Genetic engineering is a process of transfer of desired gene into another organism or cells and modify it characters in a way beneficial to humans.
Genetic engineering is a part of biotechnology and is widely used in areas like food and medicine.
The process involves determination of qualities required which might be beneficial to humans.
Isolating the desired gene which encodes for the fore mentioned characters.
Transfer of that isolated desired gene into the genome of organism or cell of choice.
Growing of the organism (whose genome I modified) to express its characters.
Genetic engineering serves the purposes like
Animals: Dairy animals are genetically engineered to yield high quantities of milk and flesh.
Crops: Crops are made more tolerant adverse environment conditions and also disease resistant.
Drugs: Drugs like antibiotics, vaccines, hormones (insulin) are produced in large scales
Pros and cons of genetic engineering
From the above mentioned, it appears that genetic engineering is highly beneficial. But, like every technology, it also has few disadvantages. So here we discuss them one by one
Pros of genetic engineering
- To overcome food scarcity
- To overcome diseases
- To treat diseases.
- Enhanced research
- Large scale production at low price.
Cons of genetic engineering
- Destruction of natural characters
- Loss of regeneration ability
- Decline in natural strength and resistance.
- Misuse for financial benefits.
To overcome food scarcity: Before the production of genetically engineered plant varieties, the farm yield per hectare was very low. Since the land is a limited resource, one has to grow enough food grains in the limited area. So countries with heavy population and those with severe climatic challenges had to get maximum yield per hectare during crop season. Genetic engineering helped in development of varieties which give more yield. This helped in solving food scarcity and other requirements.
Also disease resistant variety of crops is another contribution. Many crops suffer from multiple diseases and pests leading to low yield. By development of genetically modified seeds which are able to withstand diseases and harsh climatic conditions, the yield has been enhanced.
To overcome diseases: Vaccines are way to prevent diseases in future. Among the types of vaccines available, there are also genetically engineered vaccines. These genetically engineered vaccines are especially made for those diseases where the microbe isolation is difficult. Ex: Hepatitis-B vaccine. Here, the a protein or antigen of the microbe causing disease is genetically built and prepared in large quantities for vaccination.
To treat diseases: This is an area where genetic engineering helps develop drugs to cure diseases. When other means of making drugs are unavailable, genetic engineering helped in mass production of drugs for important diseases like diabetes, cancer etc. Previously insulin was obtained from cattle to treat diabetics. But this method proved to be costly and also insufficient to meet large demands. Then insulin coding gene was introduced into genome of E-Coli through genetic engineering and large amount of insulin was produced by growing of the transformed E-coli in large culture broths.
Enhanced research: During scientific research, many time there is requirement of diseased models of animals to study the effects of drugs. Such animals with human diseases are produced by genetic engineering to mimic human condition. These animals are then used to see the drugs action. safety profile before taking up for human testing.
Large scale production at low price: Many substances which are produced by traditional methods have very low yield. This makes the process expensive and also time consuming. The same substance can be produced by genetic engineering in large amounts at low prices. Ex: Vitamins, enzymes.
Disadvantages from this technique:
This is quite controversial as many scientists do not agree. But yet there are many problems associated with this technique.
Destruction of natural characters: The original and native varieties are lost over time. And it is impossible to retrieve the original variety once the change has taken place. Some species of wheat, rice and other food crops are best suited for certain climatic conditions. Even consumption of such food is more suitable to the population living there. But due to genetic modification, the new varieties occupy the place of old. This leads to change in the species of plants and also will be less suitable for people for consumption living there.
Loss of regeneration ability: This is another interesting point. Many seed companies are believed to alter the crop seeds such that their yield seeds will not regenerate when sowed into soil. This is thought to make the farmer rely on the seeds from companies again and again. Thus, the companies can derive financial benefits again and again by making farmers dependent on them in future.
Decline in natural strength and resistance: Though these genetically modified varieties are said to be resistant to diseases, it seems they are still prone many other types of diseases for which they were not designed against. Hence though they overcome some diseases, they are even more susceptible for other diseases increase the cost of production.
Even the cattle which are genetically modified are unable to withstand different climatic conditions. Hence though they are bought with a hope of more milk yield, they are unable to survive in the new environment. This again leads to loss of time and money for the farmers.
Misuse for financial benefits: Just like every technology, this techniques also can be misused for financial benefits by the biotech companies and scientists. The vaccines were found to have an enzyme nagalase. This enzyme is though to deprive normal immunity which could lead to cancer in future.