13 Dec 2022


What is Genetic Modification? - The Process of Manipulating Genes in Living Organisms

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Academic level: University

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Man’s quest to survive and produce healthy progeny has brought about ground breaking inventions in the medical and technological fields. These have helped reduce deaths and epidemics in the case of finding vaccinations, but there are conditions; some hereditary like diabetes and cancer, that continue to rob families of their loved ones. Scientists have resorted to attacking these conditions from the very core of humanity-DNA. This research paper discusses genetic engineering and the modifications to the body it entails, advantages, disadvantages, societal outlook, and its impact on the future of medicine. 

What is genetic modification? It is defined as the ‘manipulation of DNA to alter an organism’s characteristics (phenotype) in a particular way. (Your Genome, 2017). It is basically changing the genetic characteristics of organisms that do not occur naturally, or to eliminate unwanted traits, such as genes that carry disease like cancer. Alteration can mean shutting off or rendering an unwanted gene inactive, or introducing a foreign component-gene into a genome (the existing set of genes in an organism) to enhance functionality or correct a problem. Genetic modification is a modern, artificial practice of natural selection; in that organisms are given traits to survive an ever changing environment. More importantly, as stated earlier, scientists are using it to solve common medical issues like cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anaemia, Alzheimer’s and other conditions that occur from reproduction. The starting point for science in modifying the human genome is by creating genetically modified embryos. 

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Genetic modification has always been done by humans through time, in indirectly changing environmental aspects to better serve them. One such aspect pertains to the domestication of animals for food, protection, and labor. Another is by modifying plants to produce high yield, or to withstand certain conditions like drought in arid and semi-arid areas. Hersey and Chase (1952) first conducted various experiments and came up with the conclusion that DNA was the genetic code vessel, and were the first to put forward methods on how to modify it. It drastically reduced the time to improve an organism from decades to a matter of months and weeks. Dr. Paul Berg (1972) and his subordinates created the first DNA molecule, explained as sequences of molecules made from lab methods. They successfully combined DNA from different organisms, the most famous example being combination of DNA from a monkey’s virus known as SV40 and DNA from bacteria virus known as lambda phage. These recombinant DNA techniques are the most widely used ways to modify DNA, and a recombinant DNA molecule is characterized by DNA from several sources. The Centre for Evolutionary Technologies explain that these molecules are produced ‘using restriction enzymes which cut the DNA double helix in precise locations leaving short single stranded pieces of DNA, sticky ends available to rejoin with other DNA fragments containing complementary regions of single stranded DNA’. The fragments are therefore mixed with the desired insertion DNA and DNA Ligase to complete the recombinant process. Recombination and biological methods have been traditionally used but modern research methods have incepted the use of other techniques such as micro-injection, gene guns and electro-chemical poration (Hadzimichalis, 2017). 

What are the modern applications of genetic modification? In an article published on the Washington Post in 2008, Ronald M. Green gives a story about two British couples trying to have health embryos implanted in order to permanently vanquish a hereditary breast cancer problem in the female members of their family. And the healthy embryos were to be selected using in-vitro fertilization and preimplantation genetic diagnosis. In finding approval from Britain’s Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, the ‘can of worms’ was opened globally now that scientists inadvertently brought forward the concept of the ‘perfect baby’. A genetically modified human being devoid of serious health conditions and more intriguingly with a set of specially-chosen traits from parents. Green reckons that there’s an impending invention of a machine by The National Institute of Health to be used to correctly sequence the human genome, and be able to compare different individuals and decipher the smallest variation in the genes that distinguish these individuals from one another. So, what are the advantages of knowing the genetic composition of human beings to the very last bit and having the techniques to modify human physiology and anatomical characteristics to our own preference? 

The first and most obvious advantage is the complete eradication of diseases and fatal human conditions. Genetic modification is seen as a way of cutting out hereditary ailments, in the British couples’ case, and it can be used to identify genes that cause obesity, deafness, blindness among others. Silencing of these genes would be a huge step in human preservation. Green explains that cognitive human problems such as dyslexia could be eliminated, since geneticists have already identified mutations that lead to dyslexia (Green, 2008). Future generations of children would be spared the ignominy of possessing reading difficulties, since the genes causing it would be easily altered. 

