Application of Reproduction and Genetics

Application of Reproduction and Genetics

Genetic Engineering

  • Genetic engineering involves the direct manipulation of an organism’s genes using biotechnology.
  • It is an example of modern genetics and is widely used in medicine, research and agriculture.
  • New DNA can be inserted in the host genome by first isolating and copying the genetic material of interest using restriction enzymes and then incorporating into a vector such as a plasmid. This DNA is then transferred into the organism that is to be modified.
  • Examples in medicine include the production of insulin, clotting factors and vaccines. In agriculture, it has been used to create crops that are resistant to insects, diseases, and environmental conditions.

Gene Therapy

  • Gene therapy entails the replacement or modification of defective genes in order to cure genetic disorders.
  • It uses vectors, usually viruses, to transfer therapeutic genes into the patient’s cells. Two types exist: germline gene therapy, altering genes in sperm or eggs that can be passed onto future generations, and somatic gene therapy, changing genes in body cells, generally affecting only the individual patient.
  • Although promising, challenges exist such as immune response, control over where the new gene inserts itself in the genome and the cost of treatments.

Cloning and Reproductive Technologies

  • Cloning is the process of producing individuals with identical or virtually identical DNA, either naturally (e.g. identical twins) or artificially.
  • Artificial cloning techniques include gene cloning, reproductive cloning, and therapeutic cloning.
  • Reproductive cloning involves creating an animal that is genetically identical to a donor animal through somatic cell nuclear transfer.
  • While therapeutic cloning, also called embryo cloning, is the production of human embryos for research.

Genetic Screening and Testing

  • Genetic screening and testing involves testing individuals or populations for genetic disorders.
  • It can involve testing DNA, RNA, chromosomes, proteins, and certain metabolites in order to detect heritable disease-related genotypes, mutations, phenotypes, or karyotypes.
  • This can help identify genetic disorders before symptoms have even been shown, especially useful in diseases such as cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease.
  • While beneficial for early intervention and treatment, ethical and social issues arise such as potential discrimination and psychological stress.

Selective Breeding

  • Selective breeding, or artificial selection, involves choosing specific animals or plants to reproduce together to pass on desirable traits.
  • Two methods exist: cross-breeding to create new varieties or improving existing breeds through inbreeding. However, excessive inbreeding can lead to inbreeding depression with increased chance of genetic disease.
  • This has been used for centuries in agriculture to improve crop yield, quality, and resistance to disease and harsh environmental conditions.

Ethical Considerations

  • Modern genetic technologies such as genetic engineering, cloning, and gene therapy bring up significant ethical considerations.
  • Concerns revolve around issues such as the potential for misuse, health risks, consent and the potential for ‘designer babies’.
  • Balancing these concerns with the potential benefits is an ongoing debate in both social and scientific spheres.