A Fishy Tale: Part 2

What Exactly is Genetic Engineering?

Genetic Engineering is the creation of entirely new organisms which nature could never produce.

By isolating small sections of DNA (called genes) from one species and planting them within the DNA of another species. The techniques used to isolate and embed these genetic strands vary. Enzymes are commonly used to ‘cut’ out the desired gene.

Other genes/sections of genes must be added to this desired gene. These commonly include ‘promoter’ genes, which switch the desired gene ‘on’ and ‘marker’ genes. Along with a ‘vector’ gene this mishmash of genes from several different species is called a ‘GENE CONSTRUCT’.

Marker genes alone illustrate the incredibly hit and miss nature of GE. In fact, the phrase genetic ‘engineering’ is entirely mis-leading as it implies the process is precise and predictable. Actually, genetic ‘engineering’ relies on incredibly uncertain, unproven and imprecise techniques! Because the process is so uncertain (with genes likely to miss the DNA altogether or land in the wrong part of the DNA) marker genes are used to show when the gene has actually been transferred. Marker Genes work by making the new organism resistant to antibiotics or chemicals, when all the ‘gene constructs’ are exposed to the antibiotic/chemical, only those which have embedded survive- as only these have antibiotic/chemical resistance.

This illustrates much about the true nature of genetic engineering. In their rush for quick results and profits, scientists and corporations are using techniques which threaten to exacerbate the antibiotic resistance crisis.

So lets work through the GE process: we isolate the desired GENE- let’s say a growth hormone from the King Salmon. We’ve spliced it off, hoping we JUST have that gene, and we add the promoter gene (e.g. that responsible for anti-freeze in the ocean pout). We now have to get this GENE CONSTRUCT, this mish-mash of genes, into Atlantic salmon DNA. For this job we need a VECTOR.

Bacteria and viruses are often used as ‘vectors’. This involves inserting our GENE Mish-Mash into the vector DNA. We then hope that our vector takes our mish-mash into the relevant section of the Atlantic Salmon DNA. This process is inherently uncertain, taking thousands of attempts before the Atlantic Salmon show the desired traits!

Other vector techniques are being developed all the time. One example uses a particle gun which fires gold/tungsten pellets coated with the genetic mish-mash into the cells of the creature being modified. If we fire this gun enough times we may eventually get lucky and the mish-mash may hit somewhere in the cell which accepts it and produces the desired trait. This is a rather shortened version. Other stages are often added, involving- for example- E. Coli bacteria to manufacture the thousands of mish-mash Gene Constructs needed to eventually get some to ‘stick’.

The whole process is inherently uncertain and unstable. Researchers are happy once the new organism displays the features they’re after, (e.g. faster growth in the case of salmon). They are not concerned about the innumerable other possible changes this process causes. This is reductionist science. It assumes the world can be broken down into completely discreet parts, whereas in reality EVERYTHING is interconnected. This is something nature has always taught us and is being further supported by the latest genetic research which shows the complex links between supposedly distinct GENES within each DNA strand and between different strands, as well as between wider physiological and environmental factors . These links are far from well understood! However, they highlight some of the risks associated with GE as many of the changes being made are far from fully understood!

So that’s some of the knitty gritty of the GE process, it’s main relevance for this paper is to highlight the incredible uncertainty inherent in GE.

The whole process is inherently uncertain and unstable.

Parts of the A Fishy Tale series:

A Fishy Tale: Part 1
A Fishy Tale: Part 2
A Fishy Tale: Part 3
A Fishy Tale: Part 4
A Fishy Tale: Part 5

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