The development of human society is a complicated phenomenon in the course of which people have always tried to make their lives easier and more convenient. For this purpose, people have invented instruments that would make manual work not so hard and effort-consuming. They created automated machines to assist them in plants and industrial factories, etc. But the most notable advance of human thought on the merge of the 20th and 21st centuries was the idea of genetic engineering that transformed the minds of people about the power of human beings to create life on Earth (Stock, 2006). Needless to say, genetic engineering has its pros and cons and can both benefit and endanger mankind.
To understand what genetic engineering is, it is necessary to find out what the examples of this process are. According to Steinbrecher (1999), people have started consuming genetic engineering products long ago without knowing it. People consume food and breed cattle that underwent genetic engineering. The very term is however rather vague: “It is variously known as genetic engineering, genetic modification or genetic manipulation. All three terms mean the same thing, the reshuffling of genes usually from one species to another” (Steinbrecher, 9). In other words, genetic engineering uses science to combine the phenomena that cannot be combined and create something new in the process of shuffling cells or genes of various species of plants, animals, etc.
In the light of the fact that genetic engineering is reported to have been inactive use for a long time already, one can observe numerous applications of this science in everyday life. For instance, people have long been practicing the idea of creating new plants, fruit, and vegetable species through the procedure of cross-breeding. The results of this process can be called the first examples of genetic engineering in everyday life (Stock, 2006). Moreover, animal species, for instance, species of dogs or cats, are also often cross-bred to get a certain new species for some competition or esthetic purposes. All these facts evidence that genetic engineering is widely used by ordinary people who do not even know about their being part of this science.
Benefits of Genetic Engineering for the Society
Accordingly, modern human society can obviously benefit from the development of genetic engineering. Nowadays, industrial and business companies study the possibility to use genetic engineering to increase their production capacities and offer the customers on the worldwide markets a wider range of products at lower costs. The work is currently being developed on the implementation of genetic engineering in health care: “Genetic engineering would provide organ cloning as a possibility to prevent disease and improve the health of society, when without it, no such possibility could even exist” (Affirmative, 2009). Thus, current benefits from genetic engineering are quite obvious, while the future hopes connected with this branch of science are even bigger.
The first actual benefit of genetic engineering in the future can be the fact that it might assist the international community in solving such global issues as poverty, illnesses, and extinction of numerous animal and plant species on the planet. For instance, creating greater amounts of cheap and accessible food will allow the poor and developing countries to solve their food supply issues and facilitate the solution of another burning problem, i. e. illnesses caused by people having not enough food supply or not having any hygienic opportunities at all. Thus, health care will benefit from genetic engineering in any case: “Thanks to genetic engineering, in the future we will be able to clone organs to help people live longer” (Affirmative, 2009). The future benefits of genetic engineering can as well be exemplified by the current specific achievements of this science.
Successful Genetic Engineering
The first and the most widely spread example of successful genetic engineering is the great amount of food produced with the help of this process. Although experts seem to protest against genetically modified food as dangerous and unpredictable, it is obvious that the production of such food solves certain current issues like poverty and famine as people obtain access to the necessary amounts of food which is sold at reasonable prices:
We find it mixed in our food on the shelves in the supermarket–genetically engineered soybeans and maize. We find it growing in a plot down the lane, test field release sites with genetically engineered rapeseed, sugar beet, wheat, potato, strawberries and more (Steinbrecher, 9).
Thus, food is obviously the most notable achievement of genetic engineering aimed at solving social issues.
In the sphere of health care, the achievements of genetic engineering are also considerable. For instance, the ability of people to produce insulin artificially is the victory of genetic engineering as well. Insulin is the human hormone responsible for burning excessive sugar in the blood, and the lack of this hormone is the cause of diabetes (Stock, 2006). Having found out what genes are responsible for insulin production, scholars have managed to produce insulin and solve, at least partially, the issue for those suffering from diabetes giving them the chance to make their lives easier.
Vaccine for Hepatitis B
Furthermore, genetic engineering was the phenomenon that allowed people to overcome the danger of hepatitis B which terrified mankind for several decades. The creation of the vaccine to defend people from the illness took place in 1987 when the genetic engineers presented their invention, which was based on the knowledge of the genes whose failure in performance cause the human liver deviations and make it indefensible from hepatitis B. The vaccine invented was based on the artificial reproduction of the work of genes and of the hormones they need to produce to protect the human organism from hepatitis B(Stock, 2006). Thus, health care benefited considerably from genetic engineering development.
