Genetic Engineering: Technological Advancements and the Potential for

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Current technology has made what once seemed impossible, mapping the human genome, a reality within the next decade. What began over forty years ago with the discovery of the basic structure of DNA has evolved into the Human Genome Project. This is a fifteen-year, three billion dollar effort to sequence the entire human genetic code. The Project, under the direction of the U.S. National Institute of Health and the department of Energy is ahead of schedule in mapping what makes up an individual's genetic imprint. Much of the current efforts in genetic engineering have been focused on genes that cause disease and to date, about eight hundred and eighty of these "disease" genes have been found. They include genes for Huntington's disease, cystic fibrosis, schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, familial colon cancer, breast cancer and many more. Once the human genome is mapped, the next logical step is gene therapy, in which a missing gene is added or a defective one is removed.

One of the main issues to consider when discussing genetic engineering in humans is the fact that altering the genes of human embryos often creates problems. Genetic correction of one defect can create other new defects. One of the latest developments in the field of genetics has been the creation of what is called "transgenes." Because the genes of all organisms are made of DNA, genes of different organisms can be recombined, edited, and inserted into an embryo. The outcomes are "spliced" genes given the name of transgenes. Once inserted into an embryo, the genes would be present in every cell as the embryo grows, and would exert their effects throughout the organisms' lifetime. The goal of geneticists is to develop the proper transgene that can replace a defective gene and prevent the effects of an inherited disease. This has not yet been done successfully. Every new technology is imperfect and the first attempts are likely to reveal hidden flaws. However,...
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