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A debate on the dangers of commercialized genetic engineering

GE or not GE: The genetic engineering debate in New Zealand

Transgenics refers to those specific genetic engineering processes that remove genetic material from one species of plant or animal and add it to a different species. Due to the high similarity in genetic sequences for proteins among species, transgenic organisms are able to effectively assimilate and express these trans-genes.

The mule is a common example of a transgenic organism created when a horse and a donkey mate and produce offspring. Image courtesy Wade B. Worthen, Furman University, Biology Department. Transgenics involves removing genetic material from one species and adding it to another. The process of creating a transgene begins by isolating the gene of interest from a donor organism or selecting for purchase any of the thousands of known genes from massive online genomic databases.

Once the gene is obtained, it is usually altered so it can function more effectively or be expressed more readily in the host organism.

A transgenic organism is further defined as one that contains a transgene introduced by technological methods rather than through selective breeding.

Hybrids are transgenic organisms created when reproductive cells from two species combine to form a single embryo e. Current Developments Figure 2: Golden rice right compared to white rice.

By incorporating a human protein into bananas, potatoes, and tomatoes, researchers have been able to successfully create edible vaccines for hepatitis B, cholera, and rotavirus, the latter of which can cause fatal bouts of diarrhea.

One of the proposed goals is to create trees that could illuminate streets and pathways, thereby saving energy and reducing our dependence upon limited energy resources; however, the public release of such plants has a debate on the dangers of commercialized genetic engineering a heated debate centered around potential environmental impacts of introducing highly genetically engineered plants into natural ecosystems.

The fiber artificially created from this silk protein has several potentially valuable uses, such as making lightweight, strong, yet supple bulletproof vests. Other industrial and medical applications include stronger automotive and aerospace components, stronger and more biodegradable sutures, and bioshields, which can protect military personnel and first responders from chemical threats such as sarin gas.

Pigs may serve as a valuable source of organs and cells for transplantation into humans.

Opportunities and threats of genetic engineering

Genetic engineering and transgenic combinations represent a significant aspect of current biotechnology research. Xenotransplantation, or the transplantation of living tissues or organs from one species to another, is often seen as a potential way to alleviate the shortage of human hearts and kidneys.

Pigs have a similar physiology and organ size, making porcine pig organs ideal candidates for transplantation into human recipients. Genetic manipulation of stem cells now includes the growth of tissues on a scaffolding, or a 3-D printer, which then can be used as a temporary skin substitute for healing wounds or burns.

Tissue engineering is becoming a viable alternative in procedures that involve replacement of cartilage, heart valves, cerebrospinal shunts, and other organs. Transgenics and genetic engineering also present a variety of ethical considerations that span social, as well as extrinsic and intrinsic, concerns.

Ethical Issues in Genetic Engineering and Transgenics

Ethical Issues Transgenic biotechnology presents an exciting range of possibilities, from feeding the hungry to preventing and treating diseases; however, these promises are not without potential peril. Some of the issues that need to be considered are the following: Social Concerns If the blending of animal and human DNA results, intentionally or not, in chimeric entities possessing degrees of intelligence or sentience never before seen in nonhuman animals, should these entities be given rights and special protections?

What, if any, social and legal controls or reviews should be placed on such research? What unintended personal, social, and cultural consequences could result? Who will have access to these technologies and how will scarce resources—such as medical advances and novel treatments—be allocated?

Extrinsic Concerns What, if any, health risks are associated with transgenics and genetically modified foods? Should research be limited and, if so, how should the limits be decided? How should the limits be enforced nationally and internationally?

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Intrinsic Concerns Are there fundamental issues with creating new species? What, if any, consequences are there of blurring species boundaries?

What, if any, research in genetic engineering should be considered morally impermissible and banned e. The issue of crossing species boundaries represents a current topic of debate for bioethicists.

GE or not GE: The genetic engineering debate in New Zealand

Many plants and animals form hybrids in nature. Should these hybrids be considered separate species? As a result, the U.

