Will humans harness genome technology for good or evil?

 

Pandora’s box is an entrancing myth from Greek Mythology. Prometheus stole sparks from the chariot of the sun which infuriated the Greek god, Zeus. To punish Prometheus, Zeus commanded Vulcan to mould a beautiful woman from clay and through her, determined that trouble and misery be brought into the world. The gods were so charmed by Vulcan’s creation that they all bestowed gifts upon her. Hermes bestowed on her the gift of a smooth, persuasive tongue, Aphrodite gave her the gift of beauty, Athene gifted her with the gift of feminine accomplishments. She was called Pandora, which means all-gifted. Epimetheus had been warned not to accept any gift from the gods, but he was so entranced by this woman that he made her his wife. See, Epimetheus possessed a rare jar containing all of the blessings reserved by the gods for mankind, which he had been forbidden to open. But the curiosity of a woman rendered the rule obsolete. Pandora opened the box…and all of the blessings which were reserved for mankind flew away, Pandora shut the lid to the jar just as Hope was about to escape, and thus preserved to man that never failing solace which helps him to bear with courage the many ills which assail him. – The Myths & Legends of Ancient Greece & Rome by E. M. Berens (2009).

I would like to go into depth the topic discussed regarding humanity’s ability to better themselves. There is a predicted event called the Holocene extinction, or the sixth extinction, due to human activity. It is predicted that in 300 years time, 75% of all mammal species will be extinct. This prediction is based on the current extinction rate, which is only hastening. This extinction is due to a combination of human encroachment and fragmentation, hunting, climate change, pollution, and disease. Conservationists estimate that 30% of all species may be lost within the next 40 years.

Extinction is a natural phenomenon and has always been balanced by the evolution of new species, yet with the current human-caused extinction, it is occurring so fast that evolution cannot keep pace. Would you like to know what other species rapidly reproduces and survives off its host until its host is no more? A virus. Peter Ward, a palaeontologist at the University of Washington has a theory: earth is set up to kill off life, including us, when it spreads too widely.

Now, I know you’re thinking, “what does all of this have to do with genome technology?” Well, in class it was mentioned that the human race has the ability to better itself. Yes. It does. Key word being “itself”. The human race is a selfish race and this needs no reference when the evidence is right under our noses. We are all aware of the Global Warming phenomenon and the facts and figures regarding the planet’s destruction due to Homosapien inhabitants, them being you and me. We are well aware of what we are doing to our planet and yet we continue to breed and overpopulate the earth, regardless of the consequences to our planet and therefore to our offspring.

Gene therapy is a controversial topic which most agree with, but when it comes to genetic engineering there is suddenly mass resistance. Why the resistance to different uses for the exact same technology? Gene therapy is an experimental technique used to treat and prevent diseases, as stated by the U.S. National Library of medicine (2017). Wikipedia defines genetic engineering as “the direct manipulation of an organisms genome using biotechnology.” It changes the cell’s genetic make-up. Now we’re playing God.

An article in The Telegraph described the genetic engineering of embryos as “the first step to designer children”. In a study conducted in China, scientists edited the DNA of non-viable embryos to prevent thalassaemia, a fatal blood disorder.  Human Genetics Alert Director, Dr. David King called for global banning of designer babies. “It is critical that we avoid a eugenic future in which the rich can buy themselves a baby with built-in genetic advantages”, King said. He also touched on the topic of how unethical it would be to manipulate a living being’s DNA for narcissistic reasons. A gene editing technique known as CRISPR/Cas9 works by using bacterially derived proteins to snip away at disease-causing genes. However, if used in human embryos, this will pass on to the next generation meaning children will be genetically engineered and pass these characteristics on which could damage the gene pool. This is arguably unethical. Knapton (2015).

I can argue all day about how wrong it is to genetically modify a person, but how can I argue against one side and support the gene therapy for disease cure and prevention?

An article was published on the genome sequencing of the malaria virus and how this knowledge would be useful in creating a vaccine against malaria.  Malcom et al. (2002).

If gene therapy can prevent so much heart break that comes with disease, such as a loved one having cancer that can be easily cured, then of course everyone is going to jump on the gene therapy bandwagon. But what about the bigger picture? We are the main cause of earth’s destruction, just by being alive, and now we’re further ensuring our survival. What is the point of living if we have no environment to live on? I guess we could genetically modify ourselves to breathe on Mars or Jupiter, yet another planet we can destroy. I know this is incredibly negative, but I have very little faith in our species and genetic engineering will only lead to more greed, pain, and destruction with a little bit of good here and there, just like our everyday lives.

I suppose the human race is not all bad. Sometimes we do good. Wanting to better our people for their survival, but still, with our survival accompanies the destruction of other lives. I want to argue for gene therapy and genetic engineering, but I feel too strongly that it is not the right thing to do. I want to show the negatives as well as the positives. But the positives of genetic engineering are all selfish. If my child had Down syndrome and there was a way to cure it, I would want that. But now I am affecting natural selection, in saying that I should be against vaccinations, but I am not. If I could enhance my child’s intelligence or give her blue hair or give her telepathic abilities, well, now you’re questioning my ethics. Who am I decide what my child should look and think like? Where is the excitement in that if everything is already predicted? This topic has made me question so much and I now have 20 little voices in my head arguing about everything. Maybe genome technology is human kind’s way of finding hope in our little Pandora’s Box; hope that is our root cause for survival.

 

 

 

 

 

Berens, E. M. (2009)The Myths & Legends of Ancient Greece & Rome.

Gaia Vince (2012). BBC Future: A looming mass extinction caused by humans.

Malcolm J. Gardner1, Neil Hall2, Eula Fung3, Owen White1, Matthew Berriman2, Richard W.

Hyman3, Jane M. Carlton1, Arnab Pain2, Karen E. Nelson1, Sharen Bowman2,*, Ian T.

Paulsen1, Keith James2, Jonathan A. Eisen1, Kim Rutherford2, Steven L. Salzberg1, Alister

Craig4, Sue Kyes5, Man-Suen Chan5, Vishvanath Nene1, Shamira J. Shallom1, Bernard

Suh1, Jeremy Peterson1, Sam Angiuoli1, Mihaela Pertea1, Jonathan Allen1, Jeremy

Selengut1, Daniel Haft1, Michael W. Mather6, Akhil B. Vaidya6, David M. A. Martin7, Alan H.

Fairlamb7, Martin J. Fraunholz8, David S. Roos8, Stuart A. Ralph9, Geoffrey I. McFadden9,

Leda M. Cummings1, G. Mani Subramanian10, Chris Mungall11, J. Craig Venter12, Daniel J.

Carucci13, Stephen (2002). Genome sequence of the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum. Europe PMC Funders Group. Nature 2002: 419 (6906).

Sarah Knapton (2015). The Telegraph- China shocks the world by genetically engineering human embryos.

U.S. National Library of Medicine (2017). Your understanding to genetic conditions.

Wikipedia: genetic engineering definition.

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