The Impact of Genetic Change on Society
The impact of genetic change through human intervention has saved by some estimates over one billion human lives worldwide. India on the brink of famine due to overpopulation during the mid 20th century went from famine to self-sustaining cereal producers within 2 decades when Norman Borlaug’s High yielding wheat (HYW) variety was introduced.
The genetic manipulation of bacteria, in particular E.Coli, using Recombinant DNA techniques has resulted in huge advances in medical treatment; the production of synthetic human proteins such as insulin as a supplement for patients that cannot synthesize their own proteins has led to the lower mortality rate of the disease and a more comfortable lifestyle. Diabetics in need of insulin initially relied on insulin extracted from animal pancreases such as pigs before the production of synthetic human insulin was available. The animal insulin was less effective than human insulin and sometimes caused allergic reactions.
Like Insulin, other products can be manufactured through the use of biotechnology (e.g. recombinant DNA techniques) such as Tissue Plasminogen Activator (tPA or PLAT) which is produced normally in small quantities in humans to dissolve clots however in the event of embolism PLAT can be administered in higher doses to dissolve the clot hopefully saving the patient in time. The source of this synthetic human protein is a host cell (usually bacteria or sometimes an animal cell) which has had a promoter and a gene added to its genome from another source in this case a human but the promoter may be from a bacterium; the result is a ‘transgenic’ organism. The selection of the appropriate promoter results in the vast amounts of the protein being synthesized which can then be extracted from the cells in concentrations far greater than could be extracted from a natural source.
Genetic manipulation offers the promise of one day curing devastating genetic diseases such as Cystic fibrosis (CF) and Huntington’s disease (HD) via gene therapy and/or gene silencing in some cases. Many sufferers of genetic diseases are crippled for life, have significantly shorter lifespans and are usually co morbid suffering depression and anxiety disorders by association their entire lives. The possibility of genetically manipulating a human to be free of genetic defects paves the way for the potential for abuse. The sensitivity of human manipulation means that germ line gene therapy is strongly protested against and is regarded to as playing God and this is where the strong influence of Religious institutions and belief systems halt the work of genetic researchers and in many ways the treatment and eradication of some of the most debilitating diseases afflicting mankind.
Initially some of the first genetic manipulations performed were using mutagens on bacteria and Fruit flies by association of the research we gained a better understanding of how mutation occurs in DNA, different types of mutations and what sources can and do cause mutations (mutagens) such as Ultraviolet light and Ionizing radiation, as a result society now better understands certain environmental risks and measures are taken to minimize the harmful effects of these mutagens such as the wearing of sunscreen and hats or the use of lead shielding where radioactive materials are involved.
The salvation of lives by way of Borlaug’s HYW and all cases where Genetic research has affected survival may to this day have played a role in the current population crisis of the earth and the demand for resources (such as fossil fuels, food and land) and subsequently the condition of the natural environment. Borlaug’s HYW broke the Malthusian trap that predicted the human population would plateau when food resources would become too strained instead a population explosion occurred thanks to the supply of more food resources and energy requirements, transport, vehicle production and oil use