Genetic engineering

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Genetic engineering, also called genetic modification, is the direct manipulation of an organism's genome using biotechnology. It is a set of technologies used to change the genetic makeup of cells, including the transfer of genes within and across species boundaries to produce improved or novel organisms.

Quotes[edit]

You can stop splitting the atom; you can stop visiting the moon; you can stop using aerosols; you may even decide not to kill entire populations by the use of a few bombs. But you cannot recall a new form of life. ~ Erwin Chargaff
I had the Hitler dream and I’ve had a couple of other very scary dreams, almost like nightmares, which is quite unusual for an adult. Not so much lately, but in the first couple of years after I published my work, the field was moving so fast. I had this incredible feeling that the science was getting out way ahead of any considerations about ethics, societal implications and whether we should be worrying about random people in various parts of the world using this for nefarious purposes. ~ Jennifer Doudna
It is difficult to make a general judgement about genetic modification (GM), whether vegetable or animal, medical or agricultural, since these vary greatly among themselves and call for specific considerations. The risks involved are not always due to the techniques used, but rather to their improper or excessive application. Genetic mutations, in fact, have often been, and continue to be, caused by nature itself. Nor are mutations caused by human intervention a modern phenomenon. The domestication of animals, the crossbreeding of species and other older and universally accepted practices can be mentioned as examples. We need but recall that scientific developments in GM cereals began with the observation of natural bacteria which spontaneously modified plant genomes. In nature, however, this process is slow and cannot be compared to the fast pace induced by contemporary technological advances, even when the latter build upon several centuries of scientific progress. ~ Pope Francis
In a more general sense, all the quarter-million plant species— in fact, all species of organisms—are potential donors of genes that can be transferred by genetic engineering into crop species in order to improve their performance. With the insertion of the right snippets of DNA, new strains can be created that are variously cold-hardy, pest-proofed, perennial, fast-growing, highly nutritious, multipurpose, water-conservative, and more easily sowed and harvested. And compared with traditional breeding techniques, genetic engineering is all but instantaneous. ~ Edward O. Wilson
I know it's a long shot and people would say it's 'too absurd'… but I'm doing this with hopes of making a Mickey Mouse some day. ~ Arikuni Uchimura
  • By using genetic engineering, biological researchers have already developed new weapons that are much more effective than their natural counterparts. Countless examples from the daily work of molecular biologists could be presented here, not least the introduction of antibiotic resistance into bacterial pathogens, which today is routine work in almost any microbiology laboratory. Indeed, many research projects in basic science show—sometimes unwillingly and unwittingly—how to overcome current scientific and technological limits in the military use of pathogenic agents. Furthermore, genetic engineering is not merely a theoretical possibility for future biowarfare: it has already been applied in past weapons programmes, particularly in the former Soviet Union. One example is the USSR's 'invisible anthrax', resulting from the introduction of an alien gene into Bacillus anthracis that altered its immunological properties (Pomerantsev et al., 1997). Existing vaccines proved to be ineffective against this new genetically engineered strain.
  • In 1998, it became public that the US Naval Research Laboratory in Washington DC was developing genetically engineered fungi with offensive biowarfare potential. They isolated natural microorganisms that degrade a variety of materials, such as plastics, rubber and metals, and used genetic engineering to make them more powerful and focused—one of these genetically engineered microbes can destroy military paints in 72 hours. The principal investigator at the Naval Research Laboratory, James Campbell, described possible applications of this technology in his presentation at the 3rd Non-Lethal Defense Symposium in 1998. Among them were “microbial derived or based esterases [that] might be used to strip signature-control coatings from aircraft, thus facilitating detection and destruction of the aircraft” (www.dtic.mil/ndia/NLD3/camp.pdf). This work is purportedly defensive in nature, although no threat has been articulated, and continuing research by the US Navy and Army continues to strive towards taking these weapons from the laboratory to the field. Just a few years later, in 2002, several research proposals by the US military that were clearly offensive in nature became public.
