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What are the benefits of genetic engineering versus the potential risks? What are your...

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matt09 | eNoter

Posted July 13, 2009 at 8:53 AM via web

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What are the benefits of genetic engineering versus the potential risks? What are your personal thoughts on genetic engineering?

Do you think genetic engineering provides useful information for the scientific investigation of our natural world or do you think that we should not “mess with Mother Nature”?

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marilynn07 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted July 13, 2009 at 9:58 AM (Answer #2)

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My personal thoughts on genetic engineering are measured. I think there are advantages to using the knowledge gained through genetic research to know what potential problems may come up for offspring if two parents' DNA is used.  The option to use donor DNA appeals to me if problems with either partner's DNA arise.

The reason I prefer this method of study is that the natural combining of DNA allows for change at a "natural" rate rather than at an "unnatural" rate based on manipulation of various genes or DNA pieces. There is so much we do not know about various genetic variations and why they are there.  It is not as simple as turning on a switch and suddenly having lower cholesterol for example.

Think of sickle cell anemia. Persons with this genetic variation have problems with oxygen absorbtion and iron.  However, they do not get malaria which is a killer disease. This genetic variation happened over time and in a location that had a high incidence of malaria. The population with sickle cells was able to survive and reproduce at a large enough rate that malaria was not killing them off as rapidly as the non-sickle cell persons.

Do we want to "play God" and create super-humans?  If we do, what controls are in place to prevent un-ethical experimentation?  What if the new human or animal or plant becomes invasive and uncontrolable?  Is there protection for the native species in place?

My basic feelings and beliefs on genetic engineering are that too little is known about it at this juncture for widespread use in the human population. I believe that animal breeders and meat producers have been using genetic engineering for as long as animal husbandry has been employed. The problems now are that we can manipulate genetic material outside the organism in the lab to create a higher volume of milk capacity in cattle or a greater lean to fat ratio in pork.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 13, 2009 at 10:06 AM (Answer #3)

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The resolution to this question might come down to two things:  What evidence do you find the most compelling and what kind of belief do you have about human nature.  Either one or a combination of both could end up answering the question in a persuasive way.  I think that it's impossible to answer it without either, though.  Hence the first thing you will have to do is acquire as much evidence on both sides.  I think it's a plentiful enough topic to do so.  As for the second part, I will try to lay it out to you.  The most important thing to know is that like most pressing and powerful questions that are worthy of exploration, there is not a "right" answer as much as there is a "defensible" one.  Approach it like this and I think your investigation will hold more value.

If you believe that human nature and human impulses generally turn out for the best, you will side with genetic engineering being a good thing.  You will be persuaded by the possibilities and promises of what can be done.  In the field of plant research, crop development, and medical science, genetic technology will be compelling to you because of the empowerment of the human mind and its capacity.  You will believe that any tool that can allow scientists to develop greater harvests of fruits and vegetables can help to eliminate world hunger.  You will believe that developing different species of plants can have unlimited positive benefits.  You will believe that any engineering that can bring scientists closer to a cure for diseases such as cancer, AIDS, or Alzheimer's is worth not merely investigating, but pursuing.  You will believe this because, if you believe in the inherently good nature of human beings, you will presume that genetic engineering/ technology will be in good hands, guided for good uses and steered from bad ones.

I think you know where the next side is going...

If you believe in the nature of humans to be one where good intentions end up going astray, or believe that human impulses are not above corruptibility and corrosion, you would probably side against genetic engineering.  You would perceive this to be the case because you would feel that this branch of science/ technology is too much power for human beings to possess.  You might feel that this brings humans too close to the realm of the divine and that power is not meant for us to harness.  If humans had the ability to control the elemens of the divine or the natural world, unlimited power is not far behind and this scares you because of your perception of human impulses not being inherently good.  At the very least, you would point out that humans can make a mistake and end up doing more damage than originally intended because the power of genetic engineering is sweeping and broad in scope.  Due to this, you would be wary of empowering humans to this degree.  If you felt that human impulses have a penchant to be corrupted, you would recoil in horror at humans developing this technology and then turning around to selling it to the higher bidder.  Essentially, you would be afraid of giving humans this much power and would feel that the natural checks provided by the realm of divine or the nature is there for a purpose:  Namely to deny ours, as human beings.

The evidence that will guide you is critical.  I think that this will end up playing a formative and decisive role in how you answer the question.  However, underlying this is an essential view of human nature.

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted July 13, 2009 at 11:36 PM (Answer #4)

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Whether or not we should "mess with Mother Nature" is a moral and philosophical question that becomes more and more pressing as science marches forward into new and previously unimagined realms. However, the fact is that we have challenged nature and will continue to do so because it is in our nature to do what can be done and to learn what can be learned. The conflict between morality and science is not new. (Consider Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, certainly not a contemporary novel.) Genetic engineering is a reality, and the genie cannot be put back into the bottle. Our task now becomes what it has always been: To make determinations as a society of human beings how we will and will not utilize our scientific capabilities.

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epollock | Valedictorian

Posted July 15, 2009 at 6:26 AM (Answer #5)

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One of the greatest benefits of genetic engineering is the manufacturing of drugs specific to an individual's problems, lessening side-effects and making drugs more efficacious. If the purpose is to create some sort of racial advantage, haven't societies been doing that for thousands of years alreday?

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lbyman | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 14, 2009 at 10:37 PM (Answer #6)

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One of the greatest concerns  addressed at the Palomar conference was what would happen if a genetically modified super "bug" was developed; got into a cities drinking water or was spread by air borne particles. Not a pleasant thought.

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thompso | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted April 11, 2010 at 3:18 PM (Answer #7)

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Genetic engineering is such a broad field and my opinions are varied based on the type of genetic engineering being addressed.  The idea of designer babies and erradication of disease is not something that I am interested in and I would prefer not to see this happening.  There is a process of natural selection that needs to take place and variation is essential for this to occur. However the use of genetic engineering to test drugs and using stem cells to create transplantable organs is worth the research.  For the sake of advancement in science genetic engineering is a must as long as there are laws to regulate its use.  Like any field, if used by the wrong people it could be disasterous.

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