No one is perfect, although some would like to think that they are. But aren’t the tiny imperfections of human beings are what make us beautiful? Well, yes and no. Marilyn Monroe’s “beauty mark” to some is just a mole that could become cancerous if exposed to too many ultraviolet rays and would most likely be examined closely by dermatologists today…but it is still pretty. Some believe deaf culture is a beautiful thing and that the method of communication known as sign language is far more beautiful than speaking with vocal chords. A disadvantage to some is a blessing to others. So who sets the boundaries when it comes to manipulating the genes of living things? Should we do it only to ensure health in future beings by manipulating the genes of the food we eat, or even manipulate the genes of the future being? Or should we go even farther so as to create a “perfect” being, a “six million dollar man” so to speak with the use of stem cells? In the last couple of centuries, man has used science to increase the quality (and length) of human life, and I have no doubt that this will continue. But as scientific achievement after achievement is brought forth to society, society will either applaud or loathe it for fear that we will live in a world similar to the science fiction films “Gattaca” or “The Island.” But although I cannot prove or disprove that humanity might be headed down a slippery slope, I have faith that mankind will not abuse the power that we have (and will have) so rightfully harnessed.

Only recently has the entire human genome been completely decoded, but already humans fear what could become of that information. As time progresses, scientists will discover more and more genes and proteins that express physical traits or common ailments and fatal conditions one may develop down the road of life or perhaps right around the corner. In the film “Gattaca,” newborns routinely have their DNA read to predict future health conditions or disabilities. Because the main character was said to have a heart condition when his DNA was sequenced upon birth, insurance companies would not cover him, because in their eyes it was a pre-existing condition, even though he had not been affected by the condition yet. Many individuals believe that if their individual DNA were to become sequenced, then it could fall into the wrong hands resulting in fraudulent-like crimes similar to identity theft. Today, DNA is already being sequenced, but before it can become a more affordable test for individuals, privacy regulations must be re-examined to ensure the confidentiality of patient records.

Currently, oncologists often run DNA sequences of certain base pair lengths to test for amounts of activity of an enzyme known as TPMT in treating acute lymphatic leukemia cancer patients. The amount of TPMT activity in a patient’s blood helps the oncology doctor determine how high or low of a dose of Purinethol is needed to most greatly reduce the side effects of the patient. With the meaning of DNA becoming unveiled, it will only be a matter of time before doctors are able to find not only treatments, but cures for genetic disorders such as Down’s syndrome and Klinefelter’s syndrome. This is, without a doubt, a step in the positive direction for mankind.

But where are we to set the boundaries? Once the human genome is fully understood, isn’t it only a matter of time before parents start to create designer babies, or as they are called in the film “Gattaca,” “Valids”? It is obvious that parents do not want their future children to be born with muscular dystrophy or cystic fibrosis causing them to die in their teens, but what may be not so apparent is that many are not going to want their children to be, for example, short or heavy set. While those traits are often times less than ideal for most parents, the prospect of being able to control what your child will look like before they are even born frightens me. If all of society disliked the physical traits of shortness and husky body types, then everyone would be tall and skinny and there would be hardly any diversity; perhaps some advantages of being short and muscular would be missed by society. Let’s face it; being short and muscularly built does not impede one’s quality of life like Down’s syndrome.

What happens if parents want to change the sexual orientation of their child? Unfortunately, I know many people who would be thrilled at this option, because like Down’s syndrome, they believe it is unfortunate, maybe even terrible to be born gay. Sexuality, often times, is a factor in defining who we are and quite frankly, a single definition would limit the diversity and beauty of human life. To put it in perspective, most people would definitely never even consider changing the color of their child’s skin because it enhances the diversity of society…so how is sexual preference any different? It’s not, so scientists and governments will be required to work together to make some regulations on genetic engineering. Undoubtedly, it will become complicated if not entirely controversial.

But perhaps one of the most controversial aspects of modern science is the use of biotechnology to clone genes of plants, entire organisms and human cells. Today, it is a common practice to genetically modify crops such as corn, tomatoes and papayas so that they produce the highest yield and the largest and healthiest appearing fruit or vegetable.

However, these genetically modified organisms (GMOs) sometimes have adverse effects on the environment. For example, a corn plant inserted with a gene that kills pests is not always toxic to every pest because some have a genetic variability that allows for resistance against the inserted gene that is supposed to ward them off. With all the non-resistant pests dead, only pests resistant to the gene will survive and will continue to feed on the farmer’s genetically modified corn crops thus biotechnology momentarily alleviated the problem, but did not eliminate it completely. There are also arguments regarding human safety of GMOs in food we eat and whether or not we should have the decision to choose between organic and GMOs. Scientific tests have, for the most part, proved the safety of the inorganic foods that are sold in the supermarket, but individuals should have the right to decide between organic and inorganic by having the inorganic items labeled.

Even though biotechnical scientists have put enormous amounts of time and money into creating a genetically modified organism, I feel it is morally wrong to patent a gene in a food product. Rural countries in Africa desperately need a more efficient way to grow food and genetically modified organisms could greatly decrease those nations’ starvation rates. However to have acquired these seeds without paying for them in America is a patent violation and are grounds for a law suit. American farmers lose millions of dollars to biotechnology companies such as Monsanto even if some seeds landed in their farm via wind travel. If this practice makes it to third world countries, I fear those nations will have less money and food to provide for their citizens than they do today. In a perfect world, humankind would make GMOs pro bono. Unfortunately, man does not produce goods out of the benevolence of his heart, but for his own self interests (Adam Smith).

Scientists are not only cloning genes, but they are cloning live organisms. The first live organism that was the result of a successful, 278th reproductive cloning attempt was a sheep known as Dolly. However, with this scientific achievement came much criticism. But the majority agreed that it was immoral to clone human beings because clones can come out deformed, and because many fear a world similar to the one portrayed in the film, “The Island,” in which clones are made from human beings so that the genetic host is able to have a second set of organs that would not be rejected by their bodies. Even though the hosts are made to believe that their genetic copies are vegetables, the clones think, eat and experience emotions exactly like humans. Even though this futuristic world is entirely science fiction, I do believe that cloning animals and humans should be illegal, because it would cause the needless suffering of animals that are capable of experiencing pain and misery.

Although I am against cloning live organisms, I believe the therapeutic cloning of embryonic stem cells is beneficial and necessary to aid the suffering of mankind. Therapeutic cloning allows for the replication of stem cells to occur and after a certain point, stem cells are harvested from the clump of cells and are encouraged to grow on the person whose DNA exists within those stem cells. This is definitely not unethical because at the point when the stem cells need to be harvested, the mass of cells makes up nothing that could survive outside the conditions of the Petri dish. Perhaps the aspect of stem cell research that people find most controversial is the fact it comes from unused, frozen, human embryos. But I fail to understand how throwing away a vital research tool is moral, while harvesting the stem cells that could potentially save someone’s life is wrong. Stem cell research is perhaps the next important development in science that could relieve the suffering of millions and save the lives of millions more.

After examining the multitude of topics that sprout from the topic of genetics, man should seize the power we have so rightfully attained. Although man should work to relieve the suffering and misery of his fellow brethren, physical characteristics and other things that do not impede one’s quality of life should be left up to natural selection. If man delves too deeply into things that would be best left up to chance, it is a great possibility that we could deprive life of something so great, yet so simple: diversity; something that is flawed in a perfect way.