The answer to the question posed by the title of this article depends on which side of the fence you sit on. If you like what genetic engineering has to offer, the possibilities scientists are talking about at the moment will excite you. If you don’t – it’s probably going to give you the willies.
So, while we are going to explore the three major areas where genetic engineering could change things, there’s a good chance they may not. Medicine, agriculture, and food production could all benefit. But, one suspects, it might be some time before they are allowed to, regardless of those benefits. Let’s take a closer look.
Make no mistake about it, genetic modification of human beings is controversial – but it will happen at some point. And, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise when it does – because it already has. There have been occasions when DNA has been altered in babies after they have been born, to treat acute diseases. And, of course, there have been plenty of examples of genetic alterations being used by athletes to enhance their performance.
In the future – and not too long from now – there could be many developments for both post birth and embryonic life. Scientists are already looking into engineering genes to prevent cancer and neurological disorders. They are also looking at pre-birth vaccinations for other diseases.
There is also the possibility of changing an embryo’s DNA to improve intelligence, change appearance. There are even ideas for altering height and strength. Researchers can already do this with animals, and the sense is that if they could, they would already be doing so on humans.
Animals & Agriculture
There is a lot of controversy about genetically modified food, and, so far, most of that has been about crops. So, if people are feeling odd about eating an ear of GM corn, how do you think they are going to take to a GM pig, cow, or chicken? Well, the truth is they are already here.
Take chickens for example. Although the old rumor of KFC having to take the word chicken out of their name is nonsense, there is a grain of truth in it. These days, chickens have been selectively bred to lay more than 250 eggs a year. That’s ten times more than their ancestors bothered to lay. And then there’s the fact that chicken breasts are 80% larger today than they were in the 1950s. All through breeding – and, therefore, genetic modification.
And, in the future, things are likely to get stranger. Spider goats, for example, have spider DNA in them and produce a protein in their milk that can be extracted into durable silk thread. Check out these other strange tales of genetically altered animals. The problem for most people is, of course, that you shouldn’t mess with nature. But, if genetically enhanced or modified animals help to feed the world, it’s an argument that will lose steam at some point.
So, whatever happens, it’s important to understand that we are already using GM products. And that we have been for years. But the next decade will throw up some exciting new developments, without a doubt.