Реферат: Genetic Engineering
All that we are is the result of what we have thought
For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain
the whole world and lose his own soul?
While plant biotechnology has been used for centuries to enhance plants,
microorganisms and animals for food, only recently has it allowed for the
transfer of genes from one organism to another. Yet there is now a widespread
controversy over the harmful and beneficial effects of genetic engineering to
which, at this time, there seems to be no concrete solution. The ideas below
are expected to bring in a bit of clearance into the topic. Here I’m going to
reveal some facts concerning genetic engineering, specially the technology,
its weak and strong points (if any). Probably the information brought is a
bit too prejudiced, for I’m certainly not in favor of making jokes with
nature, but I really tried to find some good things about GE.
What is genetic engineering?
Genetic engineering is a laboratory technique used by scientists to change
the DNA of living organisms.
DNA is the blueprint for the individuality of an organism. The organism
relies upon the information stored in its DNA for the management of every
biochemical process. The life, growth and unique features of the organism
depend on its DNA. The segments of DNA which have been associated with
specific features or functions of an organism are called genes.
Molecular biologists have discovered many enzymes which change the structure
of DNA in living organisms. Some of these enzymes can cut and join strands of
DNA. Using such enzymes, scientists learned to cut specific genes from DNA
and to build customized DNA using these genes. They also learned about
vectors, strands of DNA such as viruses, which can infect a cell and insert
themselves into its DNA.
With this knowledge, scientists started to build vectors which incorporated
genes of their choosing and used the new vectors to insert these genes into
the DNA of living organisms. Genetic engineers believe they can improve the
foods we eat by doing this. For example, tomatoes are sensitive to frost.
This shortens their growing season. Fish, on the other hand, survive in very
cold water. Scientists identified a particular gene which enables a flounder
to resist cold and used the technology of genetic engineering to insert this
'anti-freeze' gene into a tomato. This makes it possible to extend the
growing season of the tomato.
At first glance, this might look exciting to some people. Deeper
consideration reveals serious dangers.
There are 4 types of genetic engineering which consist of recombinant
engineering, microinjection, electro and chemical poration, and also
The first of the 4, recombinant engineering, is also known as r-DNA
technology. This technology relies on biological vectors such as plasmids and
viruses to carry foreign genes into cells. The plasmids are small circular
pieces of genetic material found in bacteria that can cross species
boundaries. These circular pieces can be broken, which results with an
addition of a new genetic material to the broken plasmids. The plasmids, now
joined with the new genetic material, can move across microbial cell
boundaries and place the new genetic material next to the bacterium's own
genes. After this takes place, the bacteria will then take up the gene and
will begin to produce the protein for which the gene codes. In this
technique, the viruses also act as vectors. They are infectious particles
that contain genetic material to which a new gene can be added. Viruses carry
the new gene into a recipient cell driving the process of infecting that
cell. However, the viruses can be disabled so that when it carries a new gene
into a cell, it cannot make the cell reproduce or make copies of the virus.
The next type of genetic engineering is referred to as microinjection. This
technique does not rely on biological vectors, as does r-DNA. It is somewhat
of a simple process. It is the injecting of genetic material containing the
new gene into the recipient cell. Where the cell is large enough, injection
can be done with a fine-tipped glass needle. The injected genes find the host
cell genes and incorporate themselves among them.
Electro and chemical poration
This technique is a direct gene transfer involving creating pores or holes in
the cell membrane to allow entry of the new genes. If it is done by bathing
cells in solutions of special chemicals, then it is referred to as chemical
poration. However, if it goes through subjecting cells to a weak electric
current, it is called electroporation.
This last technique is a projectile method using metal slivers to deliver the
genetic material to the interior of the cell. These small slivers, which must
be smaller than the diameter of the target cell, are coated with genetic
material. The coated slivers are propelled into the cells using a shotgun.
After this has been done, a perforated metal plate stops the shell cartridge
but still allows the slivers to pass through and into living cells on the
other side. Once inside, the genetic material is transported to the nucleus
where it is incorporated among host cells.
The history of GE
The concept was first introduced by an Australian monk named Gregor Mendel in
the 19th century. His many experiments cemented a foundation for future
scientists and for the founding concepts in the study of genetics.
Throughout Mendel's life, he was a victim of criticism and ridicule by his
fellow monks for his "foolish" experiments. It took 35 years until he was
recognized for his experiments and known for the selective breeding process.
