Genetic Engineering, History and Future: Altering the Face of Science


Science is a creature that continues to evolve at a much higher rate
than the beings that gave it birth. The transformation time from tree-shrew,
to ape, to human far exceeds the time from analytical engine, to calculator, to
computer. But science, in the past, has always remained distant. It has
allowed for advances in production, transportation, and even entertainment, but
never in history will science be able to so deeply affect our lives as genetic
engineering will undoubtedly do. With the birth of this new technology,
scientific extremists and anti-technologists have risen in arms to block its
budding future. Spreading fear by misinterpretation of facts, they promote
their hidden agendas in the halls of the United States congress. Genetic
engineering is a safe and powerful tool that will yield unprecedented results,
specifically in the field of medicine. It will usher in a world where gene
defects, bacterial disease, and even aging are a thing of the past. By
understanding genetic engineering and its history, discovering its possibilities,
and answering the moral and safety questions it brings forth, the blanket of
fear covering this remarkable technical miracle can be lifted.

The first step to understanding genetic engineering, and embracing its
possibilities for society, is to obtain a rough knowledge base of its history
and method. The basis for altering the evolutionary process is dependant on the
understanding of how individuals pass on characteristics to their offspring.
Genetics achieved its first foothold on the secrets of nature\'s evolutionary
process when an Austrian monk named Gregor Mendel developed the first "laws of
heredity." Using these laws, scientists studied the characteristics of
organisms for most of the next one hundred years following Mendel\'s discovery.
These early studies concluded that each organism has two sets of character
determinants, or genes (Stableford 16). For instance, in regards to eye color,
a child could receive one set of genes from his father that were encoded one
blue, and the other brown. The same child could also receive two brown genes
from his mother. The conclusion for this inheritance would be the child has a
three in four chance of having brown eyes, and a one in three chance of having
blue eyes (Stableford 16).

Genes are transmitted through chromosomes which reside in the nucleus
of every living organism\'s cells. Each chromosome is made up of fine strands of
deoxyribonucleic acids, or DNA. The information carried on the DNA determines
the cells function within the organism. Sex cells are the only cells that
contain a complete DNA map of the organism, therefore, "the structure of a DNA
molecule or combination of DNA molecules determines the shape, form, and
function of the [organism\'s] offspring " (Lewin 1). DNA discovery is attributed
to the research of three scientists, Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins, and James
Dewey Watson in 1951. They were all later accredited with the Nobel Price in
physiology and medicine in 1962 (Lewin 1).

"The new science of genetic engineering aims to take a dramatic short
cut in the slow process of evolution" (Stableford 25). In essence, scientists
aim to remove one gene from an organism\'s DNA, and place it into the DNA of
another organism. This would create a new DNA strand, full of new encoded
instructions; a strand that would have taken Mother Nature millions of years of
natural selection to develop. Isolating and removing a desired gene from a DNA
strand involves many different tools. DNA can be broken up by exposing it to
ultra-high-frequency sound waves, but this is an extremely inaccurate way of
isolating a desirable DNA section (Stableford 26). A more accurate way of DNA
splicing is the use of "restriction enzymes, which are produced by various
species of bacteria" (Clarke 1). The restriction enzymes cut the DNA strand at
a particular location called a nucleotide base, which makes up a DNA molecule.
Now that the desired portion of the DNA is cut out, it can be joined to anoth
erstrand of DNA by using enzymes called ligases. The final important step in
the creation of a new DNA strand is giving it the ability to self-replicate.
This can be accomplished by using special pieces of DNA, called vectors, that
permit the generation of multiple copies of a total DNA strand and fusing it to
the newly created DNA structure. Another newly developed method, called
polymerase chain reaction, allows for faster replication of DNA strands and does
not require the use of vectors (Clarke 1).

The possibilities of genetic engineering are endless. Once the power
to control the instructions, given to a single