The Genetics of the Future


Those people immortalized in history are the same people who would not be satisfied with the conditions they were presented. This is how man became civilized; how electricity was invented; how the first man ended up on the moon; how slavery was brought to its close. The names of those who fight against change are left in the past; buried along with their stagnant principles. Man was meant to advance himself; to better his world; to fight against those burdens of his generation. The voices of this enduring debate on genetic modification that will be remembered are those that fight for, and eventually gain, the right to better the lives of people everywhere with new genetic technologies, and even if this is not someone in America, it will be someone elsewhere. Genetic modification is the technology of the present and the future. People will argue, “Just because we can, it doesn’t mean we should.” Though we can prevent people from being afflicted with Down’s Syndrome, clearly, we should not. Though we can stop crops from being devoured by diseases and pests without the use of toxic chemicals, naturally, we should not. Though we could possibly provide all those people currently on waiting lists they will most likely never make it off of in this lifetime with organs made with their own genetic code, obviously, we should not. Why should we not? All of these things sound wonderful to me. People argue that suffering is part of the human condition. I argue that a condition where one is paralyzed from the neck down is terrible no matter how much character that person builds. People argue that religion and God tell us these technologies are inherently wrong. I argue that allowing people to suffer without exploring the options for their relief as fully as possible is inherently wrong. I argue that this technology and this potential relief is tangible in a way that God and religion never will be. How can anyone deny the potential good genetic technologies and advancements have to offer humanity?

The genetics branch of science is rapidly expanding and offering new technologies and insights into the human genome previously beyond our understanding. Research experiments like the PGP-10 are some of the first complete mappings of the human genome on the personal level. Such examinations reveal things like propensity for heart disease, and any other defects of the DNA. This is indeed a very intimate look at a person, and if health insurance companies got a hold of this information, it would be a huge concern that they would discriminate based on genetic predisposition. However, I believe there are ways to further this technology and not run that risk. A simple piece of legislation could legally prevent that type of discrimination. For those who state that this is “more personal than being naked” I would say that these are only the cards you are dealt, not the strategy you are going to use to play them. While it is certainly an intimate look, in the literal sense, at an individual, it reveals a surprisingly small amount about them as a person. However, it certainly betters understanding of the genome and opens possibilities to correct genetic maladies in the future and better human lives.

Customized genetic medicine is the ultimate medical technology of the future. Not only can the genetics of an individual now be sequenced and used as a diagnostic tool, but the potential is there to not only match medicines more specifically to a person, but also to eventually go directly into that genetic material and correct the problem at its source. This type of possibility is not only fascinating but an infinitely beneficial and hopeful future prospect. Imagine a world where no child would have to live with Down’s Syndrome, or Klienfelter’s Syndrome. Current treatment of disorders with genetic roots is to pelt the patient with nonspecific drugs until something works for them. This broad attack is much less efficient and effective as a specialized process suited directly to each individual’s very genetic code. The immense improvement of a society with this tool and those advantages that might follow it is not only the world of the future, but a future that I want to live in, and possibly even help create.

Genetic engineering offers the potential to cure genetic disorders such as Turner’s, as mentioned in the above paragraph. This is a wonderful potential of this science. Every child deserves to live a life free of as many genetic obstacles as possible, they will find their own strife and develop their own self even without this added burden. It is the human duty to relieve suffering if possible, and the possible suffering to be relieved with these technologies is immense and a wonderful opportunity. People make conjectures about a slippery slope to “designer babies” and a society of genetically engineered people. Have a little faith in humans, not to take it to that level; this isn’t “Brave New World.” Besides, there is no such thing as a “perfect person.” The whole human aspect will kick in and mess it up at some point. Enough of an individual is left to environment and that magic of self that genetics only goes so far. Just try to perfect a person, really, it is unlikely you will find success. Genetic engineering is a great possibility for the future which could be a tool for the relief of the pain of thousands.