  • Molecular biology and genetic engineering are still in their infancy, and more technical possibilities will arise in the years to come—for military abuse too (Fraser & Dando, 2001). More efficient classical biowarfare agents will probably have only a marginal role, even if the genetically engineered 'superbug' is still routinely featured in newspaper reports. More likely and more alarming are weapons for new types of conflicts and warfare scenarios, namely low-intensity warfare or secret operations, for economic warfare or for sabotage activities. To prevent the hostile exploitation of biology now and forever, a bundle of measures must be taken, from strengthening the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention to building an awareness in the scientific community about the possibilities and dangers of abuse. Any kind of biotechnological or biomedical research, development or production must be performed in an internationally transparent and controlled manner. In cases in which military abuse seems to be imminent and likely, alternative ways to pursue the same research goal have to be developed. Furthermore, as we mentioned above with regard to the smallpox genome sequence, it might also be necessary to apply restrictions to certain research and/or publications.
  • Can genetic engineers restore a rapid worldwide rise in grainland productivity? This prospect is not promising simply because plant breeders using traditional techniques have largely exploited the genetic potential for increasing the share of photosynthate that goes into seed. Once this is pushed close to its limit, the remaining options tend to be relatively small, clustering around efforts to raise the plant’s tolerance of various stresses, such as drought or soil salinity. One major option left to scientists is to increase the efficiency of the process of photosynthesis itself—something that has thus far remained beyond their reach.
    • Lester R. Brown, Outgrowing the Earth (2005), Ch. 4 : Raising the Earth’s Productivity
  • You can stop splitting the atom; you can stop visiting the moon; you can stop using aerosols; you may even decide not to kill entire populations by the use of a few bombs. But you cannot recall a new form of life.
    • Erwin Chargaff, Letter to the editor of Science (1976). Quoted in Rose M. Morgan, The Genetics Revolution (2006), 3.
  • There will be a new technology called the `technology of light'. We will begin to use light directly from the sun. All forms of power used today will become obsolete. This new energy will... also have medical applications in connection with a more advanced aspect of the genetic engineering in which humanity is already engaged. Whole organs will be recreated. Instead of having heart, liver, kidney transplants, you will simply go to a clinic for a few hours and, with this genetic engineering technique and the technology of light, a new organ will be built into the body without surgery.
  • It is difficult to make a general judgement about genetic modification (GM), whether vegetable or animal, medical or agricultural, since these vary greatly among themselves and call for specific considerations. The risks involved are not always due to the techniques used, but rather to their improper or excessive application. Genetic mutations, in fact, have often been, and continue to be, caused by nature itself. Nor are mutations caused by human intervention a modern phenomenon. The domestication of animals, the crossbreeding of species and other older and universally accepted practices can be mentioned as examples. We need but recall that scientific developments in GM cereals began with the observation of natural bacteria which spontaneously modified plant genomes. In nature, however, this process is slow and cannot be compared to the fast pace induced by contemporary technological advances, even when the latter build upon several centuries of scientific progress.
Although no conclusive proof exists that GM cereals may be harmful to human beings, and in some regions their use has brought about economic growth which has helped to resolve problems, there remain a number of significant difficulties which should not be underestimated.
  • Hannah Devlin: In your book you describe a nightmare you had involving Hitler wearing a pig mask, asking to learn more about your “amazing technology”. Do you still have anxiety dreams about where Crispr might leave the human race?
Jennifer Doudna: I had the Hitler dream and I’ve had a couple of other very scary dreams, almost like nightmares, which is quite unusual for an adult. Not so much lately, but in the first couple of years after I published my work, the field was moving so fast. I had this incredible feeling that the science was getting out way ahead of any considerations about ethics, societal implications and whether we should be worrying about random people in various parts of the world using this for nefarious purposes.
  • Hannah Devlin: In 2015, you called for a moratorium on the clinical use of gene editing. Where do you stand on using Crispr to edit embryos these days?
Jennifer Doudna: It shouldn’t be used clinically today, but in the future possibly. That’s a big change for me. At first, I just thought why would you ever do it? Then I started to hear from people with genetic diseases in their family – this is now happening every day for me. A lot of them send me pictures of their children. There was one that I can’t stop thinking about, just sent to me in the last 10 days or so. A mother who told me that her infant son was diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease, caused by a sporadic rare mutation. She sent me a picture of this little boy. He was this adorable little baby, he was bald, in his little carrier and so cute. I have a son and my heart just broke.
  • Genetic engineering is to traditional crossbreeding what the nuclear bomb was to the sword.
    • Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety quoted in "Animal Patenting: Impact of Bioengineering on Altering Animals", in B. Julie Johnson E: The Environmental Magazine (Apr 1994).
  • So you did do it. You amalgamated one of Godzilla's cells together with the plant's cells. Are you proud of this? What kind science do you call this?
