Genetic engineering and eugenics are interesting branches of technology. The branch that can alter the genetic makeup of any organism through high-end technologies.
To date, genetic engineering has helped scientists achieve a lot of things that seemed impossible earlier. And even in the future, it will play a crucial role in converting humans into superhumans. (Well, that’s the dream for the lot)
In addition to that, the presence of genetic engineering is needed in disease prevention.
Also, we can experiment with a lot of advanced things such as age reversing. But there’s always a catch with using technology, every experiment has to be ethically right.
So, with this article, we will be discussing the ethics of genetic engineering and eugenics.
But before that, let us see what exactly is Genetic engineering and eugenics!
1. Genetic Engineering at Glance!
We have engineered life to get the desired quality in plants earlier. Now, the same has been practised in animals too. And all this has been possible since the time we discovered the code of life.
So what is the code of life? I’m sure you guessed it right! It’s DNA.
DNA stands for Deoxyribonucleic acid. It is a complex molecule that guides all the functions in the body such as growth, development, and reproduction.
DNA is made of nucleotides which are structured in pairs, and these pairs carry codes that make up the basics of organisms.
2. Genetic Engineering
Now let us come back to the topic of genetic engineering.
First, we discovered DNA then ages later, we started performing different experiments on it. So, let us see, how these experiments happened and what were the results.
2.1 History of Genetic Engineering
Firstly, in the 1960s, scientists bombarded plants with radiation. These radiations led to mutations in their genetic makeup or structure.
Again, in the 1970s, scientists inserted DNA into bacteria to modify plants and animals. In terms of animals, mice were the chosen ones to perform genetic modification. These experiments were performed in 1974.
After experiments on mice, scientists shifted to rats for research. By the time of 1980, genetic engineering went commercial.
2.2 Modern Genetic Engineering
Ever since the 1980s, we have come a long way. Today we produce various genetically engineered products. ”Flavor Savor Tomato” is the first commercial variety of GMO.
GMO stands for genetically modified organisms (in case you are wondering). These modified organisms can both be plants and animals, however, research and experiments have been done vigorously on plants due to ethical concerns.
Coming back to the tomato, “Flavor Savor Tomato” has a longer shelf life than any ordinary tomato. This is made possible through genetic engineering, as the genetic makeup was altered by inserting one new gene that could suppress the build-up of the rotting enzyme present in tomatoes.
After the tomato, many other genetically modified crops were introduced. We also have genetically modified animals now.
In the 1990s, the concept of human engineering came into place. This was for treating maternal infertility.
Today there are super-muscled pigs. Also, we have fast-growing salmon, featherless chickens, and see-through frogs. Indeed, genetic engineering has turned the world around.
And all thanks, to one technique known as gene editing. However, gene editing is quite expensive and time-consuming too.
So, better technologies had to be introduced, one such technology is CRISPR.
So, gene editing techniques took a turn for the better and we came across CRISPR. Due to CRISPR, the costs of genetic engineering went down.
Instead of investing years and years, it took comparatively much less time to conduct experiments. All it needed was a high-tech lab.
CRISPR in simple terms is a much-advanced technique to help find a specific portion of DNA within a cell.
Eugenics is a term that received popularity only in the 20th century. Eugenics is less of any technology and more of a theory for “planned breeding” and “racial improvement.”
Sir Francis Galton is the father of modern eugenics. The main goal of eugenics was to eliminate all disgraces of nature.
Through Eugenics, scientists aim to improve the quality of the human population. In a way you can say, they aim to eliminate disorders or any drawbacks.
Diseases like cancer could be prevented by eugenics, as Eugenics will help us to create stronger babies with desirable traits.
Everyone supported the process of eugenics until the question of ethics was raised, which we will discuss later in the article.
4. Dark Side of Genetic Engineering
So far, you know genetic engineering is changing the DNA sequence of organisms. The reason for doing so is to get the desired function. But is it ethically correct to edit someone’s gene?
Imagine you are thinking of having a child. You are going to the hospital and designing your baby! Seems good to you right?
You picked out the traits you wanted, but what about the baby? Growing up, the baby might not be in awe of the traits he/she grew up with. What then?
