IntroductionGenetic modification refers to the direct as well as deliberate manipulation of the genes of an organism. It is important to consider the aspect of direct manipulation in the definition because in the past, farmers were accustomed to indirectly modifying the genetic makeup of animals, for instance through interbreeding and traditional breeding methods. With increased advancements in technology, genetic modification technologies (biotechnologies) have developed and this has increased the activities of genetic modification in modern times. It is arguable that through genetic modification scientists are currently able to transfer vital genes from one organism to another, provided that the organisms are of the same species. The genetic modification process takes place when DNA sequences are influenced. The influence of the DNA may involve addition, removal of, and changing of the DNA sequences, and it the kind of alterations being made are alterations that may never occur naturally. As a result of the modification, the characteristics of the organism are usually changed. Some of the new aspects of the modification include to introduce disease resistance traits and or to induce increased growth in terms of size as well as speed of growth. This study is focused on providing discussions of what genetic modified animals are, what technologies are used to achieve genetic modification and what they accomplish. Thereafter, the study explores the ethical and social implications of genetically modifying animals.
Biological Basis of Genetically Modifying Animals
Direct genetic modification is usually conducted through genetic engineering techniques. In modern times, the technology is commonly used so as to increase food production when it comes to the production of fruits and vegetables as well as edible animals. Examples of animals that have successfully been genetically modified include cattle, rats, mice, cats, goats, sheep, chicken, and pigs. As already mentioned, the modification process entails insertion, removal or altering/mutation of genes. The insertion of new genes is usually achieved through ‘horizontal gene transfer’. After insertion of the new genes into an organism, the newly introduced DNA sequences penetrate cell membrane and result in changes in the overall genetic makeup of the animal. Some known strategies of introducing the new genes into an organism include attaching the genes to a virus; using electroporation technique; firing small from a gene gun and directly inserting the new DNA into the cells, particularly the nucleus of the organism. The direct insertion can be achieved through using a syringe and the electroporation technique involves including electric pulse to introduce the new DNA sequences.
The direct genetic modification process is usually conducted in laboratory settings. The genes that are introduced to the animals are usually extracted from another species of the animals and they are inserted into the animal using one of the above-mentioned processes. Other than other animal species, the new genes which are introduced to the animal can also be derived from bacteria, insects, humans and viruses. Animals that can have their genes genetically modified are known as transgenic organisms. It is important to note that animals as living organisms have natural barriers that help prevent their genes against the introduction of new DNA from different species. This is what makes the genetic modification process complex. Genetic engineers usually have to force the new DNA into the animals through coating the DNA into tiny metals pellets and shooting them into the cells, injecting the DNA, for instance in fertilized eggs or using the electric pulse of the electroporation technique where the electric pulse creates shocks that create holes in the membranes of cells allowing the introduction of the new cells.
Regardless of the selected approach of introducing new DNA into an organism, the genetic modification process usually follows several steps. The steps include first identifying the gene that is of particular interest. This may be a gene that increase growth or enhanced disease resistance in an organism. After identifying the gene of interest, the genetic engineers usually isolate the gene, after which they amplify it so as to attain many copies of the gene. This step is followed by “associating the gene with an appropriate promoter and poly A sequence and insertion into plasmids”. The plasmids are then multiplied and then they are extracted to be introduced into the intended organism. The transfer then takes place and shortly after the new DNA is integrated into the DNA sequence of the recipient organism.
Social and ethical implications of genetically modifying animals
Genetically modifying animals is associated with various different outcomes. Some of the outcomes are positive while others are negative. It is therefore important to identify if the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, or if it is the other way around. This knowledge will help influence the overall perception and decision of whether or not genetic modification of animals is a good thing or it is bad. One of the most evident issues with regards to the genetic modification when it comes to its social impacts is the labeling of genetically modified animals. This is with regards to genetically modified animals which are used for food. People have become increasingly aware of the fact that an increasing number of meat producers are introducing meat from genetically modified animals in the market. This aspect is currently a subject of considerable debate in the society. This is because there are some meat consumers who prefer to consume meat from animals that are natural and have been naturally reared. They as a result feel cheated when they are made to consume meat from genetically modified animals. They are now calling for the labeling of meat that is obtained from genetically modified animals.
From a different perspective, there are people who believe that genetically modifying animals goes against their religious and cultural orientation. The best example of this is that Christians believe that genetically modifying animals directly challenges the will and presence of God. For instance, they believe that God is the creator of all living organisms and since genetically modifying animals normally results in the development of new organisms because the organisms have blends of two different species, then this is challenging God. Other cultures consider it a taboo because they believe that organisms should be left to live naturally without the introduction of new specifies. Most of them argue that it is naturally intended that some species will evolve and others will become extinct. Therefore, genetically modifying animals goes against the natural order of things.
Despite the negative social attributes of genetically modifying animals, it is evident that the process has resulted in several social benefits. The most significant positive social impact of the process is that it has resulted in the increased production of animals reared for food. This means that there is significant reduction of hunger. Additionally, genetic engineers have found ways of genetically modifying animals to increase their nutrient and vitamin content. This means that the process has resulted in the production of healthier meat. Furthermore, the process results in the preservation as well as enhancement of animal species. This is because it results in the development of animal species that are more resistant to diseases.
Other than social impacts, the genetically modifying of animals is also associated with several ethical concerns. Animal activists believe that genetic modification of animals requires extensive research on animals and that the process normally involves animal cruelty and the killing of numerous animals simply so as to gain particular knowledge or experiment on a particular concept. They argue that this is not ethical and that it constitutes animal cruelty. They also argue that some of the surgical procedures that are conducted on the animals including vasectomy and surgical embryo transfer are subjecting the animals to pain and procedures that are not positive to the wellbeing of the animals. There are also arguments that transgenic biotechnology is becoming more widespread and if left unchecked there is no telling of what activities and actions genetic engineers may engage in. There is also the concern that the lack of labeling the genetically modifying of animals is robbing people of their prerogative to choose whether they want to consume meat from the animals or not. Others are even concerned that the consumption of genetically modified animals may be associated with some adverse health outcomes that none of the genetic engineers are ready to research and make known to the public.
Despite being associated with several social and ethical issues, it is apparent that the benefits of genetically modifying animals are weightier than the negative attributes. The process of genetically modifying animals can offer solutions to some of the world’s old age problems including hunger. The process evidently results in the increased raring of animals for meat. This in turn means increased supply of meat, hence food. This also ensures that the cost of meat go down. From a different point of view, it is evident that the process results in the improved health of animals. This is because genetically modifying of animals results in species that are disease resistant. It is possible that such benefits will eventually be felt by the human species. As a result of the benefits, it is safe to say that genetically modifying of animals is a welcomed activity.
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