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Bioethics Of Human Genetic Engineering - Documentary Video
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In Vivo : Selected Stories of Genetic Engineering (1996)- Robert Wyrod
This experimental documentary examines the frontiers of human genetic engineering. It explores the ethical terrain of the emerging field of human gene therapy research and includes original interviews with the leading scientists working in this area.
Director: Robert Wyrod
Producer: Robert Wyrod
Keywords: genetic; engineering; gene therapy; DNA; experimental; clone; molecular
Contact Information: firstname.lastname@example.org
Creative Commons license: Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0
Human genetic engineering is the genetic engineering of humans by modifying the genotype of the unborn individual to control what traits it will possess when born.
Humans do not need gene therapy to survive, though it may prove helpful to treat certain diseases. Special gene modification research has been carried out on groups such as the 'bubble children' - those whose immune systems do not protect them from the bacteria and irritants all around them. The first clinical trial of human gene therapy began in 1990, but (as of 2008) is still experimental. Other forms of human genetic engineering are still theoretical, or restricted to fiction stories. Recombinant DNA research is usually performed to study gene expression and various human diseases. Some drastic demonstrations of gene modification have been made with mice and other animals, however; testing on humans is generally considered off-limits. In some instances changes are usually brought about by removing genetic material from one organism and transferring them into another species.
There are two main types of genetic engineering. Somatic modifications involve adding genes to cells other than egg or sperm cells. For example, if a person had a disease caused by a defective gene, a healthy gene could be added to the affected cells to treat the disorder. The distinguishing characteristic of somatic engineering is that it is non-inheritable, e.g. the new gene would not be passed to the recipients offspring.
Germline engineering would change genes in eggs, sperm, or very early embryos. This type of engineering is inheritable, meaning that the modified genes would appear not only in any children that resulted from the procedure, but in all succeeding generations. This application is by far the more consequential as it could open the door to the perpetual and irreversible alteration of the human species.
There are two techniques researchers are currently experimenting with:
Viruses are good at injecting their DNA payload into human cells and reproducing it. By adding the desired DNA to the DNA of non-pathogenic virus, a small amount of virus will reproduce the desired DNA and spread it all over the body.
Manufacture large quantities of DNA, and somehow package it to induce the target cells to accept it, either as an addition to one of the original 23 chromosomes, or as an independent 24th human artificial chromosome. Human genetic engineering means that some part of the genes or DNA of a person are changed. It is possible that through engineering, people could be given more arms, bigger brains or other structural alterations if desired. A more common type of change would be finding the genes of extraordinary people, such as those for intelligence, stamina, longevity, and incorporating those in embryos. Human genetic engineering holds the promise of being able to cure diseases and increasing the immunity of people to viruses. An example of such a disease is cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that affects lungs and other organs.
Researchers are currently trying to map out and assign genes to different body functions or disease. When the genes or DNA sequence responsible for a disease is found, theoretically gene therapy should be able to fix the disease and eliminate it permanently. However, with the complexity of interaction between genes and gene triggers, gene research is currently in its infancy. Computer modeling and expression technology could be used in the future to create people from scratch. This would work by taking existing DNA knowledge and inserting DNA of "superior" body expressions from people, such as a bigger heart, stronger muscles, etc and implanting this within an egg to be inserted into a female womb. The visual modeling of this process may be very much like the videogame Spore, where people are able to manipulate the physical attributes of creatures and then "release them" in the digital world.
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