Science has permeated several aspects of people’s lives. Every little thing uses one scientific principle or the other. Therefore, science does not exist in a vacuum. This paper focuses on Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) technology as one area of science. Apart from exploring how DNA got discovered and how this technology can be applied in the real world, the paper also focuses on the influence philosophy has had on the contextual development of DNA technology. It will be worth noting that DNA technology is quickly taking center stage in various aspects of our lives. As with other modern advances, DNA technology has managed to open the door to an enormous novel world of discovery. Considering the positive impacts, DNA has aided us in the fight against many diseases, like cancer, and numerous genetic disorders, like muscular dystrophy. Nevertheless, many in society have a growing concern with the ethicality of DNA usage in matters like genetic tampering, the eradication of imperfect fetuses, as well as cloning.
Prior to the discovery of DNA, many seemingly minor aspects of life could not be achieved. DNA is the genetic material in living organisms. DNA is principally located in the nucleus, but some small amount exists in the mitochondrion. Virtually all the DNA in all the cells is identical.
Historians attribute the discovery of DNA to Watson and Crick, but this is a misconception since there was a Chemist who had discovered the molecular structure earlier. The knowledge of DNA got reported in 1868, when Fritz Miescher, a Swiss physician discovered its existence in the nuclei of living cells (Haines 28). Prior to the identification and isolation of DNA, proteins were thought to be the carriers of this genetic material called DNA. Although people knew the chemical composition, few knew the function. Through a research paper, On Protein Synthesis, at a laboratory called the Society for Experimental Biology, Crick asserted that it was a critical feature of his argument that proteins are uniquely significant in biology. The nucleic acids closely rival proteins in this role. Watson’s claim led the duo to deeply investigate the secret behind life by delving into each other’s work and then toiling over on their own. Therefore, the discovery led to recognition of the two names worldwide. There was also development of many concepts in molecular biology.
Interacting with the real-world to improve health and increase the quality of life, the knowledge of DNA has had a significant impact on management of diseases. Today researchers commonly believe that the genetic materials in brain cells, in adults, remains absolutely stable, with variation taking place extremely infrequently. While to some people this belief is logical, a recent study gives evidence these non-dividing cells can undergo massive changes as a response to high brain activity (Alcamo 24). This result has immense implications for a number of diseases, including but not limited to psychiatric illnesses as well as neurodegenerative diseases.
The investigators, from the School of Medicine in Johns Hopkins University, had earlier established that stimulation of the brain with electricity, like the electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is useful in the treatment of depression; which is caused by high growth of brain cells in mice. In the research, they stimulated the brain cells of living mice with electric shock. The scientists then studied cytosines, a building block of DNA, from neurons that had undergone stimulation. They compared these to brain neurons in mice whose brains were not stimulated. They concluded that approximately 2 per cent of the cytosines indicated radical de-methylation.
Another elaborate impact of DNA discovery in the real world is identification. Genetic analysis using the knowledge of DNA has become more and more critical in identification of individuals. Performing genetic typing requires only an insignificant amount of DNA. This is extracted from virtually any tissue: hair follicles, blood, and saliva, among many other body tissues. Scientists, who work in the forensic departments probe about 13 particular regions of DNA, or their markers, vary highly among different people. The profile of these 13 markers usually creates some genetic fingerprint of the individual in question. While relatives might share quite a significant number of markers, there are odds that two or more people may have exactly the same 13 markers, and these may be astronomically high. In the past, forensic scientists have applied genetic typing in the identification as well as the exoneration of criminal suspects, establishment of familial relationships including paternity, identification of crime victims, matching of donors of organs with their recipients, as well as identification and detection of pathogenic pollutants and bacteria. To help in these forensic investigations, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) maintains the use of Combined DNA Index System, popularly known as CODIS. This nation-wide database has over one million profiles of DNA belonging to convicted criminals. There are also hundreds of thousands of other profiles that are not yet linked to any particular person, which the forensic police officers have developed from the scene of crime evidence (Alcamo 21).
Surprisingly, another impact of DNA discovery is cloning. This has raised heated debates between scientists and the clergy. The opponents object to the scientists. They play God by making life in the laboratory as well as performing experiments on and making decisions on the fate of that life. A myriad of unpredictable factors exist. For instance, environmental implications might arise from cloning a species that has undergone extinction. This would disrupt the ecosystems, making them unable to no longer support the concerned species. In addition, the rapid proliferation of cloned organisms, especially the sheep Dolly, and similar studies have brought the controversial prospect of cloning of human beings.
