A bane or a boon

  • Genetic engineering has aided mankind to a huge degree, but it must always be kept in check with regular monitoring

Jan 16, 2018-

With advance in science, human society has completely changed. Now, human beings are working at such a micro level that an ordinary person would be shocked to learn about the achievements realised by technological advancements. Genetic engineering is one such boon for human kind, as it has become a tool for improving the performance, disease susceptibility, nutritional quality, and other traits in human, animals, and plants. The technology of manipulating a gene for human welfare was pioneered by Watson and Crick in the mid-nineties with their ground-breaking model of DNA.

Genetic engineering is constantly evolving and it has an enormous impact on the study of the gene structure and the expression of cells in a living organism. Its usefulness is increasingly rapidly worldwide. For example, current investigation into the molecular genetics of disease requires extensive use of gene manipulation. Genetic engineering has made it possible to beat the adverse consequences of many genetic disorders.  Due to this, there is a saying, “The present is the time of Information and Communication Technology, and the future will be the age of bio-technology or genetic engineering”.

A transgenic animal is an animal in which successful genetic manipulations have been performed and it refers to a whole organism that is manipulated on the genome level for achieving either certain phenotypic alterations or genotypic ones. The basic principle underlying the production of transgenic animals is the introduction of foreign genes through the germ line, so that every cell of the animal contains the same modified genetic material. The mouse was the first transgenic animal, followed by rabbits, pigs, sheep and cattle.  Transgenic animals are used to a great extent in agriculture to enhance breeding quality and disease resistance. Besides human gene therapy, nutritional supplements and xenotransplantation, pharmaceutical along with various other industrial uses are other areas where such a technology is applied. Such practices occur all over the globe in the scientific community.

The wide application of transgenic animals made it popular all over the world. At present, most countries are adopting a technique for bumper production and prosperity in agriculture. This technique is becoming an alternative to overcome many hazardous practices like using growth hormones to spur the development of animals that consequently results in residual hormones in animal products. Through xenotransplantation and other such techniques, transgenic animals are becoming a boon for human kind. In the near future, there may be possibilities of transplanting hearts, livers or kidneys. Additionally, transgenic milk is now more nutritionally balanced than natural bovine milk. 

However, while transgenic animals have enormous potential that is yet to be capitalised on, the whole idea of transgenic organisms is becoming debatable in some aspects. The high death rate while creating transgenic animals, the perception of transgenic animals as monsters, and a short life span are possible ethical hurdles that could hamper the adoption of this technique. There is a threat among some parties about the future consequences of adopting transgenic animals in relation to possible genetic changes or development of unwanted monsters and other similar challenges. But reviewing the historical development of agriculture, humans have been meddling the genome of other animals for centuries.

The breeds of dogs, modern day horses, cows, sheep and many other species are very different from the original domesticated species as a result of selective breeding. This type of breeding also involves the selection of specific traits whereas transgenic animals differ from it as the transgenic animals are often implanted with traits from a different species entirely. However, a transgenic practice is a logical step beyond selective breeding. It is possibly a way to end hunger entirely from the world and to cure prevalent diseases.  At present there is need for individual countries to develop policies for either rejection or regulation of transgenic animals based on research and experiments according to their context. Similar is the case for the genetically modified organism (GMO). In developed countries, GMO seeds are used for better performance and bumper production.

At a glance, advancement on the molecular level has increased the opportunities for improving the genetic potential of organisms. Knowledge of genetics, biotechnology and molecular biology together has resulted in a significant contribution to revolutionise greenery and sustainability in agriculture. At the same time, these technological achievements always possess loopholes which may create a big challenge for human kind. Thus, possible threats of such techniques must be curbed with regular monitoring and evaluation.

Kalauni is pursuing a BSc at the Agriculture and Forestry University, Nepal

Published: 16-01-2018 11:27

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