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Genetic Engineering- A Casual Acquaintance

Written by: Mahendra Subhash Khairnar - Student of LL.M. II. Dept. of Law, University of Pune
Constitutional Lawyers in India
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  • Engineering is a profession devoted to designing, construction, and operating the structures, machines, and other devices of industry and every day life.
    On Feb. 27, 1997, the world learned that Dolly was a clone. Guided by Ian Wilmut and colleagues from the Roslin Institute in Scotland, they announced that they had succeeded in giving birth to a sheep that had originated from a cell taken from an adult sheep. This made her the identical twin of a sheep that was six years older! Just as amazing is the fact that she has no father. From all appearances Dolly looks like a very ordinary lamb. Yet the extraordinary way she was born has not only has made her the most famous sheep on the planet, but has ignited widespread curiosity, amazement and debate over cloning, genetic technology and genetic engineering.

    Recently a research team from the Institute of Physical and Chemical Science (Riken, Japan) has succeeded in cloning a mouse using tissue from a mouse that was frozen for 16 years. The newborn mouse is the first animal in the world to be cloned from frozen animal tissue. The team's work could potentially lead to the cloning of extinct animals such as mammoths, but likely will prove controversial in terms of bioethics. The research data appeared in the issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A cloned animal is created by injecting the nucleus of a cell of the animal to be cloned into an ovum from which the nucleus has been removed, and then transferring the ovum to the womb of a surrogate animal. Previously, it had not been possible to clone animals from frozen tissue and all cloned animals have so far been produced from living cells.

    What Is Genetic Engineering?

    Genetic Engineering is the alteration of genetic code by artificial means, and is therefore different from traditional selective breeding.

    Genetic engineering aims to re-arrange the sequence of DNA in gene using artificial methods. Genetic engineering is sometimes also called as Bioengineering or Biotechnology (biotech for short). All these terms refer to making artificial changes in the genes of the DNA of a living thing. Its nature and characteristics are then changed, often in ways that could never occur naturally.

    Genetic engineering of foods involves the insertion of genes from plants, bacteria, insects, fish, animals or humans into the DNA of another plant, fish, or animal to create a new variety.

    Genetic engineering is a totally new kind of science. Previously science concerned itself with understanding how Nature works. For the first time in human history, through genetic engineering techniques, science is changing Nature on the most fundamental level.

    Object of this paper is to place the subject 'Genetic Engineering' within the reach of common man by sidelining its scientific complications. Desideratum of legal fraternity or recognition by legal jurisdiction to this subject is necessary. This branch has much gray area to pursue legal research from different perspectives.

    As Genetic engineering more than tends to investigate in to the life of human as well as other living species and therefore its repercussions on human environment need to be studied with that much gravity and concern. Here author tried to cover some of human aspects relating to Genetic Engineering. Because ultimate beneficiary (victim too) is a common man, therefore for his or her understanding of the subject this paper could prove helpful.

    Genes are the fundamental chemical codes that determine the physical nature of all living things, from the tiniest single-celled organism to human beings.

    Genes are the substance within the nucleus of a cell that transmits genetic codes. Genes are the basic building blocks of life that carry the basic blueprint of an organism.

    Genetic Engineering raises questions of religion, ethics, and ecology that are of great concern to many people.

    Some Important Definitions
    • CLONE Refers to a genetically identical individual

    • CELLS the extremely small, basic unit of living matter of which plants and animals are made.

    • DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) the substance that the chemical instructions' underlying coding system is based on. The basic matter made up of chromosomes that transmit the hereditary patterns.

    • GENETICS- The science of heredity.

    • GENETIC ENGINEERING the term used to describe revolutionary new molecular biology techniques that involve changing the genetic structure of an organism by technological intervention.

    • GENE One of many pieces of DNA found on the chromosomes whose chemical structure contains heredity information.

    • GENE CLONING The production of multiple copies of a particular gene

    • GENOME an organism's complete set of genes.

    • NUCLEAR TRANSFER- when the nucleus of one cell is moved to another cell.

    • NUCLEOTIDES- the subunits of a DNA molecule.

    • TRAITS- any genetically determined characteristics, also the condition prevailing in the heterozygous state of a distinctive behavior pattern.

