Anyone who has read a few books on science fiction will have a vast encyclopedia of knowledge about the potential terrors and incredible benefits that can come from genetic engineering. From simple genetically engineered plants and animals that produce more food and help people to survive to futuristic ideals of genetically engineered, “Supermen”. Genetic engineering and its potential for both good and evil is a tough moral quandary that will have to be faced in the coming years.
What is Genetic Engineering?
Genetic Engineering is the intentional manipulation of genetic “code” and genes to produce a specific desired result. Genetic mutations happen all the time. It is what they call evolution. Genetic Engineering on the other hand is specifically tailoring this genetic makeup with the goal of promoting a desired outcome for the offspring.
The Pros of Genetic Engineering
♦ Eliminate Disease: both hereditary and natural
This is ALWAYS the thing that will first be mentioned as one of the huge benefits of genetic engineering. Almost all diseases are predispositions. People are predisposed to get Alzheimer’s. They are predisposed to get Cancer. They are predisposed to get Coronary Heart disease. Often other factors have to happen to, but if people are not predisposed to these diseases they may never get them. Now that the genome is completely mapped scientists are rapidly discovering what genetic features are at the root for different diseases. We are not far away from being able to go into the genetic makeup, in utero, and change the genetic material to be able to rid future generations of the horrors of many diseases.
♦ Food Supply
Genetic engineering has already begun on food and animals. Genetically engineering plants and animals to require less sustenance and produce more edible meat and agriculture can really increase our food supply at the same time that population is booming.
♦ Longer life
The ridding of diseases should lead to a significantly longer life. That is not the whole picture though. Somewhere between 85-100 years, our bodies simply begin to wear down. The cells, simply cannot live for much longer than this. There are rare cases of people living significantly longer than this, but they are the exception and may be the basis for the genetic modifications toward longer life. It would not be crazy to think of 150-200 year long lifespans in a future where disease and hereditary disorders are eliminated and cellular death is slowed or greatly decreased.
The Cons of Genetic Engineering
♦ Manipulation and Malicious intent
Adolph Hitler desired to create a blond haired, blue eyed race of, “supermen”. He was, of course, a fanatical maniac, but with genetic engineering such possibilities could exist. We could become a world of haves and have-nots. Where people who have successfully undergone genetic engineering live disease free; are smarter, stronger and live 4-5 times as long as the, “unmodified” population. If genetic engineering was undertaken on human subjects, at what point would they stop being human? By today’s standards this is still science fiction, but the reality of this question is not so far off that it is not worth thinking about.
♦ Genetic Diversity
Evolution is all about adaptability. We do not know what it can take for a species to survive and thrive in an ever changing world. Up until this point in our history, evolution has naturally (and slowly) weeded out traits that were not good for survival and introduced traits that were. The way this happens in by diversity. A few fish start walking on land and then with genetic diversity they evolve into mammals.
This is important to us in the idea of species survival. When you create a, “perfect” set of traits you wipe out diversity. You begin to have a largely homogeneous population. The real problem comes when some sort of virus develops tailored on one particular trait. Once everyone has that genetic factor, it could spread like wildfire, because everyone would be susceptible.
♦ The Moral Issue
Ultimately, the general issue of genetic engineering comes down to a moral quandary. Scientists could be in charge of planning the course of human existence, for good or evil. Nearly all of the real applications of genetic engineering are good. Eradicating disease and hereditary abnormalities. Prolonging life. Maximizing food supply. Increasing intelligence, strength and stamina. The question for many people is when does this cross the line and go into the province of a higher power.
There is so much good in genetic engineering. It is impossible for people to bury their heads in the sand like ostriches and pretend that the capability does not exist. At the same time is mass genetic engineering moral? Is it right? Ultimately, it is up for everyone to decide as individuals whether the idea of genetic engineering is a positive thing or simply too dangerous.
The only thing to remember is what Pandora learned, once you open the box of knowledge, you can never put the information back in.