Cosmology and our View of the World
Genes and Genetic Engineering: Cloning & Future
Lead: Peter Marcoulier
Summary by Sean Berry
This class was centered on the topic of genetic engineering, cloning, and what ethical and scientific implications they have for humanity. The topic of genetic engineering and cloning is very controversial. Do we have the right to play God? Should humans be not cloned even if it provides medical breakthroughs that could save lives? These are some of the questions that we wish to answer during this class.
Genetic Engineering is based on the manipulation of genes which are the base unit of life and are made up of DNA. A human genome is made up of about 30-40 thousand genes. Selective breeding may be a form of simple genetic engineering although it is not entirely agreed on. A more advanced version that has been accomplished today is the manipulation of a goldfish and a jelly fish to get a glow in the dark goldfish. These types of goldfish are sold in pet stores.
Cloning is the process of making a genetically identical copy of an animal or possibly a human. The first successful clone was a tadpole. Then the first mammal was Dolly the sheep. She died prematurely due to the premature aging of the genes. Another example of a clone is the Copycat “CC”. This was the first house hold pet that was successfully cloned for the commercial reason of cloning pets that have died or are sick for their owners.
One would think cloning humans is the next logical step. Many people have thought about the creation of designer babies, where the parents can choose the genes that their children have. They will be able to choose the hair color, eye color, and possibly intelligence in the future. Currently there are procedures in place to influence what sex the baby will be due to the weight differences in xx and xy sperm. This procedure requires in vitro fertilization and is very popular in China and India because males are largely desired over females in those cultures. This may look promising, but there are lots of issues about this topic. Should this be done? Do parents have the right to choose for their children whether they are good in a particular field?
This also brings up the question if people have the choice to replace their organs and whether it should only be done for the sick. The possibilities for medicine through genetic engineering are numerous. It includes the ability of inserting genes to supply the functions that the cells are lacking. This is used mostly for genetically caused diseases by introducing the healthy genes through an applicator such as a nasal spray.
With the introduction of new technologies and the discovery of new gene sequences everyday, come the people that want ownership of these technologies and discoveries. New gene sequences that are being found in the far reaches of the world are being patented. They patent these genes just in case it can be used for something in the future. Companies actually go into nature in order to find rare chemicals in order to collect and patent the sequences so that in the future they can use them. Although in the past patents have been made for manmade objects or concepts such as a circuit or an algorithm.
The class then moved onto the topic of the ethics of cloning and genetic engineering. This could be the next step in evolution that we are taking by genetically engineering ourselves. In the past people have tried to do it through eugenics or in the most extreme case Hitler’s Arian race idea. Is there a line that separates the immoral from the moral and why do we need to draw a line? In genetic engineering and cloning there are many failures before there is a success. There are too many societal differences and value put on human life to do this with humans. If this does happen there may be a chance that our culture may become a monoculture with very little genetic differences which may lead to a drastic disaster. In a monoculture one disease could find a weakness and just wipe out the entire culture.
The future of cloning and genetic engineering is also a topic of great discussion. Congress actually passed the genetic information nondiscrimination act into effect in 2008. This act says that an employer cannot discriminate employees based on their genetic structure. Another issue that was discussed is the possible use of cybernetic implants in order to improve the quality of life for humans. In the future we will also have to be careful about who to trust because the people putting in the new genes might slip another gene in that gives us the incentive to buy a certain product or crave something that they make in order to further themselves.
The topic of the discussion of genetics eventually moved to ethics and whether it was right to manipulate our genes to improve ourselves. To this question there is no answer currently when we get further into the technology and methodology of genetic engineering the answer to whether it is the right path to take will present itself.