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Gene technology is the term given to a range of activities concerned with understanding the expression of genes, taking advantage of natural genetic variation, modifying genes and transferring genes to new hosts. Gene technology sits within the broader area of biotechnology – the use of living things to make or change products. Humans have been using biotechnology for centuries in activities ranging from plant and animal breeding through to brewing and baking. All living things have genes. Genes are coded instructions that determine what an organism will look like and how it will function.
A gene is made up of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), a long, thread-like molecule that contains the blueprint for an organism. DNA is found in nearly all cells. In plants and animals it is bundled up into chromosomes. Each cell contains the entire DNA blueprint for that organism. The complete set of genes for an organism is called the genome. The genome for plants and animals is estimated to contain 25 000 to 50 000 genes.
Using gene technology, scientists can introduce new characteristics into an organism such as a plant, or enhance existing characteristics or delete characteristics depending on whether they are considered desirable or undesirable. The topic at hand which I chose to explore is genetically modified animals. I chose this topic because these days’ animals are being used and tested for many different reasons and they are being genetically modified whether it be for health, safety, extinction, or even just for experiment.
Several terms are used to describe genetically engineered animals: genetically modified, genetically altered, genetically manipulated, transgenic, and biotechnology-derived, amongst others. In the early stages of genetic engineering, the primary technology used was transgenesis, literally meaning the transfer of genetic material from one organism to another. However, with advances in the field, new technology emerged that did not necessarily require transgenesis: recent applications allow for the creation of genetically engineered animals via the deletion of genes, or the manipulation of genes already present.
This technology has several recognized accomplishments. The first is that genetically engineered animals will improve human health through production of novel replacement proteins, drugs, vaccines, research models and tissues for the treatment and prevention of human disease. The second is that genetically engineered animals will contribute to improving the environment and human health with the consumption of fewer resources and the production of less waste and the third is that Animals that are genetically engineered will have improved food production traits enabling them to help meet the global demand for more efficient, higher quality and lower-cost sources of food.
The fourth accomplishment that this technology has is that Genetic engineering offers tremendous benefit to the animal by enhancing health, well-being and animal welfare. Last but not least genetically engineered animals have produced high-value industrial products such as spider silk used for medical and defense purposes. This whole process of the genetically modified animal is done through a process called gene modification. Genetic modification changes the genes and thereby the characteristics of the subject. When a scientist genetically modifies an animal, they insert a foreign gene in the animal’s own genes
. The result is that the animal receives the characteristics held within the genetic code. With genetic modification it is possible to transfer genes from one species to another. This is because all genes, be they human, plant, animal or bacterial are created from the same material. Genetic scientists therefore have a huge amount of genetic characteristics to choose from. There are three basic methods that are used to genetically modify animals which are DNA microinjection. Retrovirus-mediated gee transfer, and embryonic stem cell-mediated gene transfer. The mouse was the first animal to undergo successful gene transfer using DNA microinjection.
This method involves transfer of a desired gene construct (of a single gene or a combination of genes that are recombined and then cloned) from another member of the same species or from a different species into the pronucleus of a reproductive cell. It also includes the manipulated cell, which first must be cultured in vitro (in a lab, not in a live animal) to develop to a specific embryonic phase, and is then transferred to the recipient female. A retrovirus is a virus that carries its genetic material in the form of RNA rather than DNA. With this method, retroviruses are used as vectors to transfer genetic material into the host cell, resulting in a chimera, an organism consisting of tissues or parts of diverse genetic constitution.
Chimeras are inbred for as many as 20 generations until homozygous (carrying the desired transgene in every cell) transgenic offspring are born. The embryonic stem cell-mediated gene transfer is the isolation of totipotent stem cells (stem cells that can develop into any type of specialized cell) from embryos. The desired gene is inserted into these cells and the •cells containing the desired DNA are incorporated into the host’s embryo, resulting in a chimeric animal.
The genetic engineering of animals has increased significantly in recent years, and the use of this technology brings with it ethical issues, some of which relate to animal welfare — defined by the World Organization for Animal Health as “the state of the animal…how an animal is coping with the conditions in which it lives.” Ethical issues, including concerns for animal welfare, can arise at all stages in the generation and life span of an individual genetically engineered animal. The ethical problems of genetically engineered animals are usually concerned about the danger these animals may pose to human beings (usually to human health), rather than any implications for the animals themselves.
Also, genetic engineering and selective breeding appear to violate animal rights, because they involve manipulating animals for human ends as if the animals were nothing more than human property, rather than treating the animals as being of value in themselves. Recent action to allow animals to be patented reinforces the idea of animals as human property, rather than beings in their own right. Genetically modified animals can play either a positive role or either a negative role. There are always ricks and benefits when dealing with such a delicate topic. Proponents claim that genetically modified animals could play a positive role in sustainable agriculture, whether it is on land or in water.
There is also the altruistic angle as helping to feed the world so that there would be less hunger. The negative role proponents claim that genetically modified animals have is increased incidents of allergies or the potential harm if genetically modified animals are released into the environment. Potential risks associated with genetically modified animals range from inadvertently creating new, persistent pests and toxins to increasing the harmful effects of current pests to causing harm to other existing beneficial organisms such as those in the soil, insects or other animals including birds which are susceptible to slight changes in the environment along with other potential harmful effects to the earth and its inhabitants. As you can tell, the risks outweigh the benefits in this case.
In my personal opinion I believe that genetically modified animals are more of a risk to the environment and to society itself. It does have benefits by providing more food, and even providing some means of good health but the idea of something not being naturally produced is a scary thought within itself. There could be many bad adverse reactions to modifying animals.
The genes of these animals could easily be contaminated during the modification process and this could cause animals to grown and an uncontrollable rate or even have uncontrollable behaviors. If there was a way to be absolutely sure that nothing could go wrong in this process then the world could probably benefit from it greatly but there is no way to ensure that society will be safe. I t might be a good thing for the present but I’m sure in the future that it might take a turn for the worse.
“Animal & Veterinary.” Genetically Engineered Animals. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2013.
“National Academy of Sciences: Genetically Modified Animals May PoseEnvironmental Risks JILL CARROLL and ANTONIO REGALADO / Wall Street Journal21aug02.” N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2013.
“Genetic Engineering: Animals.” Genetic Engineering: Animals. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2013.