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S.Aruna, Islamiah women's college, Vaniyambadi

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Designer  babies are the  power  outcome of  embryo editing technology in which the parents  have their   own choice from Catalogue to select  their  unborn with desirable traits such as  High IQ ,Height, fair complexion etc., as quoted in  the nursery poem 'chubby cheeks, Dimple chin' as well genetic disorder free. (http://www.cnn.com/2008/TECH/science/10/30/designer.babies/index.html?_s=PM:TECH)

A great number of Parents (75%) are in favor of selecting their child's genetic material free  for any types of imperfections such as predisposition  to cancer, Alzheimer's, Muscular dystrophy, Progeria etc.,

Currently, we are able to determine the sex of the embryo, PGD quite helpful to determine any sex-link disorders such as color blindness, hemophilia, etc.

Genetic screening are already being used -- whereby embryos can be selected by sex and checked for certain disease-bearing genes. If any faulty gene is found they are  advised to terminate pregnancy or if analyzed at a pre-implantation stage In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) pregnancy is continued with disease free child. (http://www.cnn.com/2008/TECH/science/10/30/designer.babies/index.html?_s=PM:TECH)

 

New York University School of Medicine conducted recent survey for genetic councelling. From a total of 999 people who sought genetic counseling, a majority said they supported prenatal genetic tests for the elimination of certain serious diseases. The survey found that 56% supported using them to counter blindness and 75% for mental retardation.

More provocatively, about 10% of supported they would want genetic testing for athletic ability, while another 10% voted for improved height. Nearly 13% backed the approach to select for superior intelligence. (http://www.nbcmiami.com/news/health/Make-Way-for-Designer-Babies.html)

Doctors can screen for over 100 different conditions, including many that severely decreases the quality and  lifespan of children and kills children before the age of four such as Tay-Sachs disease, which usually kills children by the age of four, and Huntington's, hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, and sickle cell disease. (http://www.medicaldaily.com/designer-babies-preimplantation-genetic-diagnosis-fact-fiction-379387)

Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD .has long been used for the medical purpose of averting life-threatening diseases in children, the science behind it has quietly progressed to the point   to create designer babies  in  Fertility Institutes  in U.S., swiftly enough for pre-selecting cosmetic traits in a baby. (http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB123439771603075099)

What is a genetic disorder?

A genetic disorder is a disease that is caused by a change, or mutation, in an individual's DNA sequence.

' These changes can affect the individual bases (A, C, G or T) or much larger chunks of DNA or even chromosomes.

' Our DNA provides the code for making proteins, the molecules that perform most of the functions in our body.

' However, when a section of our DNA is changed in some way, the protein it codes for is also affected and may no longer be able to carry out its normal function.

' Depending on where these mutations occur, they can have little or no effect, or may profoundly alter the biology of cells in our body, resulting in a genetic disorder.( http://www.yourgenome.org/facts/what-is-a-genetic-disorder)

Is it 'unethical' to correct genetic errors to prevent genetic disorders?

The genome editing occurs as the cell rushes to naturally repair the break made by the scissors. The cell's repair often isn't exact enough for the gene that has been cut to keep working and the gene is effectively knocked out or turned off. More complex to accomplish, though more precise, genes can also be corrected or whole new genes added if a new piece of DNA is included along with the CRISPR machinery. It becomes patched in during the cellular repair process.

CRISPR-Cas9 has recently emerged as a powerful and universal technology for gene editing with wide-ranging implications across biology and medicine.

CRISPR/Cas9, a tool used to "edit" the human genome with incredible precision. Just three years after its initial development, CRISPR technology is already widely used by biologists as a kind of search-and-replace tool to alter DNA, even down to the level of a single letter.

CRISPR can be thought of as a pair of molecular scissors guided by a satnav. The scissors are a DNA-cutting enzyme; they snip at a precise point in the cell's DNA specified by researchers using a customized guide molecule, a single short piece of RNA, DNA's chemical cousin. The DNA-cutting enzyme is known as Cas9, hence the technique is often written CRISPR-Cas9. (http://www.nature.com/news/CRISPR-gene-editing-is-just-the-beginning-1.19510)

Somatic cell Genome editing

Somatic cell editing is a sort of upgrade to an earlier technique for curing single gene disorders known as gene therapy. Gene therapy introduces a whole new working copy of a gene, which randomly incorporates into the genome to do the job of the faulty one. Genome editing is different in that it precisely targets the existing faulty gene for knock-out or correction. That means the gene's setting doesn't change, so doctors neither have to worry that it will incorporate somewhere that causes other genes to be inadvertently turned on, nor that the gene won't work as normal, for example by not producing the right amount of protein.

One challenge shared by CRISPR and gene therapy is how to get the gene ' or CRISPR machinery ' inside cells. Methods being adopted from gene therapy to encapsulate and deliver it range from modified viruses to nanoparticles. All are still far from perfect. 'People are working hard on delivery.'

