Welcome to the world of molecular genetics, where the mystery of the mastermind of the human body – the microscopic molecule DNA – is unraveled. Seemingly the origin of everything, from our eye color to cruel disorders like Down Syndrome, the mechanism of this three dimensional double helix boggles the mind. This field is expanding at an unprecedented rate – in fact all our future biologists should be grateful to have been born in an era of such scientific explosion, and to be able to participate in research that is sure to dominate the future of science.However, amidst the hope and hype surrounding genetics, there remains a host of unanswered questions. As the Human Genome project is churning out astonishing amounts of data, research in this field is touching many a social and political nerve. Progression into the 21st century will lead us to witness the inevitable struggle between science and ethics. The death of an 18-year-old undergoing gene therapy in 1999 sent shockwaves into the scientific community, promoting FDA regulators to ban some procedures. Naturally, critics retorted that promising research was stymied. Is it right to destroy human embryos in the quest to save human lives? Should we spend millions on finding a cure for the victims of a rare genetic disease, when there are millions dying of infectious diseases in developing countries? How do we weigh the benefits of xenotransplantation – use of animal organs and tissues in humans – against the risk of introducing a disease into the population? Ten years down the line, the Human Genome Project will expose our entire genome. There might come a time when we can inject genes for beauty and intelligence, but we will be killing the touch of nature, the uniqueness of an individual. Who knows what we will end up creating? The ghost of Frankenstein is still hovering around. Just exactly how much tinkering with our bodies are we willing to accept?The thrill of surpassing ourselves and overcoming the challenge – whether it is creating Artificial Intelligence or finding the cure to AIDS – will always exist, but we can never afford to forget that society as we know it today exists as a coherent unit because it is governed by certain laws and principles. Biological research to find the genetic roots of cancer is accepted and justified but when it comes to cloning a human being we are treading on dangerous ground. An example of how such “promising research” can get dangerously out of hand is the book “Mutation” by Robin Cook, in which a brilliant scientist creates the son of his dreams by injecting him with animal genes before birth, ultimately giving rise to a living nightmare. Bioethical boards that consist of lawyers, doctors and representatives of the public need to work toward aiding scientists in making the right decisions after considering the social, political and economic implications of the ongoing research and ensuring that the public fully comprehends it and is aware of its repercussions. Successful research indicates progress, but by ignoring ethical values and rushing open-mouthed into something hitherto unexplored, we might just succeed in opening a much more cursed and fatal Pandora’s box. It is not one section of society but all mankind that is at stake here. Research in this field has the potential to yield unimaginable triumphs in medicine and biology in general, but it must be conducted strictly within the framework or rules and regulations set by the members of society and enforced by the governing body. Science and society must work together, otherwise both sides will end up destroying each other. Ethics outline what we ought to do – overstepping its boundaries holds scary implications for both the individual and mankind. How the future generations will walk the tightrope is yet to be seen.Krishnan can be reached at skrishnan@campustimes.org.



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