Mendel's discoveries made scientists wonder how information was transferred
from parent to offspring and whether the information could be captured and/or
James D. Watson and Francis H. C. Crick were curious scientists who later
became known as the founding fathers of genetic engineering.
Watson and Crick wanted to determine how genetic blueprints are determined
and they also proposed that DNA structures are genetic messengers or that
chemical compounds of proteins and amino acids all come together as a way to
rule out characteristics and traits. These 2 scientists produced a code of
DNA and thus answered the question of how characteristics are determined.
They also established that DNA are the building blocks of all organisms.
Selective breeding and genetic engineering
Selective breeding and genetic engineering are "both used for the improvement
of human society." However, selective breeding is a much longer and more
expensive process than genetic engineering. It takes genetic engineering only
one generation of offspring to see and study improvement as opposed to
selective breeding where many generations are necessary. Therefore, it costs
more to observe many generations.
Selective breeding is known as the natural way to engineer genes while
genetic engineering is more advanced, technical, scientific, complex and is
inevitable in out future.
What are the dangers?
Many previous technologies have proved to have adverse effects unexpected by
their developers. DDT, for example, turned out to accumulate in fish and thin
the shells of fish-eating birds like eagles and ospreys. And
chlorofluorocarbons turned out to float into the upper atmosphere and destroy
ozone, a chemical that shields the earth from dangerous radiation. What
harmful effects might turn out to be associated with the use or release of
genetically engineered organisms?
This is not an easy question. Being able to answer it depends on
understanding complex biological and ecological systems. So far, scientists
know of no generic harms associated with genetically engineered organisms.
For example, it is not true that all genetically engineered foods are toxic
or that all released engineered organisms are likely to proliferate in the
environment. But specific engineered organisms may be harmful by virtue of
the novel gene combinations they possess. This means that the risks of
genetically engineered organisms must be assessed case by case and that these
risks can differ greatly from one gene-organism combination to another.
So far, scientists have identified a number of ways in which genetically
engineered organisms could potentially adversely impact both human health and
the environment. Once the potential harms are identified, the question
becomes how likely are they to occur. The answer to this question falls into
the arena of risk assessment.
In addition to posing risks of harm that we can envision and attempt to
assess, genetic engineering may also pose risks that we simply do not know
enough to identify. The recognition of this possibility does not by itself
justify stopping the technology, but does put a substantial burden on those
who wish to go forward to demonstrate benefits.
Fundamental Weaknesses of the Concept
Imprecise Technology—A genetic engineer moves genes from one organism to
another. A gene can be cut precisely from the DNA of an organism, but the
insertion into the DNA of the target organism is basically random. As a
consequence, there is a risk that it may disrupt the functioning of other genes
essential to the life of that organism. (Bergelson 1998)
Side Effects—Genetic engineering is like performing heart surgery with a
shovel. Scientists do not yet understand living systems completely enough to
perform DNA surgery without creating mutations which could be harmful to the
environment and our health. They are experimenting with very delicate, yet
powerful forces of nature, without full knowledge of the repercussions.
(Washington Times 1997)
Widespread Crop Failure—Genetic engineers intend to profit by patenting
genetically engineered seeds. This means that, when a farmer plants genetically
engineered seeds, all the seeds have identical genetic structure. As a result,
if a fungus, a virus, or a pest develops which can attack this particular crop,
there could be widespread crop failure. (Robinson 1996)
Threatens Our Entire Food Supply—Insects, birds, and wind can carry
genetically altered seeds into neighboring fields and beyond. Pollen from
transgenic plants can cross-pollinate with genetically natural crops and wild
relatives. All crops, organic and non-organic, are vulnerable to contamination
from cross-pollinatation. (Emberlin 1999)
Here are the some examples of the potential adverse effects of genetically
engineered organisms may have on human health. Most of these examples are
associated with the growth and consumption of genetically engineered crops.
Different risks would be associated with genetically engineered animals and,
like the risks associated with plants, would depend largely on the new traits
introduced into the organism.
New Allergens in the Food Supply
Transgenic crops could bring new allergens into foods that sensitive
individuals would not know to avoid. An example is transferring the gene for
one of the many allergenic proteins found in milk into vegetables like
carrots. Mothers who know to avoid giving their sensitive children milk would
not know to avoid giving them transgenic carrots containing milk proteins.