Genetic Engineering to Improve Life
Creation of Organs for Transplantation
When the issue of the use of genetic engineering for the improvement of everyday human lives comes into question, the phenomena or cloning and creating genetically modified food should be considered. The former, for instance, allows scholars and medical workers to hope for assisting the people who demand urgent organ, cell, or spinal cord transplantations. In this respect, the transplantation of the cloned animals’ organs into human organisms is also considered by specialists in the light of the fact that human cloning is currently banned (Cozzi et al., 2702). Therefore, there is a “novel possibility of transplanting genetically modified animal organs into humans – known as xenotransplantation” (Society, Religion and Technology Project, 2001). Although being a controversial topic, this kind of transplantation is actually able to help people in danger.
Development of Cells to Fight Cancer
Another step of genetic engineering towards improving people’s lives is the work on cell cloning and genetic research that is intended to allow treating cancer and other serious illnesses: “…scientists are using genetic engineering to help eventually cure cancer. They are not endangering society, but rather are using genetic engineering for the purposes of good” (Affirmative, 2009). It is one of the most notable benefits of genetic engineering for society as far as recently the worsening environmental conditions have made the issue of cancer treatment a central one in health care, and genetic engineering comes to help in such problematic conditions.
Ability to Feed the Hungry with Greater Amounts of Food
Finally, the ability of genetic engineering to feed the hungry is also an important point in understanding the role of this branch of science for social development. The currently used genetically modified soybeans and maize are only the first steps in creating a greater variety of high-quality, as the producers of genetically modified food state, but cheap food accessible for the large amounts of people with diverse levels of income(Stock, 2006). Genetically modified vegetables and fruit, meat produced from cattle or poultry bread with the use of genetic engineering are the next steps in this direction.
Risk Factors of Genetic Engineering
Probability of Deviations
Nevertheless, all the positive influences of genetic engineering just considered are opposed by the potential dangers that this branch of science might bring to mankind (Shiva, 2008). For instance, the potential behavior of the modified genes and cells is studied only in the experimental conditions and there is no guarantee that their behavior in the real-life conditions will be the same and equally safe:
A gene studied in a test tube can only tell what this gene does and how it behaves in that particular test tube. It cannot tell us what its role and behavior are in the organism it came from or what it might do if we place it into a completely different species (Steinbrecher, 9).
Accordingly, scholars are frightened by the possibility of further health issues caused by genetically engineered cells or transplanted organs.
Human Cloning Dangers
Cloning of human beings or their separate organs and cells is also a controversial issue in respect of genetic engineering and its safety for mankind. The reasons are the same as scholars cannot guarantee the absence of any physical or mental problem in a cloned human being or in a person whose organs or certain cells are cloned (Cozzi et al., 2703). Religious prejudice is also rather influential in the international ban of human cloning, thus making this procedure rather desirable for those who need help and see cloning as their only chance and rather dangerous from the viewpoint of those who care about the overall future of mankind.
Thus, it is obvious that genetic engineering is a rather controversial phenomenon. Genetic engineering has its positive sides that are sure to help in developing human society and improve the lives of people, but at the same time, serious negative impacts of this branch of science can bring much more harm than benefit. The issues of human cloning and organ transplantation are especially burning in this respect, and there is currently no uniform opinion about the potential impact of genetic engineering development on mankind.
Affirmative. “Human Genetic Engineering is Morally Justified.” LD Prep. 2009. Geocities. Web.
Cozzi, E., B. Soin, B. Holmes, D. White. “Genetic engineering of the donor as an approach to clinical xenotransplantation.” Transplantation Proceedings, 32. 8 (2000): 2701-2703.
Shiva, Vandana. “Bioterror And Biosafety.” SFSU. 2008. Genetic Engineering. Web.
Society, Religion and Technology Project. “Looking at the ethics of technology for a New Millennium.” SRTP. 2001. Church of Scotland. 2009. Web.
Steinbrecher, Ricarda. “What is Genetic Engineering?” Synthesis/Regeneration: A Magazine of Green Social Thought 18 (1999): 9 – 12.
Stock, Gregory. Current Controversies: Genetic Engineering. James D. Torr. Greenhaven Press 2006.