Ethical considerations of Genetic Engineering

Genetic engineering is a field of science where the genome of an organism is altered in order to produce desirable or useful characteristics in the resultant organism. This includes fields such as GM crops, transgenesis, cloning. The process includes removing, editing or even adding to the DNA of an organism. GE is used for many areas such as food, scientific experimentation, and even entertainment. This article will analyse the case of using GE on animals and humans.

Against Genetic Engineering

While genetic engineering (GE) may have a number of benefits, there are also many potential ethical dilemmas related to this subject. One of the problems put forward is the idea of ‘playing God’ and ‘that life should not be regarded as a product that can be altered and played with for economic benefit’.

One of the main aims of GE is to maximise the quantity of meat from animals for human consumption. To do this, the DNA of the organism is modified so that the animal is made to grow faster than normal. This can put a lot of stress on the animal and can cause discomfort when the animal is too active. It has also been found that transgenic (an organism which contains additional, artificially-introduced genetic material in every cell) pigs can suffer from arthritis; can be partially blind and infertile when a human growth hormone was inserted into their genome to make them grow faster. Using GE to achieve desirable characteristics of farm animals for agriculture could be a slippery slope; it could be reasoned that adding or editing the genes of animals could lead to editing the genes of humans to get the desirable traits.

The consequentialism ethical theorem can be utilised to examine the ethics of the use of GE for the purposes of one’s entertainment. An example of the potential breach of animal welfare in GE is the GloFish, a fish that has been genetically modified to fluoresce. It can be argued that since the goal of the modification is not vastly important it therefore does not justify the means.

Furthermore, in some jurisdictions it is possible to obtain a patent for genetically modified organisms. One example of this is the OncoMouse – a mouse which had been genetically altered in Harvard University to make it more susceptible to develop cancer in order to conduct cancer research. This case brings up multiple ethical dilemmas, for example, patenting a genetic organism can be seen as being unethical as it is treating life as a commodity and grants the possession of genes. The ethics of creating an animal purely for it to have a disease for research is also questionable.

The possible courses of action are to ban GE entirely, to limit the scope of it, or to carry on with the current state of affairs. According to the Rights Approach, ‘the best ethical action is that which protects the ethical rights of those who are affected by the action’. The best course of action should therefore be to certainly limit the scope of GE used in the industry today, in order to avoid the use of unnecessary GE and the patenting of GE animals.

For Genetic Engineering

The advancement of GE enables us to eliminate some diseases and illnesses from one’s body by tracing genomes that lead to the disease. For instance, a life-threatening disease like cystic fibrosis can be removed completely by GE. Research has found that 1 in every 2,500 babies born in the UK have cystic fibrosis. With GE, the spread of the disease can be stopped entirely in the future.

GE can potentially increase the lifespan of humans. The elimination of diseases and illness can lead to that. In addition, research has been conducted on the worms Caenorhabditis elegans which have a lifespan that is comparable to 400-500 years of human lifetime. In the future anti-ageing treatments could be available to increase people lifetime. GE can also be used to reverse cellular damage that is responsible for ageing and by doing so ageing can be decelerated.

Organ replacement also benefits from GE. A report suggested that in the United States around 100 000 people need to undergo organ transplants but there are an insufficient number of organs to fulfil the demand. One of the ways to overcome the problem is to do an animal-human organ transplant. Scientists successfully transplanted a genetically engineered pig heart to a baboon and they believe further research could solve the problem of scarce supply of organs. Researchers are also exploring the possibility of substituting temporary skin for healing wounds and burns.

Unlike controlled breeding, modern GE gives access to an almost limitless scope of modification of animals. GE could help change or add other genes into the gene structure of animal livestock so that more omega-3 fatty acids could be obtained and produce leaner meats. These are traits which directly affect the health of human kind in a positive way.

Animals could also be engineered to be able to resist various diseases. In the food production industry, animals with diseases are simply discarded as they are unable to be consumed. As a result, the cost of meat production could be reduced with the introduction of animals which are impervious to diseases. In the long run, it could also produce healthier meats for consumption as there have been numerous cases which involve the production of diseased animals.

As the population of human kind increases at an accelerating rate, it is getting harder to meet the demand of the world food production. To solve this, animals could be genetically engineered to grow faster similar to the genetically modified (GM) salmon from AquaBounty.

The human race has long benefitted from technological advances such as air transportation, artificial rain and the breeding of crops. All of which were looked upon negatively during their beginning stages as trying to oppose God’s work or “play God”.

The best course of action is to continue GE as such advances are simply vital in human evolution.

41: Jake Steeland, Kaushal Marthi, Ibrahim Iskandar, Akmal Kamarudin

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14 thoughts on “Ethical considerations of Genetic Engineering

  1. This article gives an interesting overview of the potential applications of GE technology, as well as some potential issues. I agree that the potential benefits of this technology seem to outweigh any “ethical concerns”.

    It is an interesting thought that humans have been “Genetically Engineering” animals (and plants too) for over 10,000 years, your dog is an unnatural product resulting from our ancestors meddling with the genes of wolves, the livestock we have domesticated have been selectively bred for thousands of years giving significant changes to meat, milk, wool and egg production.

    What are the significant differences between these ancient GE techniques and modern molecular techniques? Are there ethical concerns intrinsic to the techniques themselves, or are the extrinsic factors, i.e. how the organism is being modified, more concerning?

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  2. This article gives an interesting overview of the potential applications of GE technology, as well as some potential issues. I agree that the potential benefits of this technology seem to outweigh any “ethical concerns”.