A major issue that people find with the thought of genetic engineering and the entirety of exploring and understanding the human genome is that they fear a loss of diversity. I feel that a population made diverse through some suffering and bearing larger genetic burdens than others is not the right type of diversity. In a society with no genetic diseases whatsoever, I believe there will be sufficient diversity purely in the differences between individuals. A disorder does not define a person, and they can become themselves even without that burden. Do not doom individuals to a life of hardship purely for diversities’ sake. The debate enters more of a grey areas for me when discussing things like making deaf children hearing, or possibly taking away gay culture. However, I feel that these are areas that the decision can only be left with the parents until the child is old enough to make them for themselves. I think cochlear implants are wonderful things, and that a hearing child certainly has fewer limitations than a deaf one. I would give my child an implant in a heartbeat. However, I would say that a parent can make that decision for a child until they are old enough to make if for them self. I think genetic engineering and the elimination of detrimental genetic problems is a marvelous thing, and am not worried about the death of diversity, as I feel the world will still be very diverse, and every individual will have a life with less suffering and pain.

Similar genetic technologies to those so controversial in the realm of human life are also big in the realm of agriculture and cloning technologies. I personally feel that GMOs are safe for consumption, and the more I learn in my AP Biology class about genetics, even after having transplanted a recombinant plasmid into an E. Coli culture in order to artificially manufacture a red fluorescent protein, the more convinced I become that they are safe. Genes, are genes, are genes, and they code for what they code for, and will not create some random and adverse effect. People don’t understand how these things are made and the science behind them and so they fear them. I do not feel that GM foods should necessarily have to be labeled unless they contain DNA from potential allergens, in which case that should be denoted. Gene cloning is great, as are transgenic crops, and GMOs. These things make food more affordable and sustainable. Perhaps this is part of the solution to hunger globally, though it is more complex than just that. I also feel that those corporations that make the genes and manufacture the organisms do have a right to patent it, however I feel as though perhaps something should be done to limit how long that patent can apply for or subsidize these things for farmers. These things are still intellectual property and the people behind them deserve a return on their investment. If drug companies can patent medicine, these corporations can patent genes.

I view reproductive cloning as an area where the genetic technologies start to worry me. This is where cloning humans becomes a possibility and this is where I can legitimately see a slippery slope beginning to form. It is true that reproductive cloning is used already in livestock and the like, which seems acceptable, but still, are you not almost robbing an individual organism of their identity? However, due to the inherent diversity of an individual based purely on things other than genetics, this does not seem so bad. However, do we really know the repercussions of cloning entire organisms? What happens when some rogue scientist clones the first human? The second? It would terrify me to run into another version of myself one day at the supermarket. This is one field of genetics which I feel as though perhaps it would just be best to halt advancement and leave well enough alone.

Therapeutic cloning once more enters into the realms that I can whole-heartedly support. It is wonderful to me to think that whole organs could be cloned to replace those failing, or those lost; to dream of those currently confined to chairs to get to stretch their limbs. This of course leads to the murky waters of stem cells. I believe that stem cell research is not only a morally ok thing to further, but that it is morally wrong to halt its progress. How can anyone look a 12 year old quadriplegic in the face and tell them, yes, there is a potential cure for you, but we aren’t pursuing it? I think that as much as possible should be done with adult stem cells, but as embryonic stem calls are the most promising area thus far, that should not be shut down as an option. In a country where abortion is legal, and thousands of viable embryos are burned every year it frustrates me that it is not legal to use even one of these for scientific advancement. It is my opinion that life is not contained in that blob of cells on the Petri dish. Life is contained in that man with a failing liver. It seems obvious to me that embryonic stem cell research should go ahead. In the same way that people donate their organs after death, why should a doomed embryo donate its potential for life to support another’s? Let us not discard this as an option, and not halt a science in its early days. There is so much potential for good in this area, the cure for paralysis, for dementia, for Alzheimer’s. There are so many lives to better, or even save.

I am a major advocate of genetic research and advancement of genetic technologies, with perhaps the exception of reproductive cloning. I believe the goal of science and of medicine is to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people. The newest and perhaps most effective method yet of achieving this is to allow these technologies to progress. Let us not spit in the face of progress, but embrace all the good these things have to offer. Do not fear the evils of the unknown and the power of technology; fear the known problems, and do not shy away from their potential solutions. I want to be part of an age remembered for innovation and improvement, not an age forgotten for inaction.