DNA Day experts answer your questions about DNA/Gene manipulation

Above: Image © takahashi_kei, iStockphoto.com

Please respond to concerns about DNA manipulation in our food chain, regarding "Frankenfood"? (Are concerns valid? What should consumers know?)

The difficulty with the concerns is that so far, the evidence does not show negative impact, but skeptics are essentially asking whether we know everything there is to know. Could there be negative effects that simply have not yet been uncovered.

- Answer provided by Karine Morin

What sort of DNA manipulation can we see in the near future?

The techniques used for breeding are becoming increasingly precise. Whereas we previously bombarded genomes with fragments of foreign DNA and hoped they would integrate into the host genome, we can now alter each letter of the DNA code separately. It is becoming much more controlled and precise. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genome_editing.

- Answer provided by Dr. Sean Myles

Do you believe the day will ever come when we are able to upload our DNA to a computer and modify it the same way we modify computer code? What potential risks will this hold, in terms of GE3LS?

I think we can put DNA into instruments now and modify it (in fact we can do this with Polymerase Chain Reaction). so yes we can modify it. When we modify it, as in gene therapy we can then re-introduce back into patient cells to correct for mutations in a gene. There would be plenty of ethical issues with this, in fact we only use gene therapy currently in somatic cells, so that we treat an individual but this would not be carried into the patients offspring.

- Answer provided by Dr. Dennis McCormac

Is it possible to manipulate genes in such a way that would give people desired looks or qualities? Is it safe and practical?

Short answer is "not yet". I suspect the day will come when we are able to, but we're not yet at the point of being able to alter a human's DNA so that they have a "desired" look. And in some cases, it may be ethically ok (e.g. to prevent severe facial deformations) and in others it may not be (e.g. to simply look prettier).

- Answer provided by Dr. Sean Myles

Are there any cases of people who use gene modification to harm others?

I cannot think of having read anything that speaks of deliberate intent to do harm, through genetics. But, there is a lot of discussion about parents with certain disabilities that have a genetic component (some forms of deafness, or dwarfisman for example) who want to use assisted reproduction to select embryos that would have the same gene defects,such that the child would be more like the parents. In their view, bonding with a child like them is an important aspect.

- Answer provided by Karine Morin

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