The world we live in today is troubled one. The contradiction people face is that while some people sit in the lap of luxury and drive hundred thousand dollar cars there are others who are forced to take the bus to work. There are individuals who cannot afford healthcare who are generally those getting sick on a continual basis. There are definitely some aspects of our daily living that simply can’t be changed, but there is always room for change and it is apparent that this change is in demand.
There are large populations of people in the world who die every year from health related problems, than those involved in violent deaths. Diseases like cancer and heart attacks are the number one global killers. A cure for genetic diseases through genetic research are quite possibly the answers to a world of questions. It is important to realize that genetics is one of the broadest subjects as it covers a plethora of areas such as disease, disability, geographical relations, ethic ramifications and ancestry to name a few.
The answers to the variety of genetic malfunctions and other questions lie in the group of scientists and genetic engineers who explore the symptoms, as well as the cures, for so many ailments in the final goal of living in a disease free world where fear of death by an invisible killer is vastly unknown as “bioengineering is a field with such staggering potential for good” (Parker 68).
The purpose of this essay is to shed light on some of the more unknown aspects of this area of research through the exploration of the history of genetics, what our current needs are and work that is currently being done, along with where genetics focuses toward the future of genetic technology in an attempt to prove that genetic research is essential to our society. Genetics is not a new area of research but has been around long before research into DNA ever began. When the creation of the first cells through the adaptation of cell mutation, genetic mixing can be traced back to the time of the dinosaur.
One of the most obvious animals to win the fight in genetics is the giraffe. When you look at a giraffe and its long neck, it is important to realize that at one time, the giraffe was thought to have looked more like a horse. Both animals have similar bone structure even down to the hooves. But, as time went on and trees first sprouted along the landscape it was easy for the giraffe to get fed as the food source, at the time, was at eye level and close to the ground; then, as trees got taller over the centuries the giraffe needed to adapt in order to survive.
Giraffes would therefore spend much of their energy stretching their necks toward the sky in order to reach the branches of the trees thus forcing a genetic mutation. As their bones and muscles stretched so did the size of their offspring thus leading to the birth of giraffes that were born with longer necks. Over the centuries these animals have grown to have the longest neck relative to their size. The brontosaurus may have evolved in a similar fashion but all life was brought to a screeching halt when the dinosaurs were extinct. As we have become a more civilized society and exploring science we have discovered the existence of genetics.
Modern genetics has always known for a long time that was some blueprint that all animals of similar species have in common. The first documentation of genetics was centuries ago when a scientist experimenting with plants desired certain effects which were documented through the affects of different plants with others by mixing the seeds. This is also the first known documentation of gene splicing. Scientists interested in genetics as well as an amateur botanist, had developed ways of predicting the offspring given the dominant and recessive traits of the donor parents in a system called a Punnett Square.
Since that time we have come a great distance, but the science was still primitive until some scientists discovered and laid the foundation of entire science. With discovery of the Double Helix, the structure of DNA by Watson and Crick the world was changed forever. James D. Watson was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois and was accepted to the University of Chicago at the age of 15 where he completed his Bachelor’s in Zoology, then continued on to the University of Indiana and received his PhD in 1950 in Zoology.
Shortly after starting at Cambridge, Watson met Crick who shared his passion for the DNA structure mystery. In March, 1953 with a higher appreciation of the nucleic acid literature, his work resulted in the proposal and discovery of the double-helical configuration and publishing several papers on the topic. Watson and Crick worked on discovering the construction of DNA after several failed trial and error attempts, they succeeded and on February 28, 1953. Looking ahead, in 1992, Watson left to work for the Cold Springs Harbor Research Facility where he is currently sitting as President.
The momentous discovery of DNA has created entire industries which has impacted mankind tremendously. Rewarded for their hard work in 1962 Watson, Crick, and Wilkins shared the Noble Prize in Medicine. The human body is an amazing structure with many cells all containing DNA strands with literally millions of strands of DNA making up the human body. More than fifty years after its initial discovery, the entire code has still not been deciphered; if you were to print the code in books and try to read it you would not be able to finish it in your lifetime.
