Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Scientists are playing God in order to save lives (or so we hope)

DNA is the code for all life. It is a very long molecular structure, consisting of a string of genes that code for all the information for the structure and functioning of a living organism, as well as the biological information passed on from one generation to the next.
Human DNA is arranged as complex double helix, coiled on itself, with of the order of 100,000 genes, as well as substantial lengths of the DNA about which very little is known so far. Because we know so little about human genetics, it is dangerous to experiment with it.

But because we know so little of it WE HAVE to experiment with it.
Progress is achieved mostly through mistakes

There is a huge variety in terms of the length and shape of DNA from one species to another. Only in the case of relatively basic organisms, such as bacteria, has the sequence of genes in the DNA been completely deciphered, although even here it’s functioning is far from being completely understood. We have advanced so greatly in the last a hundred years in gene technology that it would seem a waste to discourage further scientific discoveries, however not at the expense of our environment or the people that inhabit it.

Gene technology is a term that refers to a range of techniques for genetic investigation, analysis and change, that depend on the direct manipulation of DNA. The use of gene technology in biomedicine, agriculture and food production and processing is an issue that has evoked strong public interest and concern. The public better accepts medical and industrial uses of gene technology, whereas use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food worry the public about their safety and potential impact on the environment. People are eager for more quality information about the technology and its applications.

But GMOs will probably help to feed the hungry of this world. Getter GMOs than starving...

Before human insulin could be produced commercially due to recent gene technology, Insulin from pigs and horses had been widely used for treating diabetes mellitus. This is not identical to human insulin and had undesirable side-effects in many cases.
Better side effects, than death...

Techniques of genetic engineering and recombinant DNA allow insulin to be extracted and manufactured using enzymes and bacteria to clone and culture insulin. Knowledge has allowed scientists to check the insulin before it is used by diabetics. This new useful tool has allowed sufferers of diabetes mellitus to live a longer and more secure lifestyle. From a diabetics’ point of view the benefits of gene technology definitely outweigh the disadvantages.

Cystic fibrosis is caused by faulty gene transport, and is the most common inherited fatal disease in our society. Gene therapy offers considerable hope as a cure for cystic fibrosis. Patients suffering from CF have an ionic imbalance across the membranes of epithelial cells. The therapy suggests introducing healthy Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Regulator genes, which control the passage of chloride ions across the cell membranes of epithelial cells in the sufferer. This would offer quality of life and prolonged years for CF sufferers, however the success depends on the identification of the faulty CFTR gene and manufacture of the gene using gene technology.

There are many other advantages of gene technology. Now that we do have an understanding of genetics, traditional breeding methods of crop plants and livestock have been refined and accelerated. New varieties of plants are always needed as diseases are continually arising in new forms which can attack previously resistant crops. Plant breeders need to be one step ahead of the pathogens and prepare new resistant varieties for release.

Traditional methods of selective breeding have been provided with a new tool – gene technology. We now have the potential to take a gene from one organism and move it into another. A number of different techniques have been developed that enable us to do this. We are able to cross species barriers. For example, we can take an insecticide-producing gene from a bacterium and insert it into a plant, making the plant resistant to insect attack. This new-found ability to cross species barriers is what makes gene technology such a powerful tool.

The scientist who is responsible for the team who created Dolly the sheep – famous for being the first mammal to be cloned from an adult somatic cell – has recently been in the news for switching his controversial research of cloning human embryos, to work which is “easier to accept socially”. Professor Ian Wilmut, of Edinburgh University originally cloned Dolly at the Roslin Institute in 1997. However, in February 2003, it was announced that Dolly had been euthanised because of a progressive lung disease and crippling arthritis.
A popular rumour in the tabloids at the time was that the cloning had been proven unsuccessful by the fact that Dolly had developed arthritis, and her original cell-donor sheep from which she was conceived by man, did not suffer with the condition. However, the autopsy confirmed that she had Ovine Pulmonary Adenocarcinoma, a fairly common disease of sheep caused by a retrovirus. After cloning was successfully demonstrated by Eric Akins and Dolly’s creators, many other large mammals have been cloned, including horses and bulls. Cloning is now considered a promising tool for uses such as preserving endangered species.

However, there are many ethical problems with cloning, and the Dolly project was heavily criticised by some parts of the scientific community, pro-life campaigners, and religious groups. Most animal conservation professionals claim that it contributes towards a loss of genetic diversity and habitat, which means that, for an example, if a disease breaks out amongst a species, the entire herd of sheep may be wiped out because their genetic make-up is too similar, and they are all, in a sense, inbred, and related. Also, it is not at all cost-effective, and so it is out-performed by conventional techniques such as captive breeding and embryo transfer.

The potential risks do not end here either. For example, if an insecticide-producing gene inserted into a crop plant accidentally 'escaped' into a wild relative of the crop, then the wild relative might become a problem weed. The danger of playing with gene technology is that we simply do not know where most of the genes are on the human chromosome. Many important genes remain to be identified. Further research is needed on methods to identify the cells carrying the transferred gene. But there are implications of tampering with nature like ethics of gene technology.

There can be no product recall for genetic transformations once released into the environment, these mutations will be around as long as life survives on earth. There is a saying "If you violate Natural Law, Natural Law will violate you."

