For centuries, people have been changing the genomes of plants and animals by using traditional methods of selection. The artificial selection of the desired properties led to the breeding of a various species ranging from sweet corn to bald cats. However, this artificial selection, in which the selected beings with certain properties produced subsequent generations, was limited to the natural changes. The achievements of genetic engineering were studied, and the genetic changes inside an organism became possible in the last decades. Grain cereals, farm animals, and soil bacteria are among the most known examples of genetically modified species (Ormandy, Dale, & Griffin, 2011, p. 544). The given essay discusses the biological basis, social and ethical implications, and the author’s viewpoint on the genetically modified animals.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2015), a genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism, the genotype of which was artificially changed by means of genetic engineering. This definition can be applied to plants, animals, and microorganisms. As a rule, genetic changes are made with the aim of scientific or economic benefits. Genetic modification is a purposeful change of an organism genotype unlike the casual process, which is characteristic of the natural and artificial mutational processes. The use of transgenes for the creation of transgenic organisms is the main type of genetic modification. At present, genetically modified animals include cows, able to produce the human-like milk, modified salmon that grows quicker and bigger than its natural relatives, modified pigs, the manure of which practically does no harm to the soil, modified flies and mosquitoes that are unable to give posterity, for example.
Genetically modified animals are animals that are modified by the gene of one or several transgenes. Genetically modified (transgene) animals are organisms, the genetic material (DNA) of which is changed in the way that is unattainable by the natural way during intraspecific crossings (Glenn, 2013). The technology of recombinant molecules is used for the reception of GMOs. Genetic engineering allows transferring separate genes from any living organism to any other one as a part of the DNA ring molecules (plasmids) (U. S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA], 2015).
The embedding of the genome to the living organism of an animal aims at receiving new features, which are unattainable for this organism by the method of traditional selection or which demand a long-term work of selectors. The application of biotechnologies allows accelerating the process of receiving a new breed considerably by reducing its prime cost and gaining a well-predicted effect by the feature determined in the built-in design. However, together with this feature, a genetically modified animal gets the whole set of new properties. It is caused both by the pleiotropic effect - the phenomenon, at which one gene is responsible for some properties of the built-in design, including its instability and regulatory influence on adjacent genes.
The main stages of the GMO technology applied at animals include the reception of the isolated gene, introduction of a gene to a vector for the transfer to an animal’s organism, putting a vector with a genome into the modified organism, and transformation of the organism’s cells. The last stage presupposes the selection of genetically modified organisms and elimination of those that were not successfully modified. The process of the synthesis of genes is well developed and even substantially automated. In order to build-in a gene into a vector, certain enzymes – restrictasa and ligases – are used. Restrictasa allows cutting a gene and a vector into slices. By means of ligases, such slices can be stuck together; being connected in different combinations, they design a new gene or put it into a vector (Glenn, 2013).
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The technology of the gene introduction to bacteria was developed by Frederick Griffith, who discovered the phenomenon of the bacterial transformation (Glenn, 2013). The primitive sexual process followed by the exchange of small fragments of non-chromosomal DNA is the cornerstone of this study. The plasmid technologies formed the basis for the introduction of artificial genes to bacterial cells. The transfection process is used for the transfer of a ready gene to the hereditary apparatus of animal cells.
The research conducted by Ormandy, Dale, and Griffin (2011) shows that the process of cloning can take place in one-celled animals and cultures of multicellular cells. When there is a task to receive metaphytes, blastocytes substitute a mother of an animal. As a result, there are cubs with the changed or invariable genotype (Ormandy, Dale, & Griffin, 2011, p. 545).
Social and Ethical Considerations
The achievements of medicine in genetic engineering boosted the formation of bioethics in the 1960s-70s (Ormandy, Dale, & Griffin, 2011, p. 545). In a broad sense, it is a complex cultural phenomenon, which developed as a response to the threats posed to the moral and physical wellbeing of a human being by the rough progress in the biomedical science and practice. The types of the genetic intervention into the living nature of animals requires the assessment and discussion of the social and economic consequences both owing to the rates of the conducted researches and the formation of an adequate social reaction to the possibility and necessity of their use.
At present, it is obvious that genetic and biotechnologies possess an enormous potential and possibilities of affecting a human being and society. However, these prospects are twofold. Discussing the scientific and economic prospects of genetic engineering, its potential threats to the humanity, as a whole, should also be taken into consideration. The further penetration of the human reason into the natural forces can lead to a global catastrophe.
