Using genetic modification to treat illnesses, especially genetic disorders and cancer, is called gene therapy. This involves cutting out the normal allele using certain enzymes, making many copies of the allele and then inserting them into the cells of the person who has the genetic disorder. However, it is not always successful as the alleles may join with the chromosomes in random places or the alleles may not go into every target cell.
There is a possibility that genetic modification can treat cystic fibrosis by replacing the genes in the people that have the disorder with working genes. In addition, genetic modification used to treat HIV could prevent it from evolving into AIDS by creating cells that are resistant to the two major types of the virus.
People in developing countries lack nutrients in their diets, so crops can be genetically modified to contain more nutritional content. For instance, ‘Golden rice’ (normal rice which has been modified to contain beta-carotene) is being tested. Lack of vitamin A kills around 2 million people every year in developing countries, and is a major cause of blindness. Giving this rice to people in developing countries is a simple way to boost their vitamin A levels.
Genetic modification can be used to transfer desirable genes into plants at their early stages of development so that they will develop those useful characteristics.
Genetically modified plants are usually made to produce a higher yield, be tolerant to cold and drought, improve taste and nutritional content and be resistant to herbicides (weed killers), insects and disease. Although genetically modified crops are not being grown in the UK, they are already being grown around the world without any problems.
However, genetically modifying foods is a controversial topic. Their safety and