Human genetic engineering is about genetically engineering human beings by modifying their genotypes before birth. The Genotype is the genetic constitution of an individual with respect to a particular character under consideration. The engineering is done to control the traits possessed by the individual after his/her birth.
The cells of our body contain encoded information about the body's growth, structure, and functioning in the form of genes. Human genetic engineering aims at decoding this information and applying it to the welfare of mankind.
There are two types of genetic engineering. They are:
- Somatic modification: Genes are added to the cells. This can prove to be a cure for diseases caused by defective genes. Somatic modifications cannot be inherited.
- Germline modification: In this, genes in the early embryos are changed. The genes modified in this way are inheritable. This is an effective form of genetic engineering, as it results in permanent modifications.
Human genetic engineering can be classified as positive genetic engineering and negative genetic engineering. In the positive type of genetic engineering, the positive traits of individuals are enhanced. This can mean increasing longevity or increasing human capacity. Negative genetic engineering is about introducing the good copy of a certain gene into the cells of a living being. Consequently, genetic diseases can be reduced.
In human genetic engineering, the genes or the DNA of a person is changed. This can be used to bring about structural changes in human beings. More importantly, it can be used to introduce the genes for certain positive and desirable traits in embryos. Genetic engineering in humans can result in finding a permanent cure for many diseases.
There are people with certain exceptional qualities. If the genes responsible for these qualities can be identified, they can be implanted in the early embryos. This can lead to something like 'customized babies'. Human genetic engineering might progress to such an extent that it will be possible to discover new genes and embed them into unborn babies.
The Brighter Side
Gene therapy is one of the most important benefits of human genetic engineering. Over the past decade, gene therapy has succeeded in finding treatments for certain heart diseases. Researchers hope to find cures for all the genetic diseases. This will result in a healthier and more evolved human race.
A future benefit of human genetic engineering is that a fetus with a genetic disorder will be treated before the baby is born. Parents will be able to look forward to a healthy baby. In case of in-vitro fertilization, gene therapy can be used for embryos before they are implanted into the mother.
Genes can be cloned to produce pharmaceutical products of superior quality. Researchers are hopeful about being able to bio-engineer plants or fruits to contain certain drugs.
The Darker Side
Firstly, while it seems easy to cure diseases by genetic modifications, gene therapy may produce side effects. While treating one defect, it may cause another. Any given cell is responsible for many activities and manipulating its genes may not be that easy.
The process of cloning can lead to risking the fundamental factors such as individuality and the diversity of human beings. Ironically, man will become just another man-made thing!
There are certain social aspects to human genetic engineering. This new form of medical treatment can impose a heavy financial burden on the society. Along with its feasibility, its affordability will also determine its popularity.
Human genetic engineering is a widely growing field. It can work miracles. But its benefits and threats need to be assessed carefully. The potential advantages of the field can come into reality only if genetic engineering of humans is handled with responsibility.