    It is an interesting thought that humans have been “Genetically Engineering” animals (and plants too) for over 10,000 years, your dog is an unnatural product resulting from our ancestors meddling with the genes of wolves, the livestock we have domesticated have been selectively bred for thousands of years giving significant changes to meat, milk, wool and egg production.

    What are the significant differences between these ancient GE techniques and modern molecular techniques? Are there ethical concerns intrinsic to the new techniques, or are the extrinsic factors, i.e. how the organism is being modified, more concerning?

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  3. From my perspective, GE is a new type of knowledge in this 21st century with many research and development is ongoing confidentially . I believe GE absolutely will give good impacts to human society in future if there are no bad people try to manipulate the subject.

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  4. The overview for the Genetic Engineering project (GE) are certainly interesting in term of fighting disease however we must note that for everything happen there are always a reason behind it ( work of god). But the idea to resist various disease and modification of animals might give other effect for example mutation or will create a new disease. Everything in this world are balance for example earth rotation, day and night and tree provide oxygen.

    What are the significant to the animal if they undergo GE or any side effect from it.

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  5. Ethics is the main essence in GE as it involve the altering and modification of the subject’s DNA and genome which may results in either good or bad outcome. Also one should not use the knowledge of GE for an individual benefits. Thus, GE is not a platform for us human to take over the work of our Creator as the world and everything inside it are perfect the way they are. A self reminder where GE is not for someone that have wicked intention as it may disturbed the balanced and maybe mass destruction of a species. Chill.

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  6. Of course all thing have their own strength and weakness, how much those particular matter help us in daily life. So, for GE it does contribute in such important cases accordingly but to prevent tons of problem in the future, I believe the GE appliance to life itself need to be limit following to certain protocols and standard so that it will not causes any unwanted incidents later.

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  7. An insightful, concise argument for and against Genetic Engineering.
    I wholly agree with points for Genetic Engineering. I feel the benefits far outweigh the conflicts. Key drivers such as the ability to tailor organs, treatment through gene therapy and evolving to an efficient food industry clearly show the need for customisation in genetics. Meat production is a key driver (and investor!) in the field but advances in genetic engineering also contribute to the development of GM crops and amelioration of what is currently seen as ersatz meat and other protein supplements.
    To draw a parallel to digitisation in industrial systems – through the mid to late 20th century we have been adapting to available technology whereas the past decade and the future is very much about developing and tailoring technology for specific uses.

    I believe the Authors bring some good arguments to the table against Genetic Engineering, most of which fall under mistreatment of animals. While there are many organisations lobbying against the unethical treatment of animals, most of their efforts seem to be focused on the industries of fashion and food – two sectors where genetic engineering has been used unethically for purposes which have no particularly pro-ethical standpoint of their own. I find that the line where Genetic Engineering is used for research or advancement of science to benefit the world a little blurred as these are quite worthy pursuits.

    An interesting point to investigate would be the possibility to develop technology that may eventually render some of the aforementioned concerns moot. For example, ‘lab-on-a-chip’ devices are quickly growing to be not only popular but economical devices for research requiring handling of microfluidic volumes. Is it viable for Genetic Engineering to turn to a similar venue in the future? Would this be more economical – possibly allowing rapid and more controlled testing as well as lowering waste and higher reliability in results.

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  8. GE is definitely knowledge on a whole new level. For me it is interesting and its application seems to be limitless. Its really tempting. You can modify anything by adding, removing or editing to the DNA of an organism.

    But in my sane mind, this is not something that we should meddle with. It is totally different from air transportation, artificial rain and the breeding of crops. One wrong step and we might end up causing a huge disaster. Even right now I am thinking to use it for my own personal benefits. For me the best course of action is to certainly limit the scope of GE used. Chill.

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  9. Useful article.Genetically modified technology not only affects the animals/food/organs etc that is performed on, but rather also looking at the after effects of consuming GM food per say, allergies/ long term health effect / but yeah the article’s highlighting some good arguments about unethical treatment of animals .

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  10. Interesting;the fact that GE and Medical Studies have got some correlations & in future,it’s almost impossible not to find connections amongst one another when we’re talking about any one of these studies. GE has provided the grounds for medical people to do our work.

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  11. So the article suggests to go forward with genetic engineering but to form some sort of regulations to avoid unnecessary or unethical exploitation of animals?

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  12. I strongly believe GE should continue as it brings more benefit than disadvantages to the vast population of the world. It is a new branch of science engineering and certainly is developing. I don’t see the problem with genetically engineering animals that have disease solely for the purpose to treat the disease.

    One of the successful GE I know is the insulin where it uses the pig genetics to treat people. Later on, with GE they made a non pig genetic insulin to treat patients with Islamic believes. I definitely think it is a great breakthrough as it saves millions of lives, and counting.

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  13. Interesting read with well-grounded points from both sides of the argument. GE innovations have greatly benefited humanity, especially with agriculture. Of course, there is no denying the great potential in GE, and research in this field should definitely be allowed to continue. However, regulations must be set in place as to avoid a (albeit worst-case scenario) dystopian ‘Brave New World’ future. Once favourable genetic traits are selectively added to newborn humans, there is a possibility of creating a market for so-called ‘designer babies’ whereby families with greater resources at their disposal could create superior children.

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  14. Have you ever heard of the Hound of the Baskerville? Many people said that it was a gigantic hound created by genetic engineering technology. I hope GE brings more benefits rather than detriments . I’m afraid that scientists will create lots of gigantic hounds to use in a war.

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