In the past few years, genetic modification has been rising in prominence, now more than ever. Instances like CRISPR, GM mosquitoes, and Arctic Apples are just a few of the pioneers at the forefront of a new generation of biotechnology that’s hailing the rapid development of genetic engineering. While these innovations have brought upon a multitude of incredibly useful processes, there are many who scream bloody murder. Recently, there are a growing number of people, especially in the West, who view genetic modification of any kind as wildly unethical, downright heinous, and even a threat to humanity’s “natural biodiversity”. However, I believe genetic engineering is absolutely nothing of the sort, and will actually be hugely beneficial to the human race in the long run should we be wise enough to undertake it.
Ideas for genetic modification first began in the early 1970s as scientists began experimenting by mixing up DNA from various organisms. For the sake of this argument, I will define genetic modification/engineering as the direct manipulation of an organism’s DNA through scientific techniques. One noted scientist, Paul Berg, combined DNA from the monkey virus SV40 and the lambda virus to create the first ever recombinant DNA molecules (essentially molecules with artificial genetic sequences that you wouldn’t find in nature). Later on in 1974, another researcher by the name of Rudolf Jaenisch would create the world’s first ever genetically modified animal: a mouse. These advancements made many wonder if the practice could be taken to humans, and what the results would look like.
As genetic engineering rose in prominence in the scientific community, large questions arose regarding the regulation and ethical guidelines within the practice. To some, genetic modification is seen as cutting it dangerously close to playing God and messing with the natural world. However, I believe genetic engineering is simply another way for us to improve the future of our children. Parents shell out obscene amounts of money to provide the best possible education, healthcare and resources for their children to live the best possible life without any suffering, and genetic modification is just an extension of that. If you had access to a process that eliminates genes which could result in potentially horrific chronic illnesses or physical defects in your children, why wouldn’t you use it? When parents choose to bring a child into the world, the obligation to provide an adequate, fulfilling life free of suffering is foisted upon them; genetic engineering is another way for them to do that. Furthermore, since the dawn of time humanity has been looking for ways to better and advance the human race, this is simply another instance of that. You wouldn’t say that learning to control fire or building wheeled vehicles is unethical or unnatural, so why should genetic engineering be?
Moreover, while certain groups may claim it to be, genetic modification is not eugenics. Eugenics is the unethical, racist theory of creating a ‘superior’ human race through the planned breeding of certain groups in society and the prevention of other groups from breeding. In eugenics, people of colour, disabled people, people with mental illnesses, people with criminal history and other marginalised groups were discouraged and even barred from reproducing through forced sterilisations, ethnic cleansing, and enacting exclusionary laws. On the other hand, in genetic modification scientists are heavily regulated and follow lengthy protocols to avoid any kind of discrimination or prejudice. Further, genetic modification is different because it focuses on eliminating hereditary genes that could cause chronic illnesses or disabilities. That isn’t to say that the lives of people with chronic illnesses or disabilities are of any less value, but if there’s a way to reduce people suffering, why wouldn’t we pursue it?
Now, I say genetic engineering is crucial for the advancement of society for a number of reasons. For one, it would greatly improve the lives of thousands of people and eliminate them from experiencing any kind of genetic medical disorders. This would also hugely reduce the hundreds of billions of dollars being voraciously funneled into our healthcare system. Furthermore, genetic modification enables researchers to study matters never studied before and venture into uncharted scientific realms. As humans, the critical pursuit of knowledge has always been a major part of our lives; genetic engineering is an extension of that. Not only that, the large part of genetic engineering is focused on agriculture and optimising crops. Through editing the genomes of plants and animals, we can maximise crop yield and agricultural output tremendously, and in a world where 811 million people go hungry every day this could have a monumental impact on the quality of life for millions. Obviously there is significant redtape to go through and heavy regulations that need to be set before genetic engineering can be provided to everyone, but this venture holds a lot of promise for our future generations and might just be the key to saving the world.