The technique of gene cloning has important applications in medicine, biotechnology, agriculture and research. Discuss two applications of this technique, which in your opinion, have had significant impact on society.
Gene cloning is achieved by inserting a required gene into a vector DNA. This produces Recombinant DNA and when introduced to a host cell the vector is copied. It divides to produce lots of copies of the gene of interest (Willey, Sherwood and Woolverton, 2012). There are many applications of gene cloning, the two which will be discussed in this essay are; genetically modified crops and using genetic fingerprinting for identification and relationship testing. Genetically modified crops can contain genes from sources outside the plant species, these express new proteins, regulate gene expression, mark specific parts of the genome and provide identifying clues the gene transfer has been achieved. Using gene cloning in agriculture has had a great impact on society (Bailey and Lappé, 2002). Crops with an altered genome can be grown with positive attributes which make them more desirable to the consumer; taller, bigger, juicer for example.
This is of great benefit to the farmer as there will be less wastage and more profit, thus increasing the agricultural economy. Crops can also be grown to be resistant to herbicides; this provides the farmer with more flexibility and again increases profit. Seed manufacturers are also using gene cloning as an advantage and are able to produce seeds with sterile pollen. This is of great advantage to the manufacturer because farmers have to re-buy their seeds each year. In addition, the manufacturer maintains its unique identity of the seed and it reduces genetic pollution (Brooker et al, 2011). The above are all examples of positive social impact; however, the main impacts of genetically modified crops are in fact negative. There is a lot of controversy regarding genetically modified crops; Human Rights groups proclaim that genomes of humans and animals should never be manipulated by humans because it is nature’s job. Uncertainties are raised by tampering with nature; there are worries that genetically modified crops may have negative health implications, as well as reducing biodiversity.
Herbicide resistant plants can also pose their issue; when a plant is resistant to a single herbicide, it is possible for it to become resistant to another herbicide, using either the same or similar mechanism of action. Natural processes of selection can lead to this resistance being passed onto other plant species. This means that weeds may also develop the resistance gene. The numbers of resistant plants and weeds will increase until the majority of the population is herbicide-resistant. Consequently, there is worry of creation of a ‘super-weed’ which is resistant to all common herbicides. A similar problem is apparent in animals; antibiotic resistance. Genetically modified crops can contain antibiotic resistant gene markers which have potential to be passed onto humans, this would increase resistance to antibiotics and so viruses and disease would be more frequent (Bailey and Lappé, 2002). Due to genetically modified foods being so desirable by the consumer, easy to grow by the producer and more widely available, poor farmers become poorer. They cannot afford to buy genetically modified seeds and quite often their land is not ideal for growth. This also means that the price of organic foods has risen. Genetically modified foods have led to rise that humans deserve the right to know what they are eating; therefore, all foods must be labelled.
This has posed a problem for organic farmers due to genetic pollution. Seeds or pollen from a local genetically modified crop farm are deposited on the organic farm meaning that not all crops are organic. Subsequently, the consumer is being misled if sold as organic. This has led to new laws being introduced for farmers, making the genetically modified crop growers liable. Insurance is therefore important, another additional cost to the farmers (Bailey and Lappé, 2002). The second technique in this essay is genetic fingerprinting. It is one of the most powerful tools of human engineering. Every plant and animal is unique because they each have their own set of genes. Scientists have developed a technique to determine individual DNA patterns, these are called genetic fingerprints. Like fingerprints, they are unique to every individual and therefore have many advantages. The discovering and developing of genetic fingerprinting techniques and uses has brought about a certain degree of social impact. Genetic fingerprints can be used to identify suspects from a crime scene. DNA is found in blood, hair, saliva and seminal fluid. If any of these are recovered at a crime scene they can be used to find the genetic fingerprint.
Extracting the DNA will reveal its unique code which can then be traced to the convict. This is a very costly procedure so it must be performed accurately by a trained competent laboratory worker. It has been known that people have been wrongly accused of crimes due to errors when reading their genetic fingerprint. False accusations have also been known to be due to contamination of the specimen and evidence samples being accidentally switched; this maybe during collection, handling, processing or labelling. Wrong accusations are a strong social impact which introduces the question of reliability (James and Nordby, 2009). The genome is manufactured of 50% from each parent, hence genetic fingerprinting can be used to identify family members. This use is of great benefit to those who want to confirm who their parents are (paternal and maternal tests). Another use of genetic fingerprinting is hereditary disease screening, if found to have a faulty gene there is chance of delaying or preventing the onset of the disease by lifestyle change. There may also be the possibility of gene therapy where the faulty gene is replaced by a healthy copy. This use is of great benefit however it does have its drawbacks.
Genetic fingerprinting in this way has triggered dispute. People are concerned about their confidentiality as there have been reports of discrimination due to misuse of genetic information. If an individual who has been screened positive for a disease wants to buy insurance, they maybe denied if their genetic file has been released. It may also affect career prospects or reduce the risk of promotion (Lori and Andrews, 1991). These disputes have triggered new rules and laws to be introduced and considered regarding the collection and storage of DNA. These are just two examples of gene cloning which have had a large social impact. There are many more techniques involving gene cloning and each one has its own social impact. This is why gene cloning is such an important and leading topic.