically engineered. A reference to the movie Gattaca,an example of the negative effects of genetic engineering, is also made within the interview. This reference is brought up by another journalist Ray Bohlin. Ray Bohlin, an author of multiple books and journals and has a PhD in molecular biology, goes into more detail on the subject of genetic engineering. The first idea Bohlin introduces is Gattaca. The 1997 movie explores the idea of genetically modified humans being superior in every way to those who are not. This leads to the question: will there be a race of super humans in the future? There have already been superbugs produced that are indestructible, an example of this is “New Dehli-Metallo-1” from India (Hanlon). Could it be possible to create an indestructible human as well? Genetic manipulation goes hand and hand with genetic engineering, the idea is to change (manipulate) the genes of an organism to be the desired trait(s). Bohlin brings up the topic of genetic illnesses that occur through mutations in the DNA. There are over 1200 known human disorders; it is still questionable how many are unknown. Genetic engineering would allow these diseases to be preventable by replacing the mutant DNA with the desired, non-infected, DNA. If these mutations within the genes are eliminated from human genomes it could affect the variety in human characteristics. By eliminating certain genes you are also eliminating variation which is important. Without variation the chances of humans surviving a disease are slim. If the genes given to the genetically engineered are not able to defect the disease then they will all die. The idea of variation is survival of the fittest, the best adapt traits survive.

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What if a family can not afford the procedure? If genetic engineering gives parents the chance to prevent their unborn children from flaws would they do it? With the elimination of diseases there would become a job loss in doctors, pharmaceuticals and people that work at creating vaccines. Those people that could not afford the procedure would fall down the social ladder by becoming have-nots. Religious views are also included in his exploration of genetic engineering. Should humans have the right to play the role of God or are we using our knowledge/intelligence to advance proficiently? I find it unlikely that the opinions people have on the subject will change as the procedure progresses. After searching to learn more about what genetic engineering can mean for the future I came across an article written by Carolyn Harris. Harris has written numerous articles and incorporated a professor who studies the impact of robotics on society. The idea of incorporating robotics and artificial intelligence within the human body was an idea I had never seen/heard of being associated with genetic engineering. An example of incorporating robotics into the human body is through the insertion of a “chip” into the brain that would increase intelligence. Not only would robotics be used for everyday life but for warfare as well. “By the year 2020 an estimated 40% of armies will include robotic soldiers.” (Harris). With the addition of robotic soldiers into warfare how brutal will the battles become? Introducing nuclear weapons into war, in my opinion, was a great mistake of technology. These soldiers may not be able to destroy an entire country with one blow. But they will, without a doubt, change the rules on the battlefield. Proceeding the idea of high tech soldiers, Harris questions the idea of a two tier social system being created with the advancement of genetic engineering. Transhumanists are individuals that support technology and believe that it will improve the human body. This group of people is associated with the increase of the rate that genetic engineering advancements are

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becoming available to the public and the rate they are being discovered. The more people want the technology, the faster it will be produced. I found that this aspect of demand related to the development of a two-tier society. There will be people that want and can not afford the technology, the people that want and can afford the technology, and those that disagree with technology all together. A few years ago I was presented with a debate on genetic engineering. To find out the different opinions people may have I began to ask around. When I asked my father I knew it would be more personal, I asked if he had the opportunity to change my genetic makeup so I never got sick or injured if he would do it. As the subject, the answer was not straight forward. He began to explain that as a parent you never want to see your child to hurt. That got to me because I have been in the hospital more than I can remember. As a baby I had feet and breathing problems, later in life chicken pox, asthma, a broken arm, torn ACL and meniscus, and my wisdom teeth removed. He said that he would not go through with the procedure. All the bumps and bruises were learning experiences that shape the person I am becoming. So what would happen if before a child was born their parents decided to change their genetics so they never hurt? If every child grew up with the same traits there would be nothing to differentiate them. And what of those parents that can not afford or choose not to have the procedure? In school, children are looked down upon when for not having “nice” things. But what happens when that “nice” thing becomes your genetic composition? It changes from cliques in school to adult social classes in society. What children learn stays with them as they grow up. So, if they grow up believing they are better than someone because of how they are made genetically it will potentially follow them to adult hood. Here, it will no longer be about whom you play with at recess but who gets the job and who does not.

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Genetic engineering is a continuous project. The idea of this technology separating humans further into social classes is something that should be thought about with great consideration. Not only to think about a two-tier social system but introducing super humans into the “average” population. Both of these ideas should be laid out and examined through pros and cons before the technology is presented to the public. I would never want to see my child hurt but I also want them to be different and who they are meant to be. Sometimes bad things happen to good people but those people have the potential to be strong and inspiring. If bad things stopped happening to the human population, such as disease, what would happen to our genetic make-up? Would there be immense job loss or a severe split in society or possibly a new type of weapon? The possibilities to genetic engineering are not limited to the positive impact they could have on human life.

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Works Cited

Bohlin, Ray. “What Is Genetic Engineering?” Genetic Engineering Probe.org. 2012. Web. 12 Oct. 2012. Connan, Neal. “Do You Want to Know Your DNA’s Secrets?” Npr.org.1 Oct. 2012. Web. 13 Oct. 2012. Hanlon, Michael. “We’ve only got ourselves to blame for the indestructible Indian superbug.” Dailymail.co.uk. 12 Aug. 2010. Web. 27 Nov. 2012. Harris, Carolyn. “The Technocracy and the Genetic Engineering of Humanity.” Infowars.com. 1 Jan. 2009. Web. 12 Oct. 2012. “History of Genetic Engineering.” Americanradioworks.org. 2008. Web. 04 Nov 2012. “Gregor Mendel’s Theories of Genetic Inheritance.” Studymode.com. 1999. Web. 04 Nov 2012. “Discovery of DNA Structure and Function: Watson and Crick.” Nature.com. 2008. Web. 04 Nov 2012. “The First Recombinant DNA Organisms.” Thinkquest.com. 1998. Web. 04 Nov 2012. “Dictionary.com.” Dictionary.com. 2012. Web. 04 Nov 2012. “DNA Structure.” Academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu. 2008. Web. 06 Nov 2012. “Genetically Modified Foods.” Futureworldofgmos.blogspot.com. 2012. Web. 07 Nov 2012.

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