Social, Ethical and Economic Implications of Genetic Engineering

Social, Ethical and Economic Implications of Genetic Engineering

Public debate of aspects of GE has resulted in arousing great concern for health and the environment. GE is a new technology, and as such is met with scepticism on one hand and enthusiasm on the other. To fully appreciate the advantages and disadvantages, a good understanding of the facts is essential.

Traditional breeding.

Traditional crop and animal breeding has been practiced for thousands of years.

Traditional breeding involves selecting animals or plants with particular characteristics and producing individuals that clearly demonstrate the desired trait or characteristic.

Crossing takes place, usually between individuals of the same or closely related species.

The gene pool for such improvements, therefore, is limited to those genes found naturally in the breeding individuals.

In addition, when particular genes are inherited, other less desirable attributes may unpredictably be inherited. These undesirable features need to be bred out, following many generations of further selection.

As a result, traditional breeding is slow, largely unpredictable and limited by gene pools.

These include terms such as genetic manipulation, recombinant DNA technology and gene therapy (in humans).

In plants, the method usually employed is:

  1. Organisms are identified containing the desired gene.
  2. This gene is then isolated from that organism.
  3. A modified genetic sequence is then made, incorporating this gene, together with a promoter sequence and genetic marker.
  4. Multiplication of the recombinant sequences achieved in microbes such as yeast or bacteria, to produce multiple copies of this new gene.
  5. Copies of this new gene are then inserted, using enzymes or other methods, into the organism to be modified.
  6. Marker genes are used to select those organisms that have successfully taken up the new sequence.
  7. The cells are then cultured to produce many new plants.
  • The world's population is expanding exponentially.
  • Land available for food production is finite, and insufficient to sustain this growth using tradition methods and crops.
  • Some see GE as the potential to increase yields and possibly to allow crops to be grown in areas which are presently inhospitable.
  • The production of new organs by xenotransplantation may help to overcome shortages in organs for transplant surgery, so prolonging life.
  • There are potentials for making human therapeutic chemicals in other animals, e.g. human serum albumin used to treat burns, could be made in huge quantities in cows milk.

Other uses are less controversial, but have their critics.