Genetic Engineering: Boon Or Curse?

Genetic Engineering is the alteration of the genes of an organism, to improve its chances of survival, boost its immunity, help in its regeneration and reproduction, and in more complex fields of study – even clone them. It is the direct manipulation of an organism’s genes. It uses the techniques of cloning and transformation to alter the structure and characteristics of genes directly. It has ushered in a new era of science and technology with many successful applications. The most notable of such applications include increased crop productivity, development of insulin in hamster ovary cells, development of organs such as ‘ear’ on the body parts of mice and the most known example that really accelerated the researches on genetics and its application – cloning of a sheep named Dolly in 1997.

Today, genetic engineering is one of the most hotly debated topics in the world. Many believe and hope that it can once and forever get rid of all human sufferings due to diseases, disability, starvation, etc. On the other hand, more conservative and pessimistic people – who actually believe they are rather realistic, argue that genetic engineering will never be able to accomplish what it promises. They argue that it will do more harm than good citing the principles of natural selection and evolution.

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Genetic Engineering has a wide range of applications including agriculture, animal husbandry, medicine and surgery. With its help, various species of crops have grown immune to many lethal diseases. Hybridization has helped to increase crop yield. Today, many species of crops such as wheat are genetically altered for high nutrition value and quicker and higher productivity. Countries all over the world are adopting genetically enhanced crops which have helped to minimize food scarcity, provide highly nutritious food and grow crops much immune to various illness and pesticides. This has thus brought about a new era of agricultural revolution, which can hopefully eradicate starvation and malnutrition.

However, some people believe that genetically altered crops are not healthy in the long run. There are also doubts about the effects of such highly enhanced and immune crops in the much delicate ecosystem. Genetically altered animals are also thought to bring about similar problems.

Similarly, genetic engineering which has proved revolutionary in the medical sector is also believed by some people to be morally and socially unethical. Altering some organism’s genes is thought to be against religious beliefs and values. It is also considered immoral to hybridize some organism for selfish human needs. Most of these arguments are correct and not baseless. There have been many cases of genetically enhanced crops being potentially harmful to the consumers as well as the ecosystem. Also, it is not hard to get to the point of argument that genetic engineering, especially cloning and hybridization are immoral and unethical. However, most of the people that support the ever-increasing applications of genetic engineering argue that something that might free humans from all kinds of sufferings is bound to have some drawbacks. These drawbacks are in fact correctable provided required effort is put in. Therefore, there must not be a stop to the applications of and researches on genetic engineering. It is too great an opportunity for humans to undo their past mistakes of conflicts that have brought poverty, of mismanaged civilization and development that have brought destruction of natural resources and disturbed the delicate ecosystem, and of thoughtless and haphazard technological advancement.

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by Pawan Dhakal