Despite scientific advances in human understanding, there still exist a lot to learn, specifically the interrelationships between living organisms. Researchers have by no means tried to master cloning totally. This is evidenced by their efforts that have always resulted in technical failures and errors, including shortened life spans, retardation, as well as mutations. Even with the cloning of Dolly, over 270 abnormalities did precede this wonderful creation that reportedly went down with arthritis. In addition, the cells aged faster than those of a normal sheep. Furthermore, studies from Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and the University of Utah's Genetic Science Learning Center claimed that clones tend to suffer from compromised genomes or highly enlarged organs, which are an animal's inheritable traits.
Genetic engineering has been made possible by advancement in the knowledge of genetic typing. To understand the adverse effects associated with the use of organisms that are genetically engineered (GE), one requires understanding complicated ecological and biological systems. So far, researchers do not know of any inherent or generic harmful effects associated with these GE organisms. For instance, it is untrue that all GE food crops are poisonous or that all GE organisms have the potential to proliferate when released into the ecosystem (Norfolk 34).
Nevertheless, some engineered organisms are likely to have an extremely harmful impact through the novel combinations of genes that they exhibit. This implies that the risks associated with genetically engineered organisms might vary widely. Consequently, they must be assessed on the basis of case-by-case. So far, researchers have only identified a few ways in which GE organisms are likely to harm human health as well as the environment. On identifying the risks, detection are possible through the use of regulators the next step is an assessment of the risk, which is simply the determination of the likely potential harms. To add on to the risks which one can envision and then attempt to assess, GE organisms might pose general risks that scientists cannot identify sufficiently. The possibility of difficult identification in itself cannot justify attempting to suppress this technology, but it puts quite a significant burden on the advocates of this practice in order to demonstrate its benefits (Newton 45).
In the real world, inbreeding is another significant concern. Species with a tremendously small amount of genetic variation happen to be at a significant risk in that respect (Sandhu 60). Viable reproduction becomes extremely hard, and the offspring often have to deal with problems similar to those of inbreeding. Obviously, life relies heavily on gene diversity, which stems from the different sets of genes of the parents. The use of identical genes to create and then recreate life, as happens in the art of cloning, is likely to weaken the organism's adaptations and power, increasing its vulnerability to illnesses. Since cloning usually involves the copying similar genes, it can eventually decrease gene diversity. In fact, persistent inbreeding can lead to the extinction of a species.
There has been much philosophy surrounding the contextual development and application of DNA knowledge in real life. There exist a number of naturalistic accounts on morality, and although there is a lot on which these accounts do not disagree, there is a particular common set of underlying factors which is obvious. Whether one looks at morality as the possession of certain desirable virtues, or the maximization of well-being, ethics is all about deciding on how to act, treat others, as well as about the type of person that one would want to become. These questions sometimes get rooted in the manner in which one’s behavior influences the conscious states of living organisms that can experience consciousness. How one defines well-being, pleasure, happiness, or duty is dependent on facts of one’s biology. If personal autonomy takes center stage in ethics, it is because one is a type of a biological organism with autonomy, which leads to fulfillment, happiness and well-being. If one values receiving love, kindness, and compassion it is because the human being is a certain kind of a biological organism that is in a state of being because of daily social interactions. As a result, things that people value as human beings, as well as the ability to, in either negative or positive emotional states, depends entirely on the biology, psychology, as well as the neurophysiology. Therefore, issues that impinge on people’s ethics, however useful, tend to get rejected (Jens 80).
Nevertheless, philosophers have held heated debates about the application of genetic knowledge for many decades, and while most people have intuitive notions of right and wrong, they are certainly not anywhere near getting the solutions. If people embraced the concept of naturalism, that of metaphysics as well as morality, then affairs like love, kindness, generosity, compassion, among others would become objectively true, because human beings are biological organisms. A slight change in the types of biological organisms human beings are could potentially change what is right or wrong in particular situations (Sandhu 78). For instance, scientists would develop giant human clones to harm fellow human beings, laboratories for manufacturing human beings would come up and many other unethical issues related to genetics.
In conclusion, science does not exist in a vacuum. It is highly interconnected with the real world. The many real life applications to which science can be put into concisely illustrates this. DNA technology is one of the perfect illustrations of the applications of science. However, this technology is marred with varied ethical issues, some of which philosophers consider as inhuman. The philosophy that surrounds DNA technology is complex. It involves thinking of human beings as biological beings, with certain basic virtues. The loss of any of these virtues, such as failure to practice ethics, makes one non-human. Therefore, practices such as genetic engineering and cloning, if allowed to persist, would turn people into what some philosophers consider beings other than humans.
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