Most of us have heard of genetic engineering in crops, but what about genetic engineering in humans? Genetic engineering involving the use of human tissue is a very controversial subject, which is why this type of genetic engineering is rarely talked about in the mainstream media. The unwanted truth is that scientists have been manipulating human genes since the 1990s and earlier.
Due to the advancement in genetic engineering and the success of the Human Genome Project, a genetic research program created for the purpose of mapping and identifying the approximately 20,000–25,000 genes of the human genome, scientists can now manipulate human genes to a large degree. However, their understanding of how genes function is still in its infancy.
Genetic engineering babies
The Human Genome Project has helped many geneticists to understand how human genes work a lot more than before the project. As a result, some geneticists believe they can now tinker with human genes and create genetically engineered babies. In 2001, they achieved this by manipulating the genes in the embryo of thirty unborn babies.
Many articles that were published about this genetic engineering baby experiment suggest that it was driven by infertility in woman whose genetic codes prohibits them from conceiving a child. To address this, the woman received genetic mitochondrial material from another female so that the child received genes from three people – the father and two mothers. While seemingly innocent, genetic modifications like these can result in unforeseen consequences, such as seen in genetically modified salmon.
Genetic engineering in humans and the consequences
For one, many believe that genetic modifications could lead scientists on the pursuit of creating the perfect human being. Through genetic selection, this could result in what is essentially the creation of a new species of human that is better, smarter and stronger. And what would the outcome be for “average” humans without the superior cognitive, psychological, physical, and behavioral capabilities? Could this type of genetic selection create winners and losers and induce widespread racism on a scale never seen before?
Others are concerned about the unknown consequences. By messing with nature, could we be creating humans that end up having all sorts of chronic health problems? And could any of their health problems be passed on to their offspring? We simply can’t predict how the human body will react to artificial gene manipulation. By the time we find out, it may be too late to fix the problem.
If there are any parallels to draw from genetically modified crops, it is that a whole host of unintended and harmful consequences have emerged as many feared. Genetically modified crops have been linked to infertility in livestock that eat them and some have even found a linked to declining insect populations, like bees, moths, and bats.
Due to the harmful unforeseen consequences of genetic engineering, many nations have already banned genetic engineering in humans. However, a reversal of this trend may be in the works. This year, the United Kingdom is considering reversing a ban against the mitochondrial modifications that took place in 2001. Similarly, in the United States, the Federal Drug Administration is also considering allowing human clinical trials to pursue human genetic modifications.
The jury is still out on what the consequences will be, but if these experiments are authorized, 2014 could be the first year humans set forth on the quest to dramatically change the human genetic blueprint.
This article was written by Kate and PL.
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Category: DNA & Genetic Engineering