Delivery is made easier, however, when the cells can be removed for editing. Once outside the body they can be purified, expanded in culture, and checked via genome sequencing to ensure the editing has been successful. That means the early clinical impact of CRISPR is likely to be in treating genetic diseases arising in blood cells such as sickle cell anaemia, SCID and beta thalassemia. Doctors are adept at extracting blood and bone marrow (rich in blood stem cells, which give rise to all other blood cells), isolating particular cells for manipulation, and then re-implanting them. Diseases where the cells can't be removed for treatment will require more work. That includes haemophilia, muscular dystrophy, and cystic fibrosis, which predominantly arise in the liver, muscle and lung cells respectively.

Genome-editing technologies may offer a powerful approach to treat many human diseases, including HIV/AIDS, haemophilia, sickle-cell anemia and cancer.

(Carroll, D. Annu. Rev. Biochem. 83, 409'439 (2014)).

CRISPR on somatic cells is far more complex: humans have trillions of cells and many different cell types. The genome-tinkering machinery has to be delivered to a sufficient proportion of the specific problem cells to bring about a therapeutic effect.

That alone is a boon to scientists who want to disrupt a gene to learn about what it does. (https://www.technologyreview.com/s/535661/engineering-the-perfect-baby/).

Why use human embryos?

By editing the DNA of these cells or the embryo itself (germ line engineering), it could be possible to correct disease genes and pass those genetic fixes on to future generations. (http://explorebiotech.com/did-you-know-that-you-can-actually-design-a-baby-just-the-way-you-desire/)

The technology functions as molecular scissors to perform precise surgery on genes and various versions of the system have been developed to broaden its range of applications to manipulate genes and their expression in a large variety of cells and organisms. ( https://singularityhub.com/2016/10/03/designer-babies-and-the-new-technology-of-having-children)

To understand processes common to different species, researchers often study 'model organisms' like mice. The results from animal experiments don't always give enough information though. "We think that there may be other factors that might be crucially important for the human embryo that we can't model in the mouse," Niakan explains.

While human and mouse embryos may look identical during early development, there are crucial differences in the proteins made by their genes. Certain genes are switched-on in mice that are turned-off at the equivalent stage in humans.

Embryo Editing

Every person begins as a fertilized egg that grows and divides countless times to produce the 37 trillion cells in an adult body. After a few divisions, an embryo develops into a stage called the 'blastocyst', a hollow ball of 200-300 cells with two tissues: an outer 'trophectoderm' that later forms the placenta, and an 'inner cell mass' containing about 20 cells that will ultimately develop into the fetus itself.

Dr Niakan and Her team collected embryos within the first 7 days, before they are implanted in the wall of a womb. Like most researchers, she uses embryos that were destined to be destroyed anyway ' excess cells donated by patients who have undergone in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment at fertility clinics.

The repaired DNA isn't the same as before, and scientists can exploit CRISPR to add genes or effectively delete an existing gene, causing a mutation that reveals how that gene should normally work.

Development of an embryo highlighting activity of the Oct4 gene (top-right) in the inner cell mass (Image: Kathy Niakan)

Niakan hopes to disrupt the function of genes that seem vital to early development. She would start by editing those that are switched-on within the embryo's inner cell mass, starting with 'Oct4', a gene whose protein turns-on other genes. If this works, she will study other genes.

Pros and Cons of Designer Babies

' Pros

' Reduces risk of genetic diseases

' Reduces risk of inherited medical conditions

' Keep pace with others doing it

' Better chance the child will succeed in life

' Better understanding of genetics

' Increased life span

' Can give a child genes that the parents do not carry

' Prevent next generation of family from getting characteristics/diseases

Cons

' Termination of embryos

' Could create a gap in society

' Possibility of damage to the gene pool

' Baby has no choice in the matter

' Genes often have more than one use

' Geneticists are not perfect

' Loss of Individuality

' Other children in family could be affected by parent's decision

' Only the rich can afford it

Exponential technologies in the next 20 years are going to play a huge role in the way in which we decided to bring life into this world.

Here are three amazing new approaches that may represent the future of reproduction:

1. Making Babies With More Than Two People: This April, the world's first baby was born from a new procedure that combines the DNA of three people. Nuclear DNA came from a mother and a father, and mitochondrial DNA was transferred into the fertilized egg from a third donor.

2. Making Babies Without Eggs: Scientists out of the University of Bath say early experiments suggest it may one day be possible to make babies without using eggs. They have succeeded in creating healthy baby mice by tricking sperm into believing they were fertilizing normal eggs. In this scenario, two men could have a child, with one donating an ordinary cell and the other donating sperm. Or one man could have his own child using his own cells and sperm, with that child being more like a non-identical twin than a clone.

3. Artificial Wombs: In the mid-1990s, Japanese investigators succeeded in maintaining goat fetuses for weeks in a machine containing artificial amniotic fluid. Today, it is possible for a preterm fetus to survive when removed from the mother at a gestational age of slightly less than 22 weeks. That's only a little more than halfway through the pregnancy (normally 40 weeks). Moms  imagine not having to carry a baby around for nine months at a time. ( https://singularityhub.com/2016/10/03/designer-babies-and-the-new-technology-of-having-children/)

Embryo Ethics

The prospect of modifying human embryos is deeply controversial because the DNA changes, and any unintended potentially harmful effects, would be passed on from generation to generation. The risks of altering the human germ line may lead to unknown genetic disorder still CRISPR is not precise in knock out the defective gene.  Without proper regulation, the procedure also raises the spectre of 'designer babies', where embryos are genetically modified to enhance them in the eyes of their parents.