I cannot deny the possible side effects and dangerous using of new technologies.
What I say is that we cannot stop progress coming out with something like that.
All our history is based on violating the Natural Law.
The moment you help somebody to survive in spite of his illness you violate the Natural law.
If you didn't he would die.

To avoid the proliferation of such dangerous technologies, it is our collective responsibility to ensure that life, including science and technology, is lived in tune with Natural Law. Critics of gene technology suspect that we still know too little about the systems that we are tampering with.
Could an inserted gene have effects that we are unaware of? Could it upset the balance of existing genes, causing the plant to produce greater quantities of natural toxins, or to change its nutritional content? No scientist can understand or possibly predict DNA so it is dangerous to interfere with it. Transposed genes may act differently when working within new hosts. The original genetic intelligence of the host will be disrupted. The new combination of the host genes and the transposed gene will have unpredictable effects; and therefore there is no way of knowing the overall, long-term effect of these foods on the health of those who eat them.

More serious worries stem from the use of marker genes. These are genes that are inserted into the genetically modified organism along with the desired gene. The presence of marker genes, which are easy to spot, allows researchers to recognise organisms that contain the desired gene. The problem arises with those marker genes that give antibiotic resistance to the organism. For example; ampicillin. The government feared that the gene for antibiotic resistance could spread to bacteria that inhabit the human gut. In turn, these could pass the gene on to more dangerous bacteria. Or the marker gene could move from the plant into soil bacteria and then into disease-causing bacteria. In this risky experiment, the general public is the guinea-pig.

Since the antibiotics discovery life expectancy has grown.
Of course we are at the dawn of technology.
We made and will make many mistakes. But that doesn't authorize us to stop.

Genetically engineered products carry more risks than traditional foods. The process of genetic engineering can introduce dangerous new allergens and fatal toxins into foods that were previously naturally safe.

And previously not enough.
Just few years ago in our developed countries people didn't have enough to eat.
And a large part of the globe's population still dies because of lack of food.
Welcome new ways to produce more. Better less quality than a few crops.

Already, one genetically engineered soybean was found to cause severe allergic reactions, and bacteria genetically engineered to produce large amounts of the food supplement tryptophan have produced toxic contaminants that killed 37 people and permanently disabled 1,500 more in the USA.

So, as with all new technologies, we must ensure that we proceed carefully. Before genetically modified organisms are released into the environment, there is usually a prolonged period in which they are kept within a contained laboratory. Initial testing in a more open environment is then closely monitored and restricted. Health-damaging effects caused by genetic engineering will continue forever. Unlike chemical or nuclear contamination, gene pollution can never be cleaned up; effects of genetic mistakes will be passed on to all future generations of a species.

There is now a serious debate on the acceptability of some of these unpredicted side-effects, such as nuclear pollution, global warming, and the toxic effects of pesticides and herbicides. Medicines often have to be withdrawn because the side-effects turn out to be too poisonous.

This is more the fault of the greedeness of the few than technology's

In each case, it takes time for the effects to come to light and be evaluated before action can be taken. Genetic engineering poses the greatest danger of any technology yet introduced. Safety testing will never be adequate, because organisms once introduced can never be recalled from the environment and their effects will spread without limit. If action is not taken now, virtually everyone in the world will soon be eating genetically engineered foods and will be at risk.

To come back to the recent developments in the news, Professor Wilmut is developing a new technique which produces stem cells without an embryo. He is reported to have plans of following a revolutionary technique pioneered in Japan, in which cells have been developed from fragments of skin, thereby avoiding the use of human embryos. It is thought that the new method could lead the way to scientists harvesting a patient's own cells and then using them to repair damage caused by disease.

Personally, I think that this development is exciting, and could have an enormous potential for organ donation, and the enormous shortage thereof. It is the first step on a ladder that might lead to the cloning of individual organs, which could then be transplanted into the living human body, and save so many of the lives which are lost every year, due to the shortage of organ donors. Although, this does seem a little odd to me, because I am a great believer that we do not take our bodies on with us (the evidence is in the fact that we decompose or are cremated…!), and therefore it seems a crime, no, even – a farce, not to give to the needy what we do not even need.

The news of Wilmut’s development is likely to come as a blow to scientists who believe the use of embryos to create stem cells is the best way to develop treatments for serious medical conditions such as stroke, heart disease and Parkinson's disease.
However, I think that so far the benefits of gene technology do outweigh the disadvantages and that it has provided us with a useful tool, and some people with life. I believe that we must encourage scientific advance and discovery in gene technology for the good of the suffering people in the world, however not at life’s expense: also is it moral to play God? Nature is a delicate balance that we have already upset through pollution and abuse resulting in Global Warming and destruction of our earth’s ozone layer. And the third world condition is greatly due to the growth of capitalist countries and our greedy attitude to our own society. Producing enough food for the world's population without using up all the available land has become an enormous challenge. However, One solution is to develop crops that yield more with fewer inputs; that are more resistant to diseases; that spoil less during storage and transport; that contain more useful nutrients; and that can grow in agricultural land that has been degraded. Gene technology gives us the potential to do this. And so problems with GMO crops being produced in the developed world without due regard for health might pale in the face of starvation, especially as the damaging effects of genetically engineered foods are seen as irreversible.

I cannot help thinking leaning towards the argument for the development of gene technology, however it is not yet understood, and if abused will evoke fatal and unethical result upon society. And so I am perplexed.


as everybody is...

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