Food and Drug Administration FDA has banned xenotransplantation trials using nonhuman primates until the procedures have been adequately demonstrated to be safe and until ethical issues have been sufficiently publicly discussed.

GE or not GE: The genetic engineering debate in New Zealand

However, with the advent of stem cell tissue engineering and 3-D printing, xenotransplantation may quickly become outmoded, opening the doors to more complex social, ethical, and legal issues and discourses.

Genetically modified crops or GMOs may pose long-term risks to the environment, such as damage to cultivated foods and non-target organisms, or large-scale ecological shifts.

Prior to large-scale acceptance of genetic engineering and transgenics, other potential ethical and environmental consequences must be addressed. In addition to the issue of species boundaries, there are other issues that need to be considered and discussed prior to large-scale acceptance and usage of transgenics and other genetic engineering research, including: Various bioethicists, environmentalists, and animal rights activists have argued that it is wrong to create animals that would suffer as a result of genetic alteration for example, a pig with no legs and that such experimentation should be banned.

What constitutes a person? A genetic definition is not very helpful, given the variability of gene sequences between individuals. A species definition can be controversial, as mentioned earlier.

  • There is a need for regulation on GE work, to keep everyone safe;
  • Transgenics refers to those specific genetic engineering processes that remove genetic material from one species of plant or animal and add it to a different species;
  • Proponents of genetic manipulation argue that currently parents can and do give their children advantages by sending them to better schools or giving them growth hormones, and that banning genetic manipulation is a denial of individual liberties.

The question of whether the definition should be more expansive or restrictive will need to be considered as courts, legislatures, and institutions address laws regarding genetic discrimination.

The International Olympic Committee is one of multiple organizations that have expressed public concern about genetic engineering.

GE or not GE: The genetic engineering debate in New Zealand

In a similar vein, the medical director of the International Olympic Committee IOC has expressed concern that athletes have started employing genetic engineering to get an edge over their competition. Proponents of genetic manipulation argue that currently parents can and do give their children advantages by sending them to better schools or giving them growth hormones, and that banning genetic manipulation is a denial of individual liberties.

  • The court ruled that ERMA had not followed the correct process in approving the experiment, and it set an injunction on the research;
  • The New Zealand High Court ordered the suspension of AgResearch work involving some transgenic cattle that were genetically engineered to produce human myelin basic protein MBP in their milk;
  • Due to the high similarity in genetic sequences for proteins among species, transgenic organisms are able to effectively assimilate and express these trans-genes.

These arguments also reflect the opposing philosophies regarding how scarce resources should be allocated. Conclusion Genetic engineering and transgenics continue to present intriguing and difficult challenges for 21st century scientists and ethicists, and education and meaningful, respectful discourse are just the beginning of what is required to tackle such complex ethical issues. Until we as a society or, perhaps, as a global entity can agree on what beings—human or otherwise—are worthy of moral and legal status and respect, we can expect intense cross-disciplinary debate and discussion as new life forms are created through science and medicine.

  • Assess approval on a per-project rather than a per-organism basis and cover areas not currently included such as importing GMOs and using human cell lines and tissue cultures;
  • There is a need for regulation on GE work, to keep everyone safe;
  • GE in the 21st century Is the GE issue resolved?
  • Worthen, Furman University, Biology Department;
  • Two weeks later, the reviewed application was approved, and the GE project was allowed to continue;
  • An—industry-funded, admittedly—study by the consulting firm PG Economics found that the introduction of herbicide-tolerant cotton saved

Educators have permission to reprint articles for classroom use; other users, please contact editor actionbioscience. Linda MacDonald Glenn, J. She completed a fellowship at the Institute of Ethics with the American Medical Association, where her research encompassed the legal, ethical, and social impact of emerging technologies and evolving notions of personhood.

She has advised governmental leaders and agencies and published numerous articles in professional journals and books.