Therefore, from the viewpoint of the biomedical ethics, it is necessary to answer the question whether everything that can be done should be done or not (Glenn, 2013). It is not about saying yes or no to the genetically modifying technology but about covering both the positive and negative sides of the issue. The gene technology gave people an advantage, which they had not possessed earlier – the ability to change the environment, including plants and animals, purposefully and quickly. As a result, the processes requiring millions of years of the natural evolution can be done within a small period of time (Ormandy, Dale, & Griffin, 2011, p. 546).
In agriculture, the pursuit of the profits from the intensification of the processes of the agricultural production by the application of genetic engineering technology for the improvement of some breeds of farm animals prompted scientists to conduct genetic experiments that strike with cruelty. In such a manner, a super meat-breed pig grown in the USA became one of the first victims of manipulations with genes (Ormandy, Dale, & Griffin, 2011, p. 546). The human growth gene was injected into the DNA of pigs. Animals, which participated in the experiment, had chronic arthritis among some other human diseases; thus, they could not walk and move on all fours. A human growth gene was also injected into the DNA of mice. Eventually, it led to the development of cancer cells in them.
The largest class of GE is intended for use as food and may be disease resistant, or have improved nutritional or growth characteristics. And others include animals that produce high value industrial or consumer products, such as highly specific antimicrobials against human and animal pathogens. (FDA, 2015)
In fact, when consuming the meat of animals, people get not a growth gene but a cancer gene (Glenn, 2013). For example, the genetic shortcoming, which causes an illness of a brain, was discovered in the Swiss brown cows, who gave a significant increase in the milk yield. When scientists identified a gene, which causes illness, instead of looking for the ways of treatment, they started to use it for the implantation into healthy cows for the purpose of increasing the milk yield and, thus, receiving more profits. Such methods are inadmissible from the viewpoint of bioethics (Ormandy, Dale, & Griffin, 2011, p. 548).
Thus, genetically engineered researches infringe more and more interest of the global society, and ethical problems become an important component of the scientific activity of biologists and bio-physicians. At present, the world community and scientists actively discuss the question of usefulness and harm of the genetic engineering achievements. More and more researchers become inclined to think that the study in this direction should be continued. However, not the improvement of the animal breed, but the treatment of diseases has to be their main goal.
Recently, genetically modified animals and plants have become an issue of unceasing debates. Today, there are absolutely opposite viewpoints on the topic. Some people assert that GMOs constitute a considerable health hazard to human beings while others, on the contrary, claim that the harm of these products has not been proved by any research yet. My personal attitude to the problem of genetically modified animals is twofold. On the one hand, they provide wide opportunities for the scientific researches and development of medicine by allowing the humanity to protect itself from a number of diseases and infections. On the other hand, they harm both nature and human beings, putting the health of people under a risk. Moreover, the ethical side of the issue proves its negative impact on the society, in general.
To my mind, genetically modified animals create a promising direction in the creation of transgenes that bear the genes, which code the synthesis of vaccines against various diseases. Thus, for example, a human organism is vaccinated while consuming the meat or fish with such genes. It considerably expands the area of the application of the genetically modified animals. It is obvious that such edible vaccines can become an effective, easy, and inexpensive method for the human and food safety.
Such experiments are conducted not only with the purpose of giving a chance to people to have genetically modified doggies and kitties, for instance, the introduction of a gene responsible for a luminescence in the darkness, but to improve their resistance to the immunodeficiency virus. Experiments with fluorescent genes will help in the development of a treatment of Parkinson’s or Alzheimer diseases. Thus, the directions of the genetic engineering researches are various and extensive, and some of them show potential for the future scientific research.
However, the possibility of creating mutants considerably increases after the introduction of artificial, synthetic genes in transgene plants, animals, and microorganisms with the improved or essentially new properties. These circumstances justify my alarm and persistent requirement to forbid the creation and, especially, the use of genetically modified organisms in food and other products or, at least, to impose their obligatory marking.
I think that gene-modified animals do harm to the human health. Today, the environment is so polluted that it is not known how an organism will react to the intervention of absolutely new genes. Especially, these products are harmful to kids and young mothers. I do not want to put my health and health of my family at risk; thus, I do not buy, for example, genetically modified meat. However, I support the scientific research of genetically modified animals, irrespective of its ethical or moral side.
To sum up, the solution of a number of problems associated with genetically modified animals showed that the reduction of the human sufferings and improvement of the state of health of each person and the humankind, as a whole, should be the main objective of the genetic researches on animals. Biologists, geneticists, and doctors working with the application of the genetically engineered technologies on animals should consider their ethical and social consequences. Not only scientists but also politicians, lawyers, and the whole society should try to solve the problems caused by the development of the genetic engineering.