DNA Day experts answer your questions about altering DNA

Above: Image © Pixsooz, iStockphoto.com

Can Altering DNA some how backfire on us?

Yes, I suppose it could in terms of something such as changing the properties of an infectious disease. But this isn't something that would be likely to just "accidentally" arise but rather it would be purposeful.

- Answer provided by Dr. Monique Haakensen

Should there be a line as to how far genetics can be altered?

That's a good question, but hard to answer. Should we 'design' human beings with drastically different abilities or attributes? The answer must come from all of us, not just scientists.

- Answer provided by Jay Ingram

In classical Greece, the Spartans were considered to be a very strong society. In this case they killed off what they considered to be weak, eventually eliminating the "weak" genes all together. Could this be compared to DNA altering now? Like using specific genes to create "designer babies".

I guess you could compare the processes, but who's doing that now? Designer babies is too controversial to be implemented, and frankly, the Spartan method is a lot easier.

- Answer provided by Jay Ingram

In alternative splicing are there more combinations that are more common than others?

Definitely. There is usually a "canonical" splice variant that is most highly represented, and then alternative splice variants that only show up at specific times, or in specific tissues.

- Answer provided by Dr. Paul Gordon

Could eating DNA alter your DNA?

We eat our DNA all the time! Bits and pieces of your cheek cells, tongue, lining of your esophagus get down there all the time -with no apparent effect.

- Answer provided by Jay Ingram

How do higher levels of herbicides change a person's DNA who consumes them?

Chemicals such as herbicides can be harmful. Prior to release, chemicals are tested for their "harmful" potential. They are released with "directions" i.e. how to use them to avoid harm. Chemicals can interfere with all biological molecules: DNA, RNA, enzymes, lipids etc.

- Answer provided by Dr. Sylvie Cloutier

What does it mean for science to be able to alter human genetics?

It depends what you mean by altering human genetics! If by that you mean that genetic errors leading to disease can be corrected by gene therapy, then in the short term that seems like a good thing. But on the other hand it's always worth keeping a close eye on the potential applications, because the science itself doesn't necessarily have values attached to it. So one can fear 'genetic engineering' - depends on exactly what that means.

- Answer provided by Jay Ingram

If you change DNA can you change it back to it's original form?

Yes - DNA can change back to its original form. If you rely on nature to do, it's unlikely. This is because mutations are rare and the genome is huge, so hitting the same spot in the DNA twice (once to mutate it to the altered state and another time to mutate it back to its original state) is extraordinarily unlikely. Using genetic modification in the lab, it is becoming increasingly possible to modify DNA back and forth at will.

- Answer provided by Dr. Sean Myles

Is it possible that methylation used in genetic modifications can alter the host's DNA and affect other genes as well?

I suspect that this depends on the technique used for genetic modification, as there are many of them out there. All activities in or around a cell have the potential to alter the methylation patterns in the host's DNA, including how you grow the plant, how much sun it gets, etc... So, disruption of methylation patterns to some extent is an inevitable outcome of simply dealing with the plant.

- Answer provided by Dr. Sean Myles

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