The science of indirectly manipulating an organism's genes using techniques like molecular cloning and transformation to alter the structure and nature of genes is called genetic engineering. Genetic engineering can bring about a great amount of transformation in the characteristics of an organism by the manipulation of DNA, which is like the code inscribed in every cell determining how it functions. Like any other science, genetic engineering also has pros and cons. Let us look at some of them.
Pros of Genetic Engineering
Better Taste, Nutrition and Growth Rate
Crops like potato, tomato, soybean and rice are currently being genetically engineered to obtain new strains with better nutritional qualities and increased yield. The genetically engineered crops are expected to have the capacity to grow on lands that are presently not suitable for cultivation. The manipulation of genes in crops is expected to improve their nutritional value as also their rate of growth. Biotechnology, the science of genetically engineering foods, can be used to impart a better taste to food.
Pest-resistant Crops and Longer Shelf life
Engineered seeds are resistant to pests and can survive in relatively harsh climatic conditions. The plant gene At-DBF2, when inserted in tomato and tobacco cells is seen to increase their endurance to harsh soil and climatic conditions. Biotechnology can be used to slow down the process of food spoilage. It can thus result in fruits and vegetables that have a greater shelf life.
Genetic Modification to Produce New Foods
Genetic engineering in food can be used to produce totally new substances such as proteins and other food nutrients. The genetic modification of foods can be used to increase their medicinal value, thus making homegrown edible vaccines available.
Modification of Genetic Traits in Humans
Genetic engineering has the potential of succeeding in case of human beings too. This specialized branch of genetic engineering, which is known as human genetic engineering is the science of modifying genotypes of human beings before birth. The process can be used to manipulate certain traits in an individual.
Boost Positive Traits, Suppress Negative Ones
Positive genetic engineering deals with enhancing the positive traits in an individual like increasing longevity or human capacity while negative genetic engineering deals with the suppression of negative traits in human beings like certain genetic diseases. Genetic engineering can be used to obtain a permanent cure for dreaded diseases.
Modification of Human DNA
If the genes responsible for certain exceptional qualities in individuals can be discovered, these genes can be artificially introduced into genotypes of other human beings. Genetic engineering in human beings can be used to change the DNA of individuals to bring about desirable structural and functional changes in them.
Cons of Genetic Engineering
May Hamper Nutritional Value
Genetic engineering in food involves the contamination of genes in crops. Genetically engineered crops may supersede natural weeds. They may prove to be harmful for natural plants. Undesirable genetic mutations can lead to allergies in crops. Some believe that genetic engineering in foodstuffs can hamper their nutritional value while enhancing their taste and appearance.
May Introduce Harmful Pathogens
Horizontal gene transfer can give rise to new pathogens. While increasing the immunity to diseases in plants, the resistance genes may get transferred to the harmful pathogens.
May Lead to Genetic Defects
Gene therapy in human beings can have certain side effects. While treating one defect, the therapy may lead to another. As one cell is responsible for many characteristics, the isolation of cells responsible for a single trait is indeed difficult.
Detrimental to Genetic Diversity
Genetic engineering can hamper the diversity in human beings. Cloning can be detrimental to individuality. Moreover, such processes may not be affordable for the masses, thus making gene therapy, an impossibility for the common man.
Genetic engineering may work wonders but it is after all a process of manipulating the natural. It is altering something that is not originally created by man. Is playing with nature really safe?