Recombinant DNA: What are the benefits?

In the recent years, I've read books and seen movies all concerning one topic: genetic engineering. While most works of science fiction explore the positive effects of gene-splicing, many have come to wonder how far this will go: will we create "super" soldiers to destroy our enemies or "monsters" that will destroy us? For many, the idea of genetic engineering in the form of gene-splicing has been rejected, but there are a few people who support it and realize how it benefits food production, medical treatments, and industry.

The results of gene-splicing are recombinant DNA. Gene-splicing is a science in which the traits of one species are introduced into another species, such as when a cold-resistant gene of a trout is inserted into a DNA molecule of a tomato. The outcome is a cold-resistant tomato. The tomato does not look any difference in appearance, nor taste any different. The only difference is that it is now cold resistant. Recombinant DNA techniques are not only limited from animal gene transfers to plants, but also animal gene transfers to another animal, creating an animal with a new ability or characteristic.

Farmers know that cows can only produce a limited amount of milk. This has also limited their profits. Now, with gene-splicing, one can alter the gene that is responsible for manufacturing milk. Injecting it into the cow will allow it to produce possibly ten to fifteen percent more, raising profits. Many farmers also know that viruses and insects strike their crops every year, destroying a tremendous amount of their crops. Through gene-splicing techniques, crops can now be grown to be resistant to certain viruses or insects. This increases their profits. Some day, in the future, one may see a tomato in the market…one that is exactly the same size and shape as the ones around it. And one will wonder where it came from….

Besides food production, recombinant DNA techniques have helped advance treatments for patients suffering from certain gene-related diseases such as cystic fibrosis, in which the victim suffers from a defected gene. This causes the cells to produce thick, sticky mucus within the lining of vital bodily organs such as the stomach and pancreas. This will prevent food from digesting correctly. Recently, scientists have tested the use of gene therapy (when a healthy gene is directly inserted into a person with a defected gene). Although they have not found any cures yet, this is one of the most promising treatments. Gene-splicing has also been used to create a vast amount of insulin used to treat diabetics. Before this discovery, insulin was limited in many areas and prevented many from being treated.

Looking around, one can see that our environment is slowly deteriorating. The immense amounts of pollution from cars and trucks delivering garbage to far away landfills contribute to this. Genetically altered bacteria have now been proven to break down petroleum products and a variety of waste gradually filling up our landfills. It can also be used to monitor the breakdown of pollutants in our surrounding environment. A pollutant is injected with a bacterium that can break it down such as Pseudomonas fluorescens. This bacterium is first genetically altered to produce light. When the bacterium enters the pollutant, the activity inside can be seen since this bacterium breaking down the pollutant gives off light. This is then recorded and used for studies.

Genetic engineering has been used to help many causes including food production, medicine, and industry. Now, as I watch in wonder, I see the future products of gene-splicing in another science fiction movie. I continue to wonder, though, does this benefit us as a whole, or only a selected few?