In the last several years research and development of genetic engineering has evolved ten times over. It is only recently that we have been able to prove some of Einstein’s theories this long after his death and I fear it will be many more before genetics and its possibilities is truly understood. Genetics in the last several years has gone into dangerous territories with studies in gene splicing and stem cell testing.
Stem Cells are the most basic form of human life. Cells taken from ertilized embryos are cells that have not been assigned a specific task yet and whether they are to be heart cells, skin cells, or even hair cells. It is the hope of scientists that with stem cells can improve the quality of life through curing cancer and many other life ending and life changing diseases. Through the engineering of stem cells it is hoped that they can replace dead and damaged cells, for example, in someone’s legs thus helping them to walk again. Last year the boldest operation to date took place which saw stem cells help create and repair the diseased heart of a man.
The stem cells replaced cells ravaged by disease removed by the doctors. This procedure, however, did come at a cost. The current government feels that using stem cells is unethical as they are life and harvesting the cells from embryos thus in turn killing them is not right. This all really needs to be taken into context and look at the balance scale; in one hand a father, husband, friend, coworker who never asked for a thing in his life except for the love of his family, and in the other, a cell that nobody knows and may not even make it to birth.
The logical choice would be to look at the man as the gauging factor in saving his life. With the current policy and laws in place by our current conservative government would see the man who would choose to have a hospital in France perform a heart transplant harvested through stem cell growth instead of on his native soil and now that he has an illegally grown heart he can never set foot in America again or face the possibility of prosecution. When most people are faced with this type of choice, most wouldn’t want to live in a country that denies this possibility.
Besides, our constitution states that “all men [women and child] are guaranteed life liberty and the pursuit of happiness”; (United States Constitution) but perhaps only when it is convenient. With regulation governing research it has been difficult to do studies in America thus forcing companies and scientists to seek refuge in other nations. This causes a major problem as US based companies are worried it is too high a risk to invest in and fund research of this kind. These scientists live on systematic research grants to continue their work.
After these new laws were put in place only several years ago many companies went out of business because they lost funding (Technology Review 47). It is troubling that a nation founded on new ideas would ban such research but it all has to do with where the votes in congress are. Stem cell research is not all encompassing of what genetics is as the work in genetics is helping people born with disabilities. Through better understanding our bodies can better cures be found. People born with certain disabilities can usually trace these back to other members of their family.
In a recent study more than 30% of mentally Ill patients in psychiatric care have heredity connections and other member of their family suffer from similar symptoms. Genetics, at its roots, is the study of possibilities: who we are and how we got here. Scientists don’t believe we just appeared like this centuries ago; we evolved, adapted and grew from a lesser species. Take a look at yourself in the mirror and you will see some of your family features; not just your parents, but your grandparents as well.
For instance, I have my father’s hair and my mother’s eyes, but my grandfather’s nose as ‘we are our father’s sons’, as they say, and look as well as act like them. The use of genetics is not limited to the medical field as in recent years genetics and DNA have played a major part in law enforcement and has led to the apprehension of many criminals. While fingerprints can be smudged and unclear DNA is definitive, no two people in the world have the same DNA not even twins. Using DNA is essential to putting suspects behind bars: a hair, skin epithelials and bodily fluids all contain DNA and all can be used as evidence.
Even old cases gone unsolved have been reopened using new technology to get a conviction. Some research organizations are government funded through doing research for defense and government funded programs paid for by our tax dollars. Then there is the private sector, which is the most driven. It would be of great importance to have systematic research grants and giving more of them to our scientists who are working on genetics and stem cell research. In a world where more money is spent researching breast augmentation surgery then life saving genetics, once again, he who has the gold makes the rules.
More importantly, if there was as much money in curing cancer as there is spent in creating cosmetic surgery procedures and Viagra, we would have cured this disease a decade ago. Only the future will tell what is to be discovered. It is essential that we keep working to provide resources in funding, legal and administrative areas to keep the discoveries coming. Maybe soon we will not be at risk for any disease or ailments and maybe one day we’ll find a cure for the common cold but probably not in my lifetime.