4.1 Problems With Eugenics
Eugenics in the further will also lead to social problems. Creating humans with certain traits will lead to one specific culture that will try to stand above all.
Letting parents decide the genetic makeup of their children will lead to a genetic overclass, which will create chaos among those who can afford to go for the process and those who can’t.
It can also lead to a loss of genetic diversity.
4.2 Various Problems in Genetic Engineering
There are several problems with genetic engineering. The issues are ethical as well as social.
Following are some top concerns:
One of the major concerns of genetic engineering is Bioterrorism. From ancient times, we have faced infectious diseases. The diseases like Ebola, once infected, lower our survival chances.
These techniques can be used to intentionally create viruses and bacteria to harm someone. These are known as bioweapons.
With genetic engineering, bioweapons are a reality.
4.2.2 Interference with Nature
Even for the greater good, we are interfering with nature in many ways. Creating genetically modified organisms is affecting biodiversity.
Say, for example, GMOs can in the future overrun the existing species by becoming dominant.
Today, we are introducing genes in plants to prevent the loss of crops. But gene modification can create selective pressure.
It can result in a superbug formation. This bug will wipe out all the crops. And we might not have a solution for it!
5. What Now?
We have many positive uses for genetic engineering. We can remove various genetic disorders with technology. But as discussed above, there are many negative aspects too.
So, we have to take safety measures to avoid negative impacts. We have to follow the proper ethics of genetic engineering.
This is the ultimate solution to it.
6. Ethics Of Genetic Engineering
We find various ethical issues while performing Genetic engineering. We have to spend time thinking about genetic equality.
Social inequality in the genetically modified world is the most significant discrepancy. Creating a genetic overclass is ethically wrong.
Big advances like age reversing in genetic engineering will be available only to rich people. The enhancements in society due to genetic engineering are okay. But inequality in society is not okay.
DNA editing will surely help fight diseases. But what about those who can’t afford this?
The great thing is the government has control over genetic modifications. This is because, even tho genetic engineering improves the quality of life, creating genetically modified organisms is playing against nature.
We genetically manipulate animals for our personal motives. But is this ethical?
If we stop manipulating animal’s DNA for research many problems will arise. We need the animals to test our vaccine.
We all know disease intensity is increasing. So, we need newer medicines. Also, the medicine should be quick-acting.
But if we do not have a model organism, how we will do it? We will not be able to test medicines. It shows the need for model organisms.
So, what is the solution? We do not have the exact answer to it.
But bioethics can solve these problems.
It is simply an area dealing with ethical issues in biology. Various GMOs are present today. Their characters are useful to us. But some characters are harmful to nature.
We still don’t know about the long-term effects of GMOs. GMOs have completely different genes from wild varieties.
So, it means we are disturbing the natural sequence. We don’t know what will be the effect of this in the following years. Hence, making GMOs is an ethical concern.
Even we do not have a fixed solution for this. But there are some measures that we can take. If we have authorities for regulating production, we can control this. These rules are under bioethics.
The laws will help us to make wiser decisions. We can avoid the negative effects of technology by following proper ethics.
Everything at Glance!
Above, we have discussed eugenics and also talked about genetic engineering. Modifying the organism for our use is unethical. But for human welfare, we have to do this.
To achieve both things, we have to use technology ethically. Setting the limit of using technology is essential. We should work for the welfare of nature and humans.
So, we have to keep our selfishness aside. The most thrilling use of this technology is age-reversing. If we do not limit it, it will be a big disaster.
Social inequality caused by technology is also a future problem. We have to deal with it. So, we have to make it more affordable. It should be easily accessible to all of us.
In the future, the technology will be at its peak. But we have to decide how we should use the technology. With proper ethics, it will be easier.
Till now, we have seen how technology can improve our lives. But if over-used it may disrupt our life. The ethical issues we are facing are part of it.
Genetic Engineering today is one of the most controversial topics and for fair reasons. The ethical consequences of these practices will always be at par. There will be people, who would want to achieve the impossible, and there will also be people who will worry about the consequences of “playing God” with nature.
The ethical concerns are far-reaching, however, with the rapid advancement in technology, we are very close to it becoming a reality.