In the Future of Working website, genetic engineering can increase human beings’ lifespan to anywhere between 100 and 150 years by the alteration of a human genome, incorporating traits of a healthy human being to their DNA to lengthen the aging process. This can include prevention of shortening telomere length in chromosomes, as telomere shortening is a characteristic of aging (Future Of Working, (2016). The pharmaceutical industry will also be highly advanced, developing highly effective products that can fight health conditions that are complicated now, such as Alzheimer’s. 

However, the backlash against genetic engineering is at astronomical levels. Green notes that when financially affluent parents can ‘buy’ traits to be given to their children, there will be the inevitable segregation of society, whereby those with special characteristics wipe out the ‘normal’ competition in regard to manpower and economics; in that the modified population would even live away from the rest of the population (Green, 2008). The few parents who would still prefer the natural order of reproduction would quickly find themselves at the back of the line and their kind considered as ‘invalids’-beings with weaknesses and faults, which is what human beings actually are. A hypothetical assessment by Green denotes that some races will not be able or allowed to breed with other races because they will be very different physiologically from one another. 

In an interview with Newsweek magazine, Bruno Bowden, a former Google programmer-turned-investor speaks of the need to maintain a healthy respect for diversity. A seemingly ‘perfect’ robotic population will be devoid of the problem-solving principles that have gotten the human genome through hard times, and that human principles are important in every bio system. Bowden gives the example of a city with its many businesses, and their correlation means that some should succeed and some should fail, because that’s how new methods and strategies are made by those companies that have gone under; that human error is essential (Burningham, 2016). Furthermore, Green cites techno-critic Bill McKibben who says if he’s to have traits that make him a supreme athlete, where will the feeling of accomplishment be? McKibben also bemoans the welfare of children given these performance enhancing traits by parents, insisting that they will be under more pressure to perform 100% if they refuse to utilize these qualities. 

There is a huge moral issue surrounding genetic modification, with religious groups accusing scientists of ‘playing God’ and refusing to follow His Will. Many religious factions reckon that diseases are there for a reason, and many religious parents do not want ‘experiments’ to be done on their children. Although the Catholic society has welcomed this as a way to alleviate suffering, with Pope John Paul II declaring it as a way to help the smallest and weakened human beings, particularly infants still in incubators. Apart from religion, this kind of science that protects people from disease will eventually lead to overpopulation, straining the available resources even further and causing other kinds of conflict such as war. 

The technology itself offers what could in fact be the biggest obstacle to itself. The use of human embryos for scientific research raises serious ethical issues, and previous editing of human embryos has gone so wrong in many situations. With this in mind, the outcome of a child born from this kind of technology is virtually unknown. And the idea that a government body like a scientific research ethics committee will approve experiments of such unpredictability and uncertainty to be done on babies is a very long way off. 

Science has come a long way in improving human life and as Green says, genetic engineering offers humans a chance to live lives devoid of disease, have a longer life span, perfect cognitive human functioning and the icing on the cake that is more attractive physical characteristics. The real danger to this kind of medicinal and technological progress are human societal factors bringing a new form of discrimination; a world where people cannot interact freely, taking the masses back to the dark years of slavery and apartheid. The scientific world as it stands is at loggerheads over the possibility of the technology in the human genome, and the unofficial agreement between protagonists is to proceed with extreme care and caution. 


Burningham, G. (2016), We Need To Talk About Human Genetic Engineering Before It’s Too Late , Retrieved from http://www.newsweek.com/human-genome-editing-crispr-454315 

Future Of Working, (2016), 6 Advantages and Disadvantages of Human Genetic Engineering , Retrieved from http://futureofworking.com/6-advantages-and-disadvantages-of-human-genetic-engineering/ 

Green, M. R. (2008), Genetic Modification of Human Beings: Is It Acceptable?, Current Issues and Enduring Questions , Tenth Edition, pp 495-501. 

Hadzimichalis, N. Phd (2017), Genetic Engineering, the Past, Present and Future , Retrieved from http://futurehumanevolution.com/genetic-engineering-the-past-present-and-future/2 

Your Genome (2017), What Is Genetic Engineering ? Retrieved from http://www.yourgenome.org/facts/what-is-genetic-engineering 

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StudyBounty. (2023, September 15). What is Genetic Modification? - The Process of Manipulating Genes in Living Organisms.


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