Medical research may be carried out on transgenic organisms to obtain information which can improve medical knowledge
A transgenic organism is an organism whose genome has been modified or genetically manipulated by the introduction of a foreign gene. The first transgenic animal was produced in 1982, when a growth hormone from a rat was inserted into a mouse. Since then, genes from different species, including humans, has been introduced into animals, plants and even micro-organisms. (http://nabc.cals.cornell.edu). Genetic engineering provides an alternative to traditional methods of plant and animal breeding because it is a lot faster and efficient.
Medical research may be carried out on transgenic organisms to obtain information which can improve medical knowledge. For example, oncogene which causes cancer in humans can be inserted into mouse, forming a transgenic organism called Oncomouse. The mouse develops tumours and is used in cancer research to find possible drugs for the disease (Biological science D. Taylor). Scientists are also finding ways to produce proteins or drugs in transgenic animals. Milk-producing transgenic animals like cows are especially useful for pharmaceutical medicines. Transgenic animals like pigs may also be designed for organ production, helping to reduce the shortage of kidneys and livers available for transplants.
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Genetic engineering can help to increase crop yield by developing transgenic organisms which are resistant to diseases, pests and tolerant to environmental stress such as drought, cold, heat or salt. For example, plants such as strawberry can have a gene inserted into them which makes them resistant to freezing (biological science D. Taylor). This ensures reduction in crop loss due to frost damage and an increase in productivity or yield. Another example is the transformation of crops such as corn, making them produce a kind of protein which kills insects that feed on them. This leads to a rise in yield which is very important to humans as the rate of increase in the world population is very high and so is their demand for food. Traditional methods of food production are too slow to meet this demand. However, genetic engineering produces transgenic organisms which will overcome the problems in a shorter time, with more precision and efficiency.
Today, people are developing an increasing interest in the nutritional value, flavour, and texture of food they consume. Transgenic organisms are designed to have a high quality of nutrition such as an increase in the proportion of the essential elements required for a balanced diet. For example, soybeans is developed with higher protein content, potatoes with more starch and rice with the ability produce beta-carotene, a type of vitamin A, to help prevent blindness especially in developing countries where people are malnourished. Transgenic milk-producing animals are designed to produce milk with less lactose or cholesterol. Pigs and cattle are designed so that they have more meat on them, and sheep are engineered to grow more wool. (http://www.actionbioscience.org)
Genetic manipulation of organisms into transgenic organism lowers costs for farmers and consumers reasonably. It produces food with efficiency, saves time and energy. For example, transgenic pigs can convert grain into lean meat faster while consuming proportionally less grain. Also, raising transgenic fish is faster and cheaper because it takes less feed and half the time to produce more fish. Therefore, industry cuts cost by killing less animals for a pound of meat, farmers reduce the amount they spend on feed grains for the organism while still selling the same amount of product and the consumers who buy these products, benefit from the savings of the industry and farmers.
“In 2001, two scientists at Nexia Biotechnologies in Canada spliced spider genes into the cells of milk-producing goats. The goats started producing silk along with their milk and secreting tiny silk strands from their body. The scientists created a light, tough and flexible material by extracting polymer strands from the milk and weaving them into thread. This material could be used to make military uniforms, medical micro sutures, and tennis racket strings.” (http://www.actionbioscience.org)
Transgenic organisms are not only useful to humans but also to the environment. Transgenic plants such which are resistant to pest and herbicides reduce the amount of pesticides which have to be sprayed on them. This is essential because if the toxic chemicals in pesticides leach into the ground and water, and escape into the air, then it can be taken up by animals and plants causing severe damage to them and sometimes killing them.
Traditional farming uses extensive tillage to control weeds. This leads to an increase in soil erosion, kills earthworms and micro organisms in the soil. Rapid soil erosion resulted in about 30% of agricultural soils in the U.S unsuitable for cultivation (http://www.actionbioscience.org). Transgenic organisms which are herbicide resistant, allows the usage of herbicides to control weeds rather than soil tillage. The reduction of frequent soil tilling maintains the soil structure, its nutrients and decreases soil erosion. Overall, soil is conserved.
It is evident from the discussion above that the roles of transgenic organisms benefit humans a great deal while the environment remains a small beneficiary. This raises one of the most controversial topics among the public today. Some people ask “Is it morally justified for humans to exploit other organisms for their own selfish benefits, even when pain is being caused to the organisms?” On the other hand, others maintain that humans are superior to these organisms so if they can be used to improve many people’s life then the technology should go on. Those who are somewhat indifferent wonder why a technology so useful is not widely accepted. However, “Survival of the fittest” is a rule which exists in most habitats and clearly that includes the earth. Humans are more or less the fittest so their survival is ensured which is why they benefit the most in any new discovery.