Cracking the Code of Life

In 2001, NOVA created a video entitled Cracking the Code of Life that discussed the Human Genome Project and all that it was doing for people around the world. The Human Genome Project set out to achieve one goal – to map out the entirety of the human genome and make it readily available for use by people everywhere. This would help to find certain genes in which errors could cause hereditary diseases, such as cystic fibrosis. The process of mapping out the genome was once slow and prone to errors, as scientists would write out each letter by hand. Now, however, computerized gene mapping machines make the process much faster.

Now that the human genome is entirely mapped out, a whole world of medical possibilities has been opened. Scientists have now been able to identify the exact genes and mutations that causes congenital disease such as Tay-Sachs, allowing families to be screened for carriers before even having children. This can also help to treat a child with a hereditary disease much earlier than before, because doctors would be able to identify the disease possibly before any symptoms would appear. We also can map out the genetic sequence of other animals, and see which animals we are genetically close to. This would help us to be able to perform more accurate medical tests on animals.

Although this is a very big and important step for humanity, there are also some negative things that could come as a result of the Human Genome Project. Just where do we draw the line between medical advancement and cosmetic genetic manipulation? If a parent is able to screen his or her child for a genetic disease prenatally, then who is to say the parent could not screen for brown eyes, or curly hair, or tan skin? This huge scientific advancement opens the door to a great deal of ethical debate. Additionally, even being genetically screened for medical reasons could have its drawbacks – although one may have a mutated gene that is often found in breast cancer patients, he or she might never develop any sort of cancer. Genetic manipulation can be dangerous to a certain extent, no matter how fantastic it is that we now know every single adenine, guanine, thymine, and cytosine in our DNA.

Personally, I feel that genetic screening and testing for medical reasons is a wonderful thing. However, I also feel that parents should not be allowed to find out, choose, or alter a child’s DNA if the ability ever comes up in the future, if the reason is purely cosmetic. This line is very fine though: is altering a gene that would prevent a child from suffering albinism medical or cosmetic? How about choosing a fetus’ genes to make sure that the child does not have many skin blemishes? This could be considered cosmetic, but at the same time, some forms of skin blemishes could turn into malignant cancers. Personally, it is hard to form a definite opinion. Food for thought. ✼

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