The Pros and Cons of Genetic Engineering in Animals

Written by alex saez
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The Pros and Cons of Genetic Engineering in Animals
Genetic engineering is a powerful tool. However, caution must be exercised when using it. (Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

Genetic engineering in animals is both dangerous and impressive. While it is common for animals to be interbred, genetic manipulation changed dramatically with the discovery of DNA. Now, scientists have the tools to build animals at the microscopic level. While the possibilities of this technology are numerous, there are several drawbacks to consider.

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The Process

Genetic engineering is a complicated process. First, scientists must isolate a specific gene, which is found grouped in a chromosome along with other genes. Put simply, the process is like picking fruit (the gene) from a tree (the chromosome). An enzyme called endonuclease splits the desired gene from the chromosome. The gene is then placed in another animal's chromosome. For example, scientists may wish to give a certain animal immunity to a disease. They will find an organism with an antiviral gene and then implant it into an animal. The creature's offspring will carry the new gene as well.

Advantages

Genetic engineering in animals carries many benefits. First, hereditary diseases can be detected and possibly treated ahead of time. Certain genes can also be inserted into animals that provide a strong defence against viruses and infections. Animals can literally be tailored to exhibit desirable characteristics, while filtering out detrimental ones. Finally, genetic engineering creates more diverse genes. More diversity in the gene pool increases the options for customising and creating better animals.

Disadvantages

The disadvantages of genetic engineering in animals are an issue of science and morality. From a strictly scientific perspective, nature is complex and unpredictable. Nature is in a delicate state of balance, and introducing completely new species can have unknown, disastrous consequences. From a moral, philosophical or religious standpoint, genetic engineering calls into question whether humans have the right to play with nature.

Natural Methods

Not all genetic engineering is done in a lab. Selective breeding is a common practice among animal and plant experts. They take organisms of the same species and mate them together, based on their characteristics. For example, one animal may tend to grow larger than its peers, while another has an unusual immunity to disease. They will be bred together in hopes of producing offspring that contain both of these advantages.

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