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Artificial Propagation


Darelyn David

Paving the path for what future?

The flowerlike head sent out long tendrils that waved slowly in the silence. They watched, first with hushed fascination, then with growing horror as the tendrils grew in all directions, first filling the petri dish in which it grew, over the table, and onto the floor where it took root in the carpeted surface. And it did not stop there. The searching hyphae, like so many blind skeletal hands, reached out towards them... 

A vividly imaginative author would have drawn in a rapt audience with this fantastic plot of a man-eating plant, and the subsequent fate of helpless victims. Indeed, stories like this have fascinated the world for centuries, and writers have always been searching for the grotesque, the unbelievable, to add to their tale that certain flair. But with the technological advances of this day, the belief has started to grow that one can create custom-made organisms, although not to the gross exaggeration of the example above, but to suit man’s needs and to serve him in the best way possible.

Artificial selection has been honed into an art over the ages. The farmer has sifted through his seed for the best to plant the next year, the rancher chosen the stud to mate with his best milker, the dog breeder selected the dog with a good nose to breed with the fast runner for an enhanced hunting strain. The underlying theme throughout being superiority, and to create each generation better than the next. Artificial selection of organisms has improved man’s existence in ways otherwise impossible, and with the technology available, allows one to choose what is necessary to improve it even more. Genetic engineering has taken artificial selection to a new height, and proves to be an invaluable tool in the future of science. And not only in the case of agriculture, but in terms of understanding the mechanisms of the inheritance of characteristics through generations, and many other qualities that may prove to be highly indispensable in the world of medicine.

Genetic engineering from its birth, through every step it has made has caused an eruption of controversy. The moral dilemma that artificially sequencing genes creates is colossal. There are those that call genetic engineering playing God. The church strongly believes that one should be content with what they are born with, and deliberately changing the sequence of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) in any organism is seen as a sacrilege, as they are considered to be the blueprint of life. But where does life lie, is another question to be asked. Does it lie in the genes, or is that force which sustains an organism elsewhere that cannot be accessed by technology?

As nature has shown, only the best adapted organisms survive to impart the knowledge held in their genes to future generations. Darwin, known as the founder of natural selection, stated that the combined factors of overproduction of a species and the struggle for existence in the wild due to limited resources such as food, water and space, led to the fittest animal or plant surviving. Their offspring carried on the genes that made these organisms successful. Through the generations, the accumulation of the best qualities meant that the species weeded out unwanted characteristics to create a gene pool that was optimal for the environment that it inhabited.

Increasingly, in agriculture, man has been doing the “weeding out”. The quality of the harvest has always been important for our basic survival ever since man settled from a nomadic lifestyle into subsistence farming. The thorough knowledge of the crop and its weaknesses, has led farmers to interbreed varieties of crops that are not only hardier but also have a good yield in the hope of a superior species. However this is a time consuming process, and it may take an enterprising farmer years to develop that perfect plant, with many failures along the way. Compare this with genetic engineering, where it is possible to pinpoint the genes which code for the preferred phenotype, or characteristic. The isolated cells are cloned in culture solutions aseptically, and there is no need for nurturing seedlings. This mass production is ideal for introducing new genes into breeding programs, and reliable standard plants can be produced all year round, which far surpasses the tedious methods formerly employed by farmers 

The medical field is another area where genetic engineering plays an important role. With the introduction of this phenomenon into the medical industry, genes that cause debilitating inherited diseases can be isolated and studied, causing giant leaps in the development of possible cures or preventions. The artificial propagation of donor organs has been proposed as a customized solution for the many patients who otherwise have no hope of obtaining them. Again, here the issue stands at a controversial boiling point, where there is always the fear that man will overstep his abilities into an area where he has no control over the events that he has created. There lies the ethical issue of what must be done with awry results of research, as it is well known that such a synthesis will be at the end of a long road of futile endeavours, as in all ground-breaking investigations of science.

In every case, as the birth of space travel did, the advent of genetic engineering has proven to be a giant leap for mankind. Technological advances have been exploited by researchers to give society a greater understanding of the role of genes in our lives, medical advantages, and enhanced agricultural success. It has shown itself to be a powerful tool, when in the hands of those who know how to wield it safely and efficiently. Those who are qualified to do so and who are willing to consider the ethical responsibilities of their actions.  In these hands, the future of genetic engineering can truly be called a boon to man, invaluable in his endless search for quality.

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