One of the most important human milestones ever achieved in the history of humanity was the discovery of the Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) structure. This was a turning point for scientists and engineers (Geneticists, Biotechnologists, Biochemists, Microbiologists e.t.c.) for far greater yet thrilling manipulations that aim to help humans evolve and transcend the natural phenomena they were known for. For starters, we now have a greater understanding of biological concepts ranging from heredity to protein production. This is why James Watson and Francis Crick, who are credited with making the discovery, will always be obliged to the scientific community. A few decades later, James Watson oversaw the Human Genomic Project (HJP), one of the most complex initiatives ever undertaken by a group of international experts from all corners of the universe. This effort was in charge of mapping every human gene, which implies that every gene purported to code for any character or protein has been discovered, sequenced, and thoroughly investigated (In fact, each gene is now identified by a code, number and location on the human chromosome).
Amazing advancements in medicine and health resulted from this, yet some situations may go beyond what is morally acceptable. Although many other developments, such as the successful artificial cloning of an animal and the emergence of gene therapies, have given us a previously unattainable understanding of the genome, it is crucial to maintain control over this quick evolution. This leads to the development of a new area of genetics known as gene knockout technology. For example, during the embryonic development of a fetus, if a gene mapping is done and it is discovered that there is a defective gene (for sickle cell anemia for instance), that particular defective gene can be knocked out, which will automatically do away with the possibility of the child developing sickle cell anemia after differentiation. However, this has never been practiced in humans as it poses a great risk of the destruction of other viable genes. It is worthy of note that there have been several animal studies, especially in rodents and quite a few of them were found to be successful.
Utilizing nuclear transfer from a cell derived from the mammary gland, the Roslin Institute in Scotland created Dolly the sheep (the first cloned animal from an adult non sex cells). Her cloning demonstrated that a mature cell from a particular body component may be used to create a cloned organism. The world’s first academic institution, A&M University in Texas, USA, cloned six animals in six years, including cattle, a boer goat, pigs, a deer, a horse, and – most notably – a cat called cc.
We have also seen, as a result, the production of biological and nuclear weapons as well as their profoundly damaging effects. Thus, a balance between what possibly needs to be achieved and what should be undertaken must be struck. Disorders like Down syndrome and Sickle Cell Disease are the direct result of faulty genetics and a cure for them is nearly impossible due to the trillions of cells in your body and the even greater amount of DNA that would need to be altered. However, a form of genetic engineering known as genomic editing could solve this problem. The utilization of a tool known as CRISPR-Cas9 has profound implications that could influence us very shortly.
Weather scientists are indeed playing god with the way genes are now being manipulated, it is up to us to remedy errors that come with nature, and by that, we will be utilizing the knowledge for the benefit of mankind.
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Abdurrazak Muhammad is an Assistant Lecturer in the Department of Biochemistry, Skyline University Nigeria (SUN). He has an M.Sc. in Medical Biochemistry from Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin (Unisza) Malaysia
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