The problem is unique to genetic engineering because it alone can transfer
proteins across species boundaries into completely unrelated organisms.
Genetic engineering routinely moves proteins into the food supply from
organisms that have never been consumed as foods. Some of those proteins
could be food allergens, since virtually all known food allergens are
proteins. Recent research substantiates concerns about genetic engineering
rendering previously safe foods allergenic. A study by scientists at the
University of Nebraska shows that soybeans genetically engineered to contain
Brazil-nut proteins cause reactions in individuals allergic to Brazil nuts.
Scientists have limited ability to predict whether a particular protein will
be a food allergen, if consumed by humans. The only sure way to determine
whether protein will be an allergen is through experience. Thus importing
proteins, particularly from nonfood sources, is a gamble with respect to
Genetic engineering often uses genes for antibiotic resistance as "selectable
markers." Early in the engineering process, these markers help select cells
that have taken up foreign genes. Although they have no further use, the
genes continue to be expressed in plant tissues. Most genetically engineered
plant foods carry fully functioning antibiotic-resistance genes.
The presence of antibiotic-resistance genes in foods could have two harmful
effects. First, eating these foods could reduce the effectiveness of
antibiotics to fight disease when these antibiotics are taken with meals.
Antibiotic-resistance genes produce enzymes that can degrade antibiotics. If
a tomato with an antibiotic-resistance gene is eaten at the same time as an
antibiotic, it could destroy the antibiotic in the stomach.
Second, the resistance genes could be transferred to human or animal
pathogens, making them impervious to antibiotics. If transfer were to occur,
it could aggravate the already serious health problem of antibiotic-resistant
disease organisms. Although unmediated transfers of genetic material from
plants to bacteria are highly unlikely, any possibility that they may occur
requires careful scrutiny in light of the seriousness of antibiotic
In addition, the widespread presence of antibiotic-resistance genes in
engineered food suggests that as the number of genetically engineered
products grows, the effects of antibiotic resistance should be analyzed
cumulatively across the food supply.
Production of New Toxins
Many organisms have the ability to produce toxic substances. For plants, such
substances help to defend stationary organisms from the many predators in
their environment. In some cases, plants contain inactive pathways leading to
toxic substances. Addition of new genetic material through genetic
engineering could reactivate these inactive pathways or otherwise increase
the levels of toxic substances within the plants. This could happen, for
example, if the on/off signals associated with the introduced gene were
located on the genome in places where they could turn on the previously
Concentration of Toxic Metals
Some of the new genes being added to crops can remove heavy metals like
mercury from the soil and concentrate them in the plant tissue. The purpose
of creating such crops is to make possible the use of municipal sludge as
fertilizer. Sludge contains useful plant nutrients, but often cannot be used
as fertilizer because it is contaminated with toxic heavy metals. The idea is
to engineer plants to remove and sequester those metals in inedible parts of
plants. In a tomato, for example, the metals would be sequestered in the
roots; in potatoes in the leaves. Turning on the genes in only some parts of
the plants requires the use of genetic on/off switches that turn on only in
specific tissues, like leaves.
Such products pose risks of contaminating foods with high levels of toxic
metals if the on/off switches are not completely turned off in edible
tissues. There are also environmental risks associated with the handling and
disposal of the metal-contaminated parts of plants after harvesting.
Enhancement of the Environment for Toxic Fungi
Although for the most part health risks are the result of the genetic
material newly added to organisms, it is also possible for the removal of
genes and gene products to cause problems. For example, genetic engineering
might be used to produce decaffeinated coffee beans by deleting or turning
off genes associated with caffeine production. But caffeine helps protect
coffee beans against fungi. Beans that are unable to produce caffeine might
be coated with fungi, which can produce toxins. Fungal toxins, such as
aflatoxin, are potent human toxins that can remain active through processes
of food preparation.
No Long-Term Safety Testing
Genetic engineering uses material from organisms that have never been part of
the human food supply to change the fundamental nature of the food we eat.
Without long-term testing no one knows if these foods are safe.
Decreased Nutritional Value
Transgenic foods may mislead consumers with counterfeit freshness. A
luscious-looking, bright red genetically engineered tomato could be several
weeks old and of little nutritional worth.
Problems Cannot Be Traced
Without labels, our public health agencies are powerless to trace problems of
any kind back to their source. The potential for tragedy is staggering.
