Deoxyribose nucleic acid (DNA) is known as the code of life. Its discovery in 1953 by James Watson and Francis Crick opened a pathway into a revolutionary new science known as genetics. In fifty years, biological research has evolved by leaps and bounds because of the identification of this six-foot long strand of molecules. Many people, however, do not understand the infinite possibilities that the study of genetics can unveil to the world. Many of these pathways have been investigated and studied, and results have come to some while failures have come to others. One of the most recent, brilliant technologies to be brought to life from the study of genetics is gene therapy. As Panno (2004a) indicates, scientists have begun to imagine the possibilities of actually changing a living organism’s DNA, possibly making the specimen stronger, healthier, and more resilient to deadly diseases (n. pag.). Many dilemmas, most ethical and religious, arise from this thought process, but the fact that it is possible remains. Through gene therapy, scientists have discovered a plethora of ways to cure some genetic diseases; but these trials have not been without faults that come with any groundbreaking technology.
To first understand what gene therapy is, the science behind it, genetics, must be understood. DNA, while small, is a very complicated structure. Formed in a double helix, the tiny molecular strands wind around for over 6 feet inside each and every cell of the body. There are 4 molecules that connect together to create each base pair of DNA- the actual code of the strand. As explained by Hopkins (2006), these molecules, also known as nucleotides, in two pairs of Guanine and Cytosine, and Thymine (which is replaced by Uracil after transcription, the process of constructing messenger RNA) and Adenine, link together in groups of three, which are then translated and transcribed to create amino acids, the components of proteins (n. pag.). This follows the basic model created by Watson and Crick. Following their discovery, research into the science of genetics was quickly followed by the discovery of restriction enzymes by Hamilton Smith at Johns Hopkins University and recombinant DNA (rDNA) by Paul Berg at Stanford (Hopkins 2006, n. pag.). Enzymes are used to cut DNA, while rDNA is DNA that is actually two separate strands that have been spliced to together. As Hopkins (2006) explains, these two discoveries make genetic engineering possible (n. pag.). As each new discovery was made, it immediately became evident to the scientists that the possibilities were seemingly endless. A more common name for genetic engineering would be gene therapy, which is commonly associated with the curing of diseases. Gene therapy, as described by Panno (2004a), is “the most erratic” of recent biological technologies (n. pag.). This means it is very inaccurate. However, since its promise is so great, its possibilities should be studied.