top of page

The Genetics of Ethics

A Cardinal Issue in Genetic Modification

“Creating dinosaurs” seems to be the incentive of this futuristic age. Every path taken, every modification exhibited and the scruples of the entirety of operations carried out in the field of genetic modification, bets its bottom dollar on one aspect; a relatively invalidated aspect - its ethics. An entire scientific field on bio-engineering and “creating lives”, abating its ventures on wavering ethics, inextricably alters creation as we know it. Bringing to you more on this, is Perspectoverse’s Raeeka Sengupta.


“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

Alan Kay

Genetic modification not only strives to “invent it” but also treads a path in which it stumbles across inventory stimuli, which it ultimately harnesses to “invent”, or mould the future. The spectrum of methods, task-forces and amalgamation in this field is innately vast. Notwithstanding the marvels of genetic modification, its ethics are an aspect which demands for a subtle firmness in direction.

Several terms are used to describe genetically engineered animals: genetically modified, genetically altered, genetically manipulated, transgenic, and biotechnology-derived, amongst others. In the early stages of genetic engineering, the primary technology used was transgenesis, literally meaning the transfer of genetic material from one organism to another. However, with advances in the field, new technology emerged that did not necessarily require transgenesis: recent applications allow for the creation of genetically engineered animals via the deletion of genes, or the manipulation of pre-existing genes.

One might purview the evolution of genetics in order to gauge it better.

8000 BCE - In Circa, humans used traditional modification methods like selective breeding and crossbreeding to breed plants and animals with more desirable traits.

In 1866, Gregor Mendel, an Austrian monk, bred two different types of peas and identified the basic process of genetics.

In 1922, the first hybrid corn was produced and sold commercially.

Following the same, in 1940, plant breeders learned to use radiation or chemicals to randomly change an organism’s DNA.

1953 ushered in the building on the discoveries of chemist Rosalind Franklin, scientists James Watson and Francis Crick who identified the structure of human DNA.

1973 saw biochemists Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen develop genetic engineering by inserting DNA from one bacteria into another.

By 1980, major firms began to rely on genetic engineering. In particular, General Electric created a new kind of bacteria, designed to break down crude oil for use in oil spill cleanups. Because the U.S. Supreme Court allowed GE to patent the bacteria, it created a precedent for companies that wanted to legally own genetically modified organisms. These are plants, animals, or other forms of life that scientists have manipulated to attain certain traits.

In 1982, FDA approved the first consumer GMO product developed through genetic engineering: human insulin to treat diabetes.

This was followed by the federal government establishing the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology. This policy describes how the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) collaborated to regulate the safety of GMOs, in 1986

1992 brought in ethical trends in GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) consumption, wherein the FDA policy created, stated that foods from GMO plants must meet the same requirements, including the same safety standards, as foods derived from traditionally bred plants.

In 1994, the first GMO product created through genetic engineering—a GMO tomato—became available for sale after studies evaluated by federal agencies proved it to be as safe as traditionally bred tomatoes.

During the 1990s, the first wave of GMO produce created through genetic engineering became available to consumers: summer squash, soybeans, cotton, corn, papayas, tomatoes, potatoes, and canola. Some are yet to gain entry into markets.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations machinated international guidelines and standards to determine the safety of GMO foods in 2003.

In 2005 , GMO alfalfa and sugar beets were made available for sale in the United States.

2015 was significant in the FDA’s approval of an application for the first genetic modification in an animal for use as food; a genetically engineered salmon.

In 2016, the US Congress passed a law requiring labeling for some foods produced through genetic engineering and uses the term “bioengineered,” which would start to appear on some foods.

2017 saw GMO apples being made available for sale in the U.S.

During 2019, FDA completed its consultation on first food from a genome edited plant.

It may be observed that the question of ethics in this field were declared roundedly, negating its micromanagement.

Currently, one of the most profitable and common use cases for GMOs is in agriculture. The very first experiments using genetically modified food crops dates back to 1987, when Calgene Inc., a Davis, California-based biotech company, introduced its "Flavr Savr tomato." The firm modified the tomatoes to be more firm and to last longer. Without trepidation, The Department of Agriculture (United States of America) approved the GMO food for production.

Beyond that, scientists use genetic engineering to make animals grow larger and develop new pharmaceuticals. CRISPR ("Clusters of Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats") is a relatively new tool in genetic engineering that allows scientists to more easily select and alter genes by extricating strands of DNA.

Defined by the World Organisation for Animal Health as “the state of the animal…how an animal is coping with the conditions in which it lives”, these issues need to be considered by all stakeholders, including veterinarians, to ensure that all parties are aware of the ethical issues at stake and can make a valid contribution to the current debate regarding the creation and use of genetically engineered animals.

In addition, it is important to attempt to reflect societal values within scientific practice and emerging technology, especially publicly funded efforts that aim to provide societal benefits, but that may be deemed ethically contentious.

Ethical issues, including concerns for animal welfare, can arise at all stages in the generation and life span of an individual genetically engineered animal. The following sections detail some of the issues that have arisen during the peer-driven guidelines development process and associated impact analysis consultations carried out by the CCAC (Canadian Council of Animal Care).

The CCAC works to an accepted ethic of animal use in science, which includes the principles of the Three Rs (Reduction of animal numbers, Refinement of practices and husbandry to minimize pain and distress, and Replacement of animals with non-animal alternatives wherever possible). Together the Three Rs aim to minimize any pain and distress experienced by the animals used, and as such, they are considered the principles of humane experimental technique. However, despite the steps taken to minimize pain and distress, there is evidence of public concerns that go beyond the Three Rs and animal welfare regarding the creation and use of genetically engineered animals.

Evaluation of proposals for the creation of transgenic animals may be divided into two interrelated parts: first, the justification for creation of the particular transgenic animal; and, secondly the welfare issues underlying the creation process itself. Special attention must be devoted to new protocols that use, for example, previously uncharacterized vectors or new transgenes, and/or are being performed by investigators who are new to the techniques.

As in all animal experimentation, justification for the use of the transgenic animal involves weighing the possible benefits of the experiment (e.g., advances in biomedical knowledge, the understanding and treatment of disease, improvements in production of foodstuffs or pharmaceuticals) versus the consideration of the ethical cost of the experiment in terms of the potential suffering of the animal.

This is particularly challenging for novel transgenic animals as it is not possible to predict with absolute certainty what the effect of a novel transgenic manipulation will be on the animals. For this reason, the protocol must include a strategy to address unanticipated suffering and to establish endpoints for the termination of the experiment. For these reasons, the guidelines require a transgenic information sheet to be completed with the protocol submission. In addition, a separate protocol is required for the creation of a novel transgenic animal, and for its subsequent use.

A significant limitation of current cloning technology (as estimated during the practise of bio-engineering in developing countries, depicted in the attached pi- chart) is the prospect that cloned offspring may suffer some degree of abnormality.

Studies have revealed that cloned mammals may suffer from developmental abnormalities, including extended gestation; large birth weight; inadequate placental formation; and histological effects in organs and tissues (for example, kidneys, brain, cardiovascular system, and muscle). One annotated review highlights 11 different original research articles that documented the production of cloned animals with abnormalities occurring in the developing embryo, and suffering for the newborn animal and the surrogate mother.

Demands need to be met and reacclimation is necessary. Nevertheless, inventing, apropos creating our future by employing such machinations, rampantly negates the exegesis of our roots. Uprooting the naturality of nature with unconcrete ethics can never be “the best way”.

Written by Raeeka Sengupta

Illustrated by Anannya Pincha


27 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
Post: Blog2 Post
bottom of page