Side Effects can Kill
37 people died, 1500 were partially paralyzed, and 5000 more were temporarily
disabled by a syndrome that was finally linked to tryptophan made by
As with any new technology, the full set of risks associated with genetic
engineering have almost certainly not been identified. The ability to imagine
what might go wrong with a technology is limited by the currently incomplete
understanding of physiology, genetics, and nutrition.
Potential Environmental Harms
One way of thinking generally about the environmental harm that genetically
engineered plants might do is to consider that they might become weeds. Here,
weeds means all plants in places where humans do not want them. The term
covers everything from Johnson grass choking crops in fields to kudzu
blanketing trees to melaleuca trees invading the Everglades. In each case,
the plants are growing unaided by humans in places where they are having
unwanted effects. In agriculture, weeds can severely inhibit crop yield. In
unmanaged environments, like the Everglades, invading trees can displace
natural flora and upset whole ecosystems.
Some weeds result from the accidental introduction of alien plants, but many
were the result of purposeful introductions for agricultural and
horticultural purposes. Some of the plants intentionally introduced into the
United States that have become serious weeds are Johnson grass, multiflora
rose, and kudzu. A new combination of traits produced as a result of genetic
engineering might enable crops to thrive unaided in the environment in
circumstances where they would then be considered new or worse weeds. One
example would be a rice plant engineered to be salt-tolerant that escaped
cultivation and invaded nearby marine estuaries.
Gene Transfer to Wild or Weedy Relatives
Novel genes placed in crops will not necessarily stay in agricultural fields.
If relatives of the altered crops are growing near the field, the new gene
can easily move via pollen into those plants. The new traits might confer on
wild or weedy relatives of crop plants the ability to thrive in unwanted
places, making them weeds as defined above. For example, a gene changing the
oil composition of a crop might move into nearby weedy relatives in which the
new oil composition would enable the seeds to survive the winter.
Overwintering might allow the plant to become a weed or might intensify weedy
properties it already possesses.
Change in Herbicide Use Patterns
Crops genetically engineered to be resistant to chemical herbicides are
tightly linked to the use of particular chemical pesticides. Adoption of
these crops could therefore lead to changes in the mix of chemical herbicides
used across the country. To the extent that chemical herbicides differ in
their environmental toxicity, these changing patterns could result in greater
levels of environmental harm overall. In addition, widespread use of
herbicide-tolerant crops could lead to the rapid evolution of resistance to
herbicides in weeds, either as a result of increased exposure to the
herbicide or as a result of the transfer of the herbicide trait to weedy
relatives of crops. Again, since herbicides differ in their environmental
harm, loss of some herbicides may be detrimental to the environment overall.
Squandering of Valuable Pest Susceptibility Genes
Many insects contain genes that render them susceptible to pesticides. Often
these susceptibility genes predominate in natural populations of insects.
These genes are a valuable natural resource because they allow pesticides to
remain as effective pest-control tools. The more benign the pesticide, the
more valuable the genes that make pests susceptible to it.
Certain genetically engineered crops threaten the continued susceptibility of
pests to one of nature's most valuable pesticides: the Bacillus thuringiensis
or Bt toxin. These "Bt crops" are genetically engineered to contain a gene
for the Bt toxin. Because the crops produce the toxin in most plant tissues
throughout the life cycle of the plant, pests are constantly exposed to it.
This continuous exposure selects for the rare resistance genes in the pest
population and in time will render the Bt pesticide useless, unless specific
measures are instituted to avoid the development of such resistance.
Addition of foreign genes to plants could also have serious consequences for
wildlife in a number of circumstances. For example, engineering crop plants,
such as tobacco or rice, to produce plastics or pharmaceuticals could
endanger mice or deer who consume crop debris left in the fields after
harvesting. Fish that have been engineered to contain metal-sequestering
proteins (such fish have been suggested as living pollution clean-up devices)
could be harmful if consumed by other fish or raccoons.
Creation of New or Worse Viruses
One of the most common applications of genetic engineering is the production
of virus-tolerant crops. Such crops are produced by engineering components of
viruses into the plant genomes. For reasons not well understood, plants
producing viral components on their own are resistant to subsequent infection
by those viruses. Such plants, however, pose other risks of creating new or
worse viruses through two mechanisms: recombination and transcapsidation.
