Worlds of David Darling > Children's
Encyclopedia of Science > Genetic Engineering > Introduction
Redrawing the Blueprint of Life
a book in the Beyond 2000 series by David Darling
Imagine that we could put an end to some of the most crippling diseases
and disabilities with which children are born. Imagine, too, that we could
create new animals and plants to help solve some of the world's most urgent
problems. Cows might be altered to produce life-saving drugs in their milk.
Tiny organisms might be made that could convert garbage into fuel. Or new
types of plants might be grown that could absorb more carbon dioxide from
the air and so help prevent global warming.
| Crops that produce their own pesticides
as they grow have been among the first practical developments of genetic
| The large boll on the left comes from a
cotton plant that was genetically engineered to fend off damaging
insect pests. The boll on the right is from an unaltered plant that
has been attacked by insects.
Although breakthroughs such as these would once have seemed impossible,
they are now close to becoming real. Over the last 50 years, scientists
have learned a great deal about the chemical changes taking place inside
living things. They have deciphered the code by which animals and plants
pass on their characteristics to their offspring. They have even learned
how to alter that code to produce life-forms with new characteristics. The
means by which they are able to do this is known as GENETIC ENGINEERING.
Through genetic engineering we shall soon be able to provide much better
treatments, and possibly even cures, for certain serious diseases. We shall
be able to create new kinds of life, or altered versions of existing animals
and plants, for medical and industrial use, or for improving the environment.
But although this powerful new tool promises to do much that is good, it
also presents some dangers.
Our bodies are able to fight back against many of the disease-causing organisms
found in nature, but we might have no resistance to a completely new germ
that has been genetically engineered. There is the risk that such germs
might be released before their long-term effects have become properly understood.
Another concern is that some people might want to "design" their own babies.
They might want to use genetic engineering to determine details of their
child’s future appearance. Today, governments around the world are trying
to decide on the rules that future genetic engineers will have to follow.
In the following pages we will look at how the instructions needed to build
a new individual are stored inside every animal and plant. We will learn
about the complex chemical known as DNA and how it is arranged in working
units called GENES. We will see how scientists have managed to identify
the purpose of certain genes and how they are now able to make changes to
genes in the laboratory. Finally, we will look at some of the possible benefits
and problems that genetic engineering may bring.