Human and Animal Genetic Issues

Human and Animal Biotechnology

Photo of Dolly by Murdo MacLeod from report by New Scientist

Definition of Issues and Links to Other Sources

The following issues are commonly brought up in debates about the concerns over human and animal genetic engineering and manipulation. Most of the web pages referenced here are from the scientific establishment. All contain good information, and most include links to web pages that deal specifically with ethical, legal, and social issues. One good web page to check is the Biotechnology and Gene Therapy Web 'Cite.'
***Note: pages marked with an asterisk use Java scripts and RealAudio--your computer must have the applications to run these, or your computer may lock up.


Transgenics and Cloning: Commercial Opportunities and The Second Annual - Mammalian Cloning: Implications for Science and Society, took place June 24- 27, 1998 at the J.W. Marriott, Washington, D.C., Proceedings of this conference will soon be available on request. Please call 800 5-BIOCON or (914) 834-3100 (ext 652) or by E-mail at "", or "".

1. Cloning

A clone is "a group of cells or an individual organism or group of organisms derived from a single cell. Thus a bacterial colony is a clone, as are indentical twin human beings." (This definition came from Molecular Biology and Biotechnology by Smith and Wood.) Cloning has come into the spotlight in the media due to the improved techniques and growing concerns about the future applications of this technology and how it may adversely affect our lifestyles.

2. Human Genome Project

"Begun in 1990, the U.S. Human Genome Project is a 15-year effort coordinated by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health to identify all the estimated 80,000 genes in human DNA, determine the sequences of the 3 billion chemical bases that make up human DNA, store this information in databases, and develop tools for data analysis. To help achieve these goals, researchers also are studying the genetic makeup of several nonhuman organisms. These include the common human gut bacterium Escherichia coli, the fruit fly, and the laboratory mouse. A unique aspect of the U.S. Human Genome Project is that it is the first large scientific undertaking to address the ethical, legal, and social issues (ELSI) that may arise from the project." (from

3. Gene Therapy

What exactly is gene therapy? The University of Pennsylvania gives a great definition, so we'll let them talk about it.

4. Genetic Diseases/Disorders

There are over 500 genetic diseases. Many are recessive mutations and they develop only because both parents contribute the same recessive gene to their child. Some common genetic diseases include cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, hemophilia, and sickle-cell anemia.

5. Genetic Counseling

Genetic counseling can help in preventing the genetic diseases and disorders mentioned above. If there is a chance that two parents both may contribute a recessive gene for cystic fibrosis, a genetic counselor can give the parents the risk of that happening, and the parents can make an informed decision about if they want to take that chance.

6. Genetic Patenting

Genetic patenting is the patenting of "inventions" of biotechnology. The controversy here is that if there is a patent placed on human genetic material, who benefits if the application of that patent is (or is not) developed? This web site discusses the need for international conferences and debates on the subject in order that there is a consensus among nations about the ethics of genetic patenting.

7. Genetic Privacy

Imagine this: An employer does some genetic testing on you to determine your susceptibility to certain toxic chemicals that the company produces everyday. The company is only trying to protect their employees and make sure they are well suited for their positions. But in the process, the doctors find that you will have heart problems later in life, and it is very likely you will have at least one heart attack. Or they find that you will develop cancer in 10 years. Somehow, your health insurance company manages to acquire this information and subsequently drops you due to the risk of future expense you cause to them. This is a very probable situation that may be on every person's mind as genetic testing becomes more and more common in the workplace. Genetic Privacy will be a big issue in the years to come. The first link is to a bill on genetic privacy that was passed by the state of South Carolina to prevent insurance agencies from discrimination through genetic screening.

8. Genetic Piracy

Genetic piracy is the stealing of genetic material for the "advancement of science." It is important to prevent the exploitation of genetic material and to protect individuals' rights. Maybe someday the right to keep your genes will be included in the Bill of Rights.
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