    • VECTOR- a plasmid or viral chromosome into whose genome a fragment of foreign DNA into a host cell in the cloning of DNA.

    • ORGANISM- an individual living thing, whether animal or plant.

    • PHENOTYPE- the entire physical, bio-chemical and physiological make up of an individual as determined both genetically and environmentally.
    Engineer does his work of designing, reconstructing or making of any structures and machines likewise genetic engineers reconstructs and designs the cells and genes to create new species or to modify existing one.

    Thus, Genetic Engineering is a technology through which new life forms are created by adding foreign genes from related plants and animals to perform and such animals are referred to as genetically manipulated organisms.

    Types of Genetic Engineering

    • Natural Selection

    Natural Selection is nature's own form of genetic engineering. The fit organism survives through natural selection. The rate of evolution of new species through natural selection is incredibly slow, but methods have been discovered by which nature has optimized the process.

    • Selective Breeding

    Selective breeding or Unnatural Selection is man's most basic effort at genetic engineering by creating our own selective pressures. Selective Breeding has worked well for engineering animals, and plants, but it can take whole human lifetimes to bring about small changes in a species.

    Through unnatural selection certain attributes and characteristics can be enhanced by selectively killing all organisms that do not have the desires traits.

    • Genetic Manipulation (GM)

    1. Genetic Manipulations are becoming common as a means of genetic engineering. There are many methods of introducing new genetic material in to a cell or organism or altering the existing material. These kinds of GM are great for research with animals.

    2. Gene Targeting is a way of replacing a specific gene with another within a cell. Gene targeting seems to be the most precise way of altering known genes.
    3. Gene Therapy on the reproductive cells, or better yet, on a fertilized egg could be used to introduce whatever genes are desired into an organism, even a human, when they are still a single cell. With cloning technology, not even fertilized egg is needed, just a cell that will grow in cell culture. This is where GE stands right now. It is technically possible to repair and/ or replace any known gene, but it is not very efficient and requires a large no. of cells, of which only a few will probably repaired. The other limitation is the no. of known genes.

    The function of all the genes is not known. Research in animals is uncovering the functions of the precursors of human genes, but research is proceeding slowly. There may come at time when we have the option of children who are Einstine and Bill Gates roled in to one, but not yet.

    The cost of genetic manipulations is relatively high and takes quite a while. Supply and demand may be the key.

    Playing God?
    Is substituting one gene for another or introducing functional genes, as in gene therapy, playing with God?

    There are several ways through which genetic engineering is accomplished. Essentially, the process has five main steps:
    1. Isolation of the genes of interest
    2. Insertion of the genes into a transfer vector
    3. Transfer of vector to the organism to be modified
    4. Transformation of cells of organism
    5. Separation of the genetically modified organism (GMO) from those that have not been successfully modified

    Isolation is achieved by identifying the gene of interest that the scientist wishes to insert into the organism, usually using existing knowledge of the various functions of genes. DNA information can be obtained from cDNA or gDNA libraries, and amplified using PCR techniques. If necessary, i.e. for insertion of eukaryotic genomic DNA into prokaryotes, further modification may be carried out such as removal of introns or ligating prokaryotic promoters.

    Insertion of a gene into a vector such as a plasmid can be done once the gene of interest is isolated. Other vectors can also be used, such as viral vectors, and non-prokaryotic ones such as liposomes, or even direct insertion using gene guns.

    Transfer -Once the vector is obtained, it can be used to transform the target organism. Depending on the vector used, it can be complex or simple.

    Transformation- Applications The first genetically engineered medicine was synthetic human insulin, approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration in 1982.

    GMO- In 1987 the FDA approved the first genetically engineered vaccine for humans, for hepatitis B. One of the best known applications of genetic engineering is the creation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) such as foods and vegetables that resist pest and bacteria infection and have longer freshness than otherwise.

    In reality most genes are hundreds of times larger. Genes interact with each other to influence physical development and behavior. Genes consist of a long strand of DNA (RNA in some viruses) that contains a promoter, which controls the activity of a gene, and a coding sequence, which determines what the gene produces. The genes are present inside the chromosome in linear arrangement.

    • Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA)

    The vast majority of living organisms encode their genes in long strands of DNA. DNA consists of a chain made from four types of nucleotide subunits: adenosine, cytosine, guanosine, and thymidine

    • Ribonucleic Acid (RNA )

    The expression of genes encoded in DNA begins by transcribing the gene into RNA, a second type of nucleic acid that is very similar to DNA, but whose monomers contain the sugar ribose rather than deoxyribose. RNA molecules are less stable than DNA and are typically single-stranded. Genes that encode proteins are composed of a series of three-nucleotide sequences called codons, which serve as the "words" in the genetic "language". The genetic code specifies the correspondence during protein translation between codons and amino acids. The genetic code is nearly the same for all known organisms.

    • The Human Genome Project

    Genetic Engineering is different from traditional breeding, where the organism's genes are manipulated indirectly; genetic engineering uses the techniques of molecular cloning and transformation to alter the structure and characteristics of genes directly.

    Human genetic engineering deals with the controlled modification of the human genome. The Human Genome Project (HGP) is a project to de-code (i.e. sequence) more than 3 billion nucleotides contained in a haploid reference human genome and to identify all the genes present in it.

    The "genome" of any given individual (except for identical twins and cloned animals) is unique; mapping "the human genome" involves sequencing multiple variations of each gene.

    Human Cloning is a type of GE., but is not the same as true Genetic Manipulation. In human cloning, the aim is to duplicate the genes of an existing person so that an identical set is inside a human egg.

    • Human Genetic Engineering

    Human genetic engineering can be used to treat genetic disease, but there is a difference between treating the disease in an individual and in changing the genome that gets passed down to that person's descendants (germ-line genetic engineering).

    Human genetic engineering is already being used on a small scale to allow infertile women with genetic defects in their mitochondria to have children. Healthy human eggs from a second mother are used. The child produced this way has genetic information from two mothers and one father. The changes made are germ line changes and will likely be passed down from generation to generation, thus are a permanent change to the human genome.

    Human genetic engineering has the potential to change human beings' appearance, adaptability, intelligence, character and behavior. It may potentially be used in creating more dramatic changes in humans. There are many unresolved ethical issues and concerns surrounding this technology, and it remains a controversial topic.

    Human Applications
    UNESCO's Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights was drafted by the International Bioethics Committee and adopted by 186 member states on 11 November 1997. It covers things such as genetic discrimination; genetic reductionism; informed consent; confidentiality; non-peaceful use of genomic data; equitable access to treatment and it encourages research into 'genetically-based and genetically-influenced diseases'.

    Human Aspects
    'The Council of Europe Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and the
    Dignity of the Human Being with Regard to the Application of Biology and Medicine'
    specifically rules out human cloning; human genetic modification which is not for
    preventive, diagnostic or therapeutic purposes; germ-line genetic modification (i.e. which
    passes on to descendents). The use of techniques of medically assisted procreation shall
    not be allowed for the purpose of choosing a future child's sex, except where serious
    hereditary sex-related disease is to be avoided.

    Additional protocol on the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and the Dignity of the Human Being with Regard to the Application of Biology and Medicine, on the prohibition of cloning human beings. (Signed Paris, January 1998, Treaty number 168)

    Human Applications of Genetic Engineering

    Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority: -
    The HFEA administers the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act 1990, the key statute covering human embryo creation and manipulation, which would also cover transmissible human genetic modification and cloning (e.g. creation and cloning of human embryonic stem cells for transplantation purposes) because such procedures would require licensing by the authority. But the Act currently authorizes experimentation on embryos less than 14 days old for research into infertility, congenital disease, miscarriage, contraception and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. Parliament is expected to consider extending the purposes to include "therapeutic cloning" in 2007.

    Human Genetics Advisory Commission (HGAC) - established in December 1996 as a non-statutory advisory body to UK Health and Industry Ministers on issues arising from developments in human genetics and cloning that have social, ethical and/or economic consequences.

    Gene Therapy Advisory Committee (GTAC) - established 1993, non-statutory,

    advising on clinical protocols and more general issues; gives advice to UK Health
    Ministers on developments in the field and their implications.

    Genetically Modified Foods (GMF)

    Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using the GE techniques generally known as 'recombinant DNA technology'.

    GMF are foodstuffs produced from genetically modified organisms that have had their genome altered through GE. The process of producing a GMO is - to take the DNA from the one organism modify it in a laboratory, and then insert it into another organism's genome to produce new and useful traits or phenotypes.

