Manipulating the genetic makeup of living things is called genetic engineering, and scientists are learning more and more about this process each day. While there are some people who feel that tampering with the DNA of human beings or other organisms is meddling with Mother Nature, others see it as a sign of progress and an opportunity to make the world and the lives of humans and animals better.
One of the top goals of genetic engineering is the improvement of health. Imagine a world without the threat of AIDS or cancer. Those working in the genetics field hope that manipulating the genes of humans will one day enable science to prevent people from contracting these potentially deadly diseases. Some diseases are more likely in certain people because they have a history of the disease in the family, meaning it could be passed down and make someone predisposed to a particular illness. Genetic engineering could theoretically eliminate the passing of “disease” genes.
Genetic engineering can be used to improve the drugs available on the marketplace by making them more effective and safer. By using genetic modification scientists can make pharmaceuticals more effective than the existing versions of the medicine. There are already improved versions of insulin for diabetics and human growth hormones on the market thanks to genetic engineering. Manipulation of genes may also make it possible to create plants that contain natural medicines in labs.
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Saving the seeds from the best looking plants to replant the following year has been a method of manual genetic selection for many years. But science has made it possible to engineer plants to produce the biggest and best fruits and vegetables possible by replacing the genes and designing plants with the most desirable traits. This leads to the availability of more and higher quality food that may also be resistant to the most common plant diseases.
One of the most serious problems in medicine is the lack of available organs on the transplant list. While donating organs is a good way to help your fellow man, there are simply not enough to go around. Demand always exceeds the need, meaning many patients simply can’t survive until a match is found. But when those patients with failing organs knew in advance that they would need a new organ, doctors could simply order it and have a compatible heart, lung or other part “grown” in a lab. Genetic engineering may be able to make that a common occurrence eventually.