Recombination can occur between the plant-produced viral genes and closely
related genes of incoming viruses. Such recombination may produce viruses
that can infect a wider range of hosts or that may be more virulent than the
Transcapsidation involves the encapsulation of the genetic material of one
virus by the plant-produced viral proteins. Such hybrid viruses could
transfer viral genetic material to a new host plant that it could not
otherwise infect. Except in rare circumstances, this would be a one-time-only
effect, because the viral genetic material carries no genes for the foreign
proteins within which it was encapsulated and would not be able to produce a
second generation of hybrid viruses.
Gene Pollution Cannot Be Cleaned Up
Once genetically engineered organisms, bacteria and viruses are released into
the environment it is impossible to contain or recall them.
Unlike chemical or nuclear contamination, negative effects are irreversible.
DNA is actually not well understood.
Yet the biotech companies have already planted millions of acres with
genetically engineered crops, and they intend to engineer every crop in the
The concerns above arise from an appreciation of the fundamental role DNA
plays in life, the gaps in our understanding of it, and the vast scale of
application of the little we do know. Even the scientists in the Food and
Drug administration have expressed concerns.
As with human health risks, it is unlikely that all potential harms to the
environment have been identified. Each of the potential harms above is an
answer to the question, "Well, what might go wrong?" The answer to that
question depends on how well scientists understand the organism and the
environment into which it is released. At this point, biology and ecology are
too poorly understood to be certain that question has been answered
Certainly, there should be some. Still, most of them are connected with
commercial gains for genetic engineering companies. A popular claim, that
farmers will benefit, is simply not true. It is just the same thing with
consumers. No one is going to feed the poorest with GE products for the famine
in many underdeveloped countries is simply the matter of inability to buy
food, not lack of it. So today, at the present stage of development, we
hardly need GE expanding on food products, needless to say about animal and
human cloning. Incidentally, some daydreaming proponents of GE really believe
that mankind will not be able to survive without it. According to them, we will
certainly have to genetically upgrade ourselves in response to governmental
activities. The humans will be able to hibernate – just like some animals – to
cover long distances without aging, and, probably, will become immortal.
Still, what about the present need of GE? Where can GE particularly be used
now without a threat to the humans and the environment?
So, scientists say that genetic engineering can make it possible to battle
disease (cancer, in particular), disfigurement, and other maladies through a
series of medical breakthroughs that will be beneficial to the human race.
Moreover, cloning will be able to end the extinction of many endangered
species. The main question is whether we can trust genetic engineering. The
fact is that even genetically changed corn is already killing species.
The recent research showed that pollen from genetically engineered corn
plants is toxic to monarch butterflies. Corn plants produce huge quantities
of pollen, which dusts the leaves of plants growing near corn fields. Close
to half the monarch caterpillars that fed on milkweed leaves dusted with Bt
corn pollen died. Surviving caterpillars were about half the size of
caterpillars that fed on leaves dusted with pollen from non-engineered corn.
Something is wrong with the engineered products – they are different, so we
cannot be sure about the effect they will bring about.
So, is the technology trustworthy? I suppose not.
So, do we need it? There are far too many disadvantages of GE and far too
many unpredictable things may happen. The humans are amateurs in this area,
in fact, they are just like a monkey taught to press PC buttons. We have
almost no experience, the technology has not yet evolved enough. I believe,
we should wait, otherwise we may give birth to a trouble, which would be
impossible to resolve.
1. David Heaf ‘Pros and Cons of Genetic Engineering’, 2000, ifgene;
2. Ricarda Steinbrecher, 'From Green to Gene Revolution', The
Vol 26 No 6;
3. ‘Genetic Engineering Kills Monarch Butterflies’, Nature Magazine, May
4. ‘Who's Afraid of Genetic Engineering?’ The New York Times August 26,
5. Sara Chamberlain ‘Techno-foods’, August 19, 1999, The New
6. W French Anderson, 'Gene Therapy' in Scientific American, September
7. Nature Biotechnology Vol 14 May 1996;
8. Andrew Kimbrell 'Breaking the Law of Life' in Resurgence May/June
1997 Issue 182;
9. Jim Hightower ‘What’s for dinner?’, May 29, 2000.
What is genetic engineering?___________________________________________ 1
The history of GE_____________________________________________________ 2
Selective breeding and genetic engineering______________________________ 3
What are the dangers?_________________________________________________ 3
Fundamental Weaknesses of the Concept________________________________ 3
Health Hazards_____________________________________________________ 4
Potential Environmental Harms________________________________________ 6
Any pros?___________________________________________________________ 8