DNA Day experts answer your questions about genetic engineering

Above: Image © Ingrid Moen, Charlotte Jevne, Wikimedia Commons

Because genetic engineering gives us the ability to control the course of human evolution, it is often seen as a "dangerous" field of science. Where do you think we need to draw the line (if at all)?

So I would first say that we are a long way from influencing the course of human evolution by genetic engineering. Nor do I think there's any sort of definite line that should or could be drawn. i remember very well strongly-worded ethical arguments against in vitro fertilization that were, in the end, by-passed. So it's not going to be some group of experts passing decrees - it will be all of us deciding what we can live with or not.

- Answer provided by Jay Ingram

How does genetic engineering work? Of what benefit is this technology?

Wow that's a question that someone could get a degree by answering! You want a controversial application? genetic engineering of crops. Some argue that this might be the only way that we will be able to feed 9 billion by 2050.

- Answer provided by Jay Ingram

Are the DNA repair enzymes used in genetic engineering?

I am not sure specifically if there are DNA repair enzymes are used in genetic engineering. However there is a powerful new tool called CRISPR. It may be one of the most powerful technologies available for genetic engineering and is being used widely in fruit flies, yeast and mice. It confers resistance (immunity) to foreign genetic elements such as plasmids and phages (viruses that attack and kill bacteria). This is a real world example to the question above on the parasitic plant Rafflesia cantleyi and its possible use in genetic engineering.

- Answer provided by Dr. David Charest

Do you think genetic engineering of life become common within the next 50 years?

With respect to bacteria, this has already been done, about 3 years ago. A group was able to synthesize a bacterial chromosome in vitro, nucleotide base by nucleotide base, remove the chromosome of another bacterium and replace it with the synthesis organism. They know what each gene does, they selected the order of the genes and everything. However, this is in bacteria. There is a lot we don't understand with respect to something as complex as a eukaryote. We still have a long way to go there.

- Answer provided by Dr. Richard Sparling


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