    GE today has become another serious and alarming cause of genetic pollution because artificially created and genetically engineered plants and animals in laboratories, which could never have evolved in nature even with conventional hybridization. Genetically Modified crops today have become a common source for genetic pollution, not only of wild varieties but also of other domesticated verities derived from relatively natural hybridization.

    Under the Convention on Biological Diversity, a global treaty was adopted on genetically modified organisms at Montreal on 29 January 2000. After five years of talks, ministers and senior officials from over 130 governments finalized a legally binding agreement for protecting the environment from risks posed by the transboundary transport of Living Modified Organisms (LMOs [also called GMOs]) created by modern biotechnology.

    Important Aspects
    • An important focus for GE continues to be the diagnosis and healing of human disease. In contrast the suggested use of GE for so-called additive or enhancement therapies represents a very different kind of application and the potential for abuse seems high. The term therapy is in any case inappropriate as in reality no therapy would involved, only the aim to enhance certain specified characteristics.

    • The right to know one's genetic constitution may be as important as the right to know. A potential abuse of GE is to give people genetic information about which they can do nothing. This is a trend that could encourage genetic fatalism.

    • Genetic engineering of food and fiber products is inherently unpredictable and dangerous for humans, for animals, for the environment, and for the future of sustainable and organic agriculture. The hazards of GE foods and crops fall basically into three Categories: human health hazards, environmental hazards, and socio-economic hazards. A brief look at the already-proven and likely hazards of GE products provides a convincing argument for why we need a global moratorium on all GE foods and crops.

    • Traditional breeding is based on sexual reproduction between like organisms. The transferred genes are similar to genes in the cell they join. They are conveyed in complete groups and in a fixed sequence that harmonizes with the sequence of genes in the partner cell. In contrast, bioengineers isolate a gene from one type of organism and splice it haphazardly into the DNA of a dissimilar species, disrupting its natural sequence. Further, because the transplanted gene is foreign to its new surroundings, it cannot adequately function without a big artificial boost.

    • Dr. Richard Lacey, Professor of Food Safety, Leeds University, UK
    Genetic engineering bypasses conventional breeding by using artificially constructed parasitic genetic elements, including viruses, as vectors to carry and smuggle genes into cells. Once inside cells, these vectors slot themselves into the host genome. The insertion of foreign genes into the host genome has long been known to have many harmful and fatal effects including cancer of the organism.

    • Dr. Peter Wills, Auckland University, New Zealand
    Probably the greatest threat from genetically altered crops is the insertion of modified virus and insect virus genes into crops. It has been shown in the laboratory that genetic recombination will create highly virulent new viruses from such constructions. Certainly the widely used cauliflower mosaic virus is a potentially dangerous gene. It is a para-retrovirus meaning that it multiplies by making DNA from RNA messages. It is very similar to the Hepatitis B virus and related to HIV. Modified viruses could cause famine by destroying crops or cause human and animal diseases of tremendous power.

    Concluding remarks
    The techniques of GE, if used wisely, can continue to bring enormous benefits to human kind.

    The kind of technology used in genetic engineering is also being developed to treat people with genetic disorders in an experimental medical technique called gene therapy.

    Common and universal stand should be taken by all the countries on 'ethical and humanitarian development of science of 'genetic engineering' which must be observed in research and its application either on environment or on human being.

    Initially and vastly the nature drive the ways and lifestyle of being, both human and other living beings, but now with the advent of genetic engineering science going to drive the way and system of nature, because genetic engineering is such technique and application of human mind which alters the nature's own structure. Therefore this interference with the nature need to be used with great caution and concern to save succeeding generations and environment.

    ** Mahendra Subhash Khairnar - Student of LL.M. II. Dept. of Law, University Of Pune, Participated In Various Academic Competitions such as Essay And Moot Courts, Participated and Presented a Paper on 'Human Rights' in World Peace Conference, 2006 held in MIT Pune by UNESCO Chair, Has Submitted Articles In Various Publications, Doing LL.M. In Administrative And Human Rights Law, Having Dissertation in Human Rights.

    The author can be reached at: [email protected] - Ph: 9371250023 / Print This Article

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