We’ve come a long way since Edward Jenner discovered the first vaccine in 1796, with scientific research delving into possibilities that people never would have even dreamed of just fifty years ago. The brilliant minds of today have discovered ways of altering the genes of organisms from plants to animals to even humans, revealing cures to inherited diseases and solutions to problems we face in our everyday lives. So what is genetic engineering and how is it affecting us?

Genetic engineering or modification is the direct manipulation of an organism’s genes using biotechnology. This is essentially changing the information of an organism that determines its traits, such as their what they look like and how their bodies work. By doing this, you can change their characteristics and what they can do. In 2007, scientists in South Korea were able to alter the genes of a cat to make it glow in the dark. Although this experiment was totally unnecessary, it is extremely cool to see. However, not all of the other alterations are as useless as that one. For example, scientists have created goats with spider genes. I know that sounds really weird but there’s actually a really interesting reason behind it. Well, you may or may not know that spider silk is a very strong substance. It’s actually stronger than steel, and also extremely flexible, making it the perfect material for bulletproof vests. It turns out that spiders are very hard to farm, so getting this silk in industrial amounts has been proving difficult. This then lead to the ingenious solution of inserting spider genes into goats, so that the milk they secreted contained spider silk protein. All i’m going to say is remember to check the ingredients very carefully the next time you pop into sainsburys to buy a pint of goat milk. Scientists have also found a way to make cows secrete human breast milk. Human breast milk contains antibodies that are extremely beneficial to newborn babies, but unfortunately, many women are not able to breastfeed. This creation ensures that babies get the nutrients they need without causing the mother pain. Although this seems like a slightly off-putting modification, it can provide for so many babies and help them grow into strong, healthy children they deserve to become. After all, wouldn’t you want the best for your children?

But how far are we willing to go to make our children’s lives easier? I’m pretty sure most of us will own something designer at some point in our lives, such as a Gucci handbag but imagine having designer children. I don’t mean a child wearing Chanel, I mean babies that have had their genes altered when they were just embryos, to cure genetic diseases but also for superficial reasons, like making them smarter, or more artistic. Imagine living in a world where it’s completely normal to be able to choose what gender your child is, what they look like and their characteristics. Although there are no scientific boundaries, there are huge ethical ones. Changing the genetic information of humans is seen as ‘playing god’, the term ‘designer babies’ swapped for freaks or mutants. I think that changing the genes of babies is a huge step forward in terms of research, and can help save them from lives of pain, suffering and endless treatments by simply cutting out inherited diseases from their DNA. However, being able to change their DNA just so we can have perfect children, with perfectly high IQ’s and perfect sporting abilities is perfect rubbish. This is a possibility that has been tested and could become very real in just a few decades. Many people may think they know where the line is and what crosses it, but it really isn’t as simple as that. For example, let’s say in 15 years time, you find out that your unborn child will have a life threatening disease. It’s a perfectly okay reason to change their genes. But what if instead of a life threatening disease, it was Down syndrome. This also sounds like a pretty good reason. Anything to make your child’s life easier right? But what if instead of Down Syndrome, they had dyslexia? Thousands of people all across the globe survive and live extremely successful lives with dyslexia, But if it made life easier for your child? Genetic engineering is not here to make life easier for people, it’s to make sure they have a life free of suffering. If it was for making our lives easier, wouldn’t making babies smarter, prettier and sportier make their lives easier? The line between what is acceptable and what is not is extremely blurred because there are so many different scenarios that you simply can’t group people’s situations into a yes or no for gene modification.

We’ve seen what genetic engineering can do in just minor cases, but technology will keep advancing, people will have more understanding of what’s in the world, and opinions will change. Who knows whether genetic engineering will be common in a decade? No one does, but we do know what’s happening right now and we should embrace technological advances. Thanks for listening.