Baby safety is paramount among the arguments against modifying the human germ line (egg and sperm cells). If a mosaic embryo is created, the embryo's germ line may or may not carry the genetic alteration. But the use of CRISPR/Cas9 in human embryos certainly makes onward human germ line modification a possibility.

This history-making medical advance could be as important to this century as vaccines were to the last.

Now Humanity is moving from evolution by natural selection (Darwinism) to evolution by intelligent direction at an accelerating pace.

Many countries do not have explicit legislation in place permitting or forbidding genetic engineering in humans ' considering such research experimental and not therapeutic (see go.nature.com/uvthmu). However, in nations with policies regarding inheritable genetic modification, it has been prohibited by law with force.

  (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/regulate-designer-babies/Future )

   Research involving genetic modification of human germ cells should take place. Such discussions must include the public as well as experts and academics Involving scientists, bioethicists, regulators and the general public.

( http://futurehumanevolution.com/designer-babies)

Key to all discussion and future research is making a clear distinction between genome editing in somatic cells and in germ cells. A voluntary restrictive legislation to be made in the scientific community could be an effective way to discourage human germline modification and raise public awareness of the difference between these two techniques.

Conclusion

Embryos lacks ethical concern over medical necessary in genetic disorder to intervene to save life. DNA editing offer the precise modification of faulty gene in rare life threatening genetic disorders like Cystic fibrosis, Bubble boy syndrome, Inborn errors, SCIDS, Cancer   now practically possible. Defective gene is restored by somatic gene therapy provides temporary solution by tailored viruses. Cruise missile CRISPR /Cas9 technology is precise to replace defective gene. Embryo  editing provides Parent choice for either terrible gene disorder free child or designer baby with smarter personality with More IQ, fair complexion, more athletic ability, greater talent for music etc., Such non-therapeutic genetic enhancement should not violate human ethics.

Philosophically or ethically justifiable applications for this technology ' should any ever exist ' are moot until it becomes possible to demonstrate safe outcomes and obtain reproducible data over multiple generations.

References

1. Gene Editing: Do We Want Designer Babies? - Wall Street Daily - 09/16

2. Passing My Disability On to My Children - The New York Times (Opinion) - 09/16

3. Designer babies vs. Designing your baby: Can personal genomics harm your children? - The Genetic Literacy Project - 08/16

4. Would you like to have a child who is intelligent, athletic, good looking and genetically modified? - The Express Tribune - 08/16

5. From curing diseases to making designer babies, human gene editing is coming - Financial Post - 08/16

6. Choosing a baby's gender is not 'playing god'. It's our right - The Daily Telegraph - 08/16

7. A step closer to designer babies? - Daily Mail - 06/16

8. Scientists discover five genes that impact nose shape. Will designer babies be far behind? - The Washingtom Post - 05/16

9. Designer babies: Where should India draw the line on gene editing? - The Times of India - 05/16

10. How something called CRISPR could make designer babies a reality - Metro - 04/16

11. Chilling: Scientist says mass-produced, pre-screened embryos are the future - Live Action News - 04/16

12. Are scientists working on genetically modified babies? - SBS - 04/16

13. How We Get To Designer Babies - The Daily Reckoning - 03/16

14. Humans could reproduce using skin samples within 20 years, claims geneticist - Daily Mail - 03/16

15. Designer Babies: The Truth Behind Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis - Medical Daily - 03/16

16. Altering human embryos giving rise to designer babies - CCTV - 03/16

17. Here's how we're going to slide into genetically engineering babies without even noticing - Tech Insider - 03/16

18. Designer Babies and Education - The Age of CRISPR - Davidson College - 03/16

19. Are we ready for Designer Babies? - PopSci - 02/16

20. Editing Embryos ' Six Steps to an Informed Opinion - The Wire - 02/16

21. The Real, Scary, and Potentially Amazing Future in Which You Design Your Own Offspring - Marie Claire - 02/16

22. STAT-Harvard poll: Americans say no to designer babies - STAT - 02/16

23. Designer babies just not possible, say scientists at AAAS - DW - 02/16

24. Designer Babies Could Become Future Reality - Huff Post - 02/16

25. Genetically-Modified Human Embryos Won't Create Designer Babies - Forb

 From nature.com

1. China's scientists must engage the public on GM 03 March 2015

2. Novartis secures first CRISPR pharma collaborations 30 January 2015

3. Regulation: Sell help not hope 16 June 2014 365 days: Nature's 10 18 December 2013

4. A slippery slope to human germline modification 09 July 2013

5. Cloning debate: Stem-cell researchers must stay engaged 12 June 2013

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