The Bright Future of Genetic Engineering
Imagine the major food crops - corn, wheat, rice, soybeans - which can resist diseases - and resist pests - and create their own fertilizers - and resist extremes of weather. Imagine potatoes containing more protein, and other vegetables and fruits which contain more nutrients, taste better and resist rot. Can you imagine tomatoes that actually taste like tomatoes. Imagine what such food crops could mean for a world population which will double in less than 40 years. Imagine a fundamental revolution in health care - with treatments and perhaps even cures for heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, cancer and AIDS. Richard J. Mahoney, 1993 (Wekesser 30)
Genetic engineering is a topic which has come under great scrutiny and debate. Since its appearance on the scientific stage in 1973 (Wekesser 23), it has been heralded as everything from the discovery of a fountain of youth to the harbinger of the death of humanity. In reality, genetic engineering is none of theses things. In simple terms, it is merely the utilization of one or more techniques for the purpose of modifying the DNA of an organism (Britannica V, 178). By modifying DNA, scientists today can eliminate some genetic diseases, they can manipulate plants and animals for increased food production and they can help protect against certain environmental hazards. Though genetic engineering is still in its infancy, its potential to benefit mankind is unprecedented. As such, it is a field that must be explored to its fullest.
There are many facets to genetic engineering. The most common of these is recombinant DNA. This is a process through which the DNA of one organism is taken and combined with the DNA of another organism. The process is similar to hybrid breeding; however, it has many advantages over the age old process. In recombinant DNA, any two pieces of DNA can be combined in a very short period of time. For example, a human gene, which is a portion of the DNA specifically responsible for the manufacture of one protein, can be placed in a bacterium which will then produce that protein and only that protein. In hybrid breeding, the process is limited to plants and animals of similar species, and the results are far less predictable. A hybrid is as likely to have unintended negative characteristics as it is likely to have the positive traits for which it was breed. Through the use of recombinant DNA, scientists have the flexibility to combine desired characteristics from various organisms while retaining complete control of the outcome.
Recombinant DNA owes its existence to restriction enzymes. These enzymes which are contained within microbes can separate DNA at any specific segment of four nucleotides. Since there are almost 200 different restriction enzymes, scientists can separate the DNA molecule at almost any point. This process leaves the four nucleotides unconnected to their complimentary set. Referred to as the ‘sticky...