God, Science, and Designer Genes: An Exploration of Emerging Genetic Technologies

God, Science, and Designer Genes: An Exploration of Emerging Genetic Technologies

God, Science, and Designer Genes: An Exploration of Emerging Genetic Technologies

God, Science, and Designer Genes: An Exploration of Emerging Genetic Technologies

Excerpt

Human genetics has certainly come a long way since Gregor Mendel, appropriately called the father of genetics, worked with pea plants in the 19th century. Many of us remember from our high school biology classes the diagrams that demonstrated the mechanisms of heredity not only in pea plants but also in all species, representing a major step forward in our understanding of how heredity operates in living organisms. This major leap forward in science has significant implications for the lives of living creatures. The significance of and vibrant discussion surrounding emerging genetic technologies, however, have certainly been heightened by the completion of the Human Genome Project (HGP).

The initial goal of the HGP was to map the entire human genome. The race ended in 2003, when both the private and the public sectors published their results nearly simultaneously. We now know not only the approximate number of genes in the human body but also, more important, numerous specific genes associated with known diseases. Mapping the human genome, certainly an impressive scientific achievement, is leading to technology developments that have the potential to affect human generations for the foreseeable future and which raise troubling moral questions for which we have no easy answers.

Anticipating the difficult issues that would arise from the science and technology surrounding the human genome, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) allotted approximately 3 to 5 percent of the HGP budget specifically for serious consideration of the ethical, legal, and social implications (the ELSI Project) of the HGP. The intention of the ELSI Project was to ensure that serious discussion about developments in genetics be undertaken. Important topics include the ones we consider in this book: designing our children, cloning, stem cell research, the relationship between genes and behavior, genetic privacy, and the social justice implications of all of these.

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