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Impact of biotechnology and gene editing

Biotechnologies can greatly benefit society but pose serious ethical dilemmas, writes Aisling Rawlinson.

By Aisling Rawlinson, Third year, Geography

As science and technology continue to develop in the modern day, the emergence and application of biotechnology has become increasingly prevalent, with gene editing providing beneficial applications whilst also raising ethical and moral concerns too.

Biotechnology involves the manipulation of living organisms, cells, and biological systems to develop products and applications – gene editing has a range of applications that have the capacity to benefit humankind in various ways. Whilst gene editing has the ability to transform the lives of individuals and societies as a whole, we must maintain a balance between innovation, and responsible and ethical use, to ensure technology is harnessed for the greater good without compromising ethical standards or creating unforeseen consequences. 

Gene editing technologies present a wide range of applications and benefits to improve lives across the world. One of the key benefits of gene editing technologies is their application in medical advancements such as disease treatment, vaccine production, and stem cell research.  Gene therapies have the ability to treat genetic disorders such as cystic fibrosis at the root, vastly improving the lives of many individuals.

Gene editing technologies enable enhanced efficiency of vaccine development and production, allowing a quicker response to global pandemics and the safeguarding of health on a global scale. Overall, biotechnologies such as gene editing have the capacity to extend the human lifespan by reducing the likelihood of disease and mitigating the impacts of ageing on individuals. 

Agricultural development can be enhanced by gene editing technologies, as plants and livestock can be genetically modified and improved to their resistance to pests and disease, as well as their overall resilience, in particular to varying climates, which become ever more prominent in the warming world. Gene editing in this way has the capacity to increase global food security, providing more people around the world with sufficient and healthy diets. It is clear therefore that gene editing technologies can provide a range of benefits for the world and its citizens, leading to healthier, longer lives, with reduced risk of disease. 

However, whilst the benefits associated with gene editing are undeniable, their use also raises moral and ethical concerns, and so we must be mindful of both the promise and the perils too that these biotechnologies may create. Gene editing may have unintended side effects or consequences for individuals being treated for genetic diseases – long-term effects of these technologies must be properly researched with conclusive evidence. Questions around the accessibility of these treatments are also prominent, as unequal access to biotechnologies can exacerbate existing social and economic disparities.

Fears around gene editing and modification arise when we begin to consider the possibility of 'designer babies', wherein expecting parents may choose the characteristics of their baby. This raises significant moral questions about the nature of human enhancement, and to what extent this is acceptable. This also raises more concerns around the eugenics and discrimination based on genetic makeup. 

It is clear that gene editing biotechnologies can have significant benefits for individuals and societies as a whole. However, the unnatural modification of genes within humans, plants, and livestock, calls into question the ethics and morality of the technology. Therefore, we must consistently reflect on these issues, and champion for responsible use.

Companies developing these biotechnologies must maintain transparent dialogue with the public, fostering inclusive dialogue, and robust regulatory frameworks should be put in place in order to outline what is ethically and morally correct. Furthermore, continued research is needed into the long-term effects of gene editing to be certain of their safety.

Featured image: Freepik

Do you think gene editing is morally permissible?