  • I stand by my assertions that although you can know what happens to any individual species that you modify, you cannot be certain what will happen to the ecosystem. Also, we have a strange situation where we have malnourished fat people. It’s not that we need more food. It’s that we need to manage our food system better. So when corporations seek government funding for genetic modification of food sources, I stroke my chin.
  • Genetic engineering crosses a fundamental threshold in the human manipulation of the planet, changing the nature of life itself.
    • Douglas Parr, scientist and activist, cited in Awake! magazine 2000, 4/22.
  • Evaluating the potential threat posed by advances in biotechnology, especially genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and synthetic biology remains a contentious issue. The rapid development of the tools of molecular biology and metabolic engineering has enabled the development of chimeric organisms which possess characteristics which are not native to the wild variant. This is commonplace in the area of biomanufacturing, where genes are introduced into organisms such as E coli and products manufactured via large-scale fermentation. More recently, entire metabolic pathways, albeit of limited complexity, have been engineered into organisms, for example, for the production of artemisinin in yeast. In addition to such metabolic engineering projects, whole genomes are being sequenced, leading to the possibility of creating organisms de novo. Numerous lectures, briefings and articles have argued that the dual use nature of biotechnology, the training of foreign students in American universities, and the easy availability of information on the internet have given potential adversaries access to biological weapons of unimagined which pose an existential threat. Some believe that, inevitably, these advances will lead to a catastrophic biological attack. Others have argued the opposite that making all information publicly available will enable a more universal “white biotechnology” which will ultimately monitor the field and provide the means to defeat any threat developed by adversaries. It has been argued that, despite these advances, the scientific and technical requirements, as well as the fundamental laws of natural selection, will prevent such an attack.
  • Since its first pragmatic elucidation in 1953, DNA structure and genetic engineering has extended its reach into agriculture, animal husbandry, medicine, and even organic materials.
    • Ibid, p.8
  • Since the early 1990’s genetically engineered plants have been commercially available. So called “first generation” transgenic plants have been engineered for characteristics that enhance the agricultural yield and marketing. Such characteristics include resistance to pests, herbicides and extreme climates, as well as improved product shelf life. For example, since their first commercial cultivation in 1996, plants have been genetically modified for tolerance to the herbicides glufosinate and glyphosate. A “second generation” of transgenic plants, now in research and development, is aimed at enhancing consumer satisfaction by enhancing taste, texture, or appearance of produce. To date, no second generation transgenic plants are on the market.
    • Ibid, pp. 8-9
  • Gene therapy, involving the use of viruses as a vector for introducing generic material into cells, has had some success in treating genetic disorders such as severe combined immunodeficiency, and treatments are being developed for a range of other currently incurable diseases such as cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, and muscular dystrophy. Genes introduced in this manner are not transmitted to the next generation. Gene therapy targeting the reproductive cells—so-called “Germ line Gene Therapy”—at present carries an unquantifiable risk associated with interfering with other genes, hence near-term development and commercialization of this technology is unlikely.
    • Ibid, p.9
  • The genetic material for modification may be either derived from natural organisms using standard recombinant DNA techniques, or produced by DNA synthesis, the latter being much less labor intensive. In recent work, DNA sequences on the order of 1 million base-pairs have been synthesized entirely from digitized genome sequence information, and the resulting organisms were phenotypical and capable of self-replication.
  • Development of novel (i.e., not known to be naturally-occurring) GMOs exhibiting unique designer characteristics requires substantially greater knowledge and capability. Many industrialized nations have laboratories capable of analyzing which immune response modifier genes in humans and livestock, when inserted into an organism together with pathogenicity (e.g., adherence and invasive) factor, will yield highly infectious pathogenic organisms.
  • Ibid, p.17
  • In a more general sense, all the quarter-million plant species— in fact, all species of organisms—are potential donors of genes that can be transferred by genetic engineering into crop species in order to improve their performance. With the insertion of the right snippets of DNA, new strains can be created that are variously cold-hardy, pest-proofed, perennial, fast-growing, highly nutritious, multipurpose, water-conservative, and more easily sowed and harvested. And compared with traditional breeding techniques, genetic engineering is all but instantaneous.
    • Edward O. Wilson, The Future of Life (2002), Ch. 5 : How Much Is the Biosphere Worth?

Dialogue[edit]

  • Snake: I thought using genetically modified soldiers was prohibited by international law.
Naomi: Yes, but those are just declarations not actual treaties.

External links[edit]

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