23 junio, 2024

Advantages and disadvantages of genetic manipulation

Genetic manipulation represents all those techniques that allow the genes to be directly modified inside the cells of living organisms. These modifications can be through the insertion, deletion or alteration of one or more specific genes.

All the instructions that make an organism what it is are encoded in the genes, that is to say that these DNA fragments are the ones that tell each part of the cells and each cell in the body of a multicellular or unicellular organism, what should do, when and how.

Genetic manipulation is one of the most widely used biotechnological scientific processes today, since it includes all the necessary tools to modify the physical characteristics of practically any living being or, rather, of everything that has genetic information inside (DNA). or RNA).

Today, genetic manipulation is one of the most discussed topics by scientific society, since there are biotechnological tools capable of easily and effectively manipulating almost any gene desired in a living organism.

Among the organisms that can be «genetically manipulated» is included the human being, and that is where most of the debates arise, since although genetic manipulation can help to cure a large number of hereditary diseases, it can also be used to create highly dangerous biological weapons.

Advantages of genetic manipulation

The advance in the development of tools that allow genetic manipulation brings with it great advantages for humanity. We might even think that there are more advantages than disadvantages that arise from the development of these technologies.

However, it will only be so if humanity has the social and cultural maturity to use them in order to produce a common good in today’s society. Let’s see the 5 main advantages of genetic manipulation:

Correction of genetic and hereditary diseases

A large part of the diseases that humanity suffers from, such as cancer, diabetes, hemophilia, vitiligo, among others, are the product of the malfunction of some genes due to different mutations in the DNA sequence that makes them up, which causes their improper operation.

At present, the genetic manipulation of many of the genes that cause these diseases is being considered, in order to correct their mutations and thus try to cure the different diseases that they produce.

The most obvious advantage that this represents is that it would increase the life expectancy of human beings.

Super productive crops and livestock

Today, the vast majority of the food we consume is the product of genetically manipulated animal or plant organisms, either by transgenesis (by including a gene from another species) or by simple modification of one’s own genes.

Genetic manipulation, therefore, has allowed and continues to allow the development of crops that are more resistant to pests and extreme conditions (wind, drought, heat, excessive humidity, etc.), as well as faster-growing animals with resistance to diseases caused by different pathogens. It also involves the «design» of more productive organisms.

This, without a doubt, represents an important advantage, since it prevents the loss of crops and animals due to different environmental factors, ensuring that humanity can seek to produce enough food for everyone in all parts of the world.

Drug production and increased lifespan

Many of the drugs consumed by the world population are produced synthetically. However, some are produced thanks to the genetic modification of bacteria, microorganisms that with the appropriate genetic information can synthesize the active compounds present in many medicines.

This type of production is only possible thanks to molecular biology techniques that insert the genetic sequence that contains the instructions to be followed by the bacterium (or other types of organisms) to produce said compounds inside their cells.

This is not only easier in technical or practical terms, but it can lower costs, significantly increase production, etc.

Tools to mitigate climate change and the extinction of species

Genetic manipulation is also used to extract the genes that give some organisms resistance to high temperatures and then insert them into other susceptible organisms, seeking to make them resistant to increasingly higher temperatures as a result of climate change.

These tests are carried out mainly on species of agricultural interest such as rice, soybean, corn and wheat plants.

On the other hand, some more innovative research is focusing on the development of bacteria that are capable of consuming and digesting plastic, since the levels of contamination by this material are increasingly alarming and are ending life in almost all ecosystems. of the planet.

Plastic takes many years to degrade and there are materials that never even do so.

space colonization

Another of the advantages that we can point out for genetic manipulation techniques is that they provide the bases for scientists to be able to manipulate most of the characteristics that an organism needs to live, on earth or on another planet that presents the minimum conditions.

Thus, through astrobiology, the genetic and physical characteristics necessary to find and/or create life on another planet are studied.

In the field of astrobiology, experiments are carried out in the space station to determine what are the chemical elements and living organisms that could transform a planet to make it viable, so that humanity can establish itself there.

Although some of these advantages sound somewhat futuristic, like something out of a comic book or science fiction movie, many of them are feasible and real, and surely scientists will continue to devise more techniques and find new uses, many of them that will go much further. beyond our imagination.

Disadvantages of genetic manipulation

Most of the disadvantages of genetic manipulation are the product of the misuse that man can give it or that, in fact, has given it.

In other words, many of the products obtained through the technologies used for genetic manipulation are released to the market and are used without much care, since there are companies that do not carry out all the studies inherent to the potential risks that may exist.

On many occasions we read lawsuits, lawsuits or complaints on the news about the side effects caused by synthetic medicines or the fact that many transgenic plants are designed by the large companies of transgenic organisms to be sterile (they do not produce seeds), creating a negative dependency relationship.

Here is a list with the 5 main disadvantages:

Side effects

The main problem with genetic manipulation is the long-term effects that the changes we make to the DNA of living organisms can cause. Being a technology developed relatively recently, it is still difficult to know the effects that these modifications will have in the long term.

Few genetically engineered products are tested with rigorous trials that ensure a safe and reliable product for the consumer. Only at the beginning of this century have we begun to notice some of the effects of these products on us and especially on the environment.

Error range

The techniques that currently exist for genetic manipulation have taken years to develop and although they have now been mastered to such an extent that the errors are usually less than 10%, we still do not know exactly the effect of these errors.

The techniques with the least margin of error for genetic manipulation are not used in all parts of the world, but these techniques are used in practically all parts of the world, so this could represent a risk when making changes to the genes. .

Biological weapons

In recent years, through the CRISPR-Cas9 technique, experiments have been carried out to genetically modify human cells, since this technique seems to work with great precision to make the desired changes.

This type of technique can be used to create human beings with better capabilities than the rest, that is, more intelligent or physically fit, and in this way develop armies of people who have characteristics superior to the common population.

Additionally, with this technique, animals can also be modified to give rise to sterile species of livestock or pollinating insects and thus condition the agricultural production of an entire country.

The genetic manipulation of pathogenic bacteria or viruses can also be used by scientists at the behest of unscrupulous rulers, which can mean a serious danger for the entire world, since biological attacks do not usually only affect countries in conflict, but not there is no way to predict the effects around you.

ethical and moral contradictions

One of the main disadvantages of genetic manipulation has to do with the ethical and moral sphere, since it implies the deliberate modification of a living being, which has negative aspects from many religious or philosophical points of view.

Added to this, the beginning of genetic manipulation trials in humans has increased debates in modern society, since in many religions human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, and such modifications would be seen as an attack against of his will.

The line is very blurred, but the genetic editing of a human being in search of «perfection», rather than the correction of lethal diseases or severe pathological conditions, is clearly a topic to be discussed in the future and, for now, it is a big drawback.

In addition to this, another disadvantage of these techniques is that they are often sold and used by very restricted communities of the world population, which means that there are more and more socioeconomic and cultural differences, that is, the poor are getting poorer. and the rich are getting richer.

This would not be a disadvantage if organisms are manipulated in order to alleviate hunger and poverty in the most disadvantaged sectors (whether due to natural or economic resources), instead of enriching a wealthy sector of society.

environmental imbalance

To date, many of the genetic manipulations have been carried out on species of agricultural interest, that is, plants and animals that are used for food production.

However, we do not know the long-term effects of these modifications…

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