What are genes?
Let's start off with the basics; what is a gene? Well, a gene is a segment of DNA, which makes up chromosomes in your body. Genes are what make you, you! In humans, genes vary from a few hundred base pairs to two million in length! The human genome project has determined that there are anywhere between 20 000 - 25 000 genes in every human. Most genes are the exact same in everyone, but there is a small number of genes(1%) that differentiate you from everyone else. The small differences contribute to different physical attributes that make you special. Scientists keep track of genes by giving them names. However, their names are often very long. So instead, they are given symbols as an easier way to identify them.
Changing the genetic structure
Now that. you know a bit more about genes, let's dive into the question of how we could manipulate them. Up until recently, genetic engineering took copious amounts of time and effort, and is extremely expensive. An experiment involving genetic engineering could cost up to millions of dollars and take up to a year! However, a new breakthrough method of genetic engineering called CRISPR(Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) has reduced costs by 99% and time from a year to only a couple of weeks! By editing the genes of various organisms, scientists were able to create glowing pigs, featherless chicken, and even a mice with an ear on its back!
What could happen in the future?
The future of genetic engineering is really promising. By editing our genetic structures, we could eliminate diseases, fight off cancer, and even reverse ageing! Although we are just beginning to understand this technology, one day we would be able to create designer babies or maybe even an entirely new species! This technology, when put into good use, could massively improve the welfare of the human race. Imagine an injection that could eliminate cancer, or HIV, or the various diseases that have plagued the human race for centuries. All of this could be solved within the next couple of decades!
Moral and ethical implications
Genetic engineering has been a hot topic of debate for a while now, especially due to the moral and ethical implications of this technology. Currently, experiments are really dangerous on the patient involved and a slight tweak in their genome could cascade years down the line. As this technology improves, I believe that genetic engineering would mature to a point where it would be considered morally unacceptable to refuse it, as you would be refusing treatment to preventable diseases and maladies. However, for now, genetic engineering must be tightly regulated, so the technology does not fall into the wrong hands.
Photo used under Creative Commons from Geometric Medical Animation