What if you could grow yourself a new arm? What if you knew exactly what disease you might get in 40 years? What if you had a clone 15 years younger than you who you could teach to do things differently than you did?
Genetics is a relatively new field of scientific study, only having been around for about the last 60 years. With new technology, scientists are able to do more and more to help improve our lives, but they are often controversial. Cloning can result in new organs, stem cells can be used to do research on many diseases, the DNA of our food can be changed so that it grows better, and genetic research can tell us what diseases we or our offspring might develop.
It is important to stay informed of these issues because they will form many of the political and ethical issues of the future, if not the present! Many people take a side on these issues based on fear and misinformation; if you understand what these issues are actually about, you can make more informed decisions that could ultimately lead to a better life for you and your children.
Cloning is not all about making copies of oneself. Scary movies and sci-fi television series would have us believe that scientists would like to make armies of super-intelligent humans that could dominate the entire world. However, that’s completely untrue! Cloning is mainly the use of DNA to make organs that can be used to treat diseases and to replace organs that have failed. If someone has a heart attack and needs a new heart, their own DNA could be used to create that new organ!
As we have previously seen, a zygote starts dividing and the cells differentiate. This power to divide into any other cell of the body is used by scientists in stem cell research. Stem cells can be taken from aborted embryos, but can also be taken from adult cells through often complicated and painful procedures through the bone marrow. Stem cells can be used to create organs, like cloning, that can replace failed or diseased organs in a patient. Stem cells can also be used to research human diseases, as they do not harm living humans, instead of performing those experiments on mice.
Genetically modified food (GM) is food that has been genetically changed so that it will be resistant to pests, will grow bigger, taller or otherwise be more healthy and more valuable when it is sold. In a way, GM has been happening for thousands of years, as farmers choose the most healthy crops to plant for the next year. GM food is a more technical, and less understood, way of making changes to crops so that farmers can get the most out of their land.
In general, genetic research that is done on humans allows us to see inside ourselves and truly figure out who and what we are. Many people argue that this information can be misused; for example, an insurance company may deny health insurance to someone who has a certain genetic disease that they will only suffer from in 20 years. On the other hand, if we know what diseases we may get, we can start treatment for those diseases before it even becomes an issue.