LWL | The Role of Genetic Engineering in Medicine, Agriculture and Environmental Sustainibility

By Estela Rodriguez 


Genetic engineering is one of the most interesting yet controversial technological advancements  that have been introduced to us and aims to revolutionize different aspects of life. Is it worth it to  keep investigating and keep trying to modify genetic information when it has so much  controversy? This research is mainly to bring more attention towards this branch of engineering  and to assess my prediction that we shouldn’t stop investigating genetic modification, but these  types of studies must be analyzed thoroughly and be very planned to find a way to minimize  animal use and consider the health risks that may come up in the future; also considering ethical  issues. It all started with the discovery of DNA's structure, and the idea of modifying it for the  better good. This field has evolved rapidly, and seems to promise great applications in  healthcare, agriculture, and environmental sustainability. The manipulation of genetic material  enables precise alteration of organisms, maybe leading to the end of various genetic illnesses,  increased crop yields, and reduction of environmental issues. These possibilities demonstrate the  revolutionary power of genetic engineering, emphasizing its potential to drive social benefit.


In healthcare, genetic engineering has already made substantial progress. Several trials with  positive findings demonstrate the enormous impact that genetic engineering could have on  human health and lifespan. Furthermore, the development of gene treatments and personalized  medicine based on an individual's genetic profile marks a paradigm shift in medical care,  offering more effective and targeted interventions. 

In agriculture, which is another vital sector that seems to benefit greatly from genetic  

engineering. Traditional breeding techniques has always been used to improve crops, but genetic  engineering allows more precise and rapid advancements. It allows for the crops to be healthier  for consume, but also cheaper. These genetically modified organisms can be developed to be  resistant to pests, illnesses, and extreme weather conditions, ensuring food security in the face of  expanding global populations and climate change. Enhanced nutritional content and reduced  dependency on chemical fertilizers and pesticides highlight the potential benefits of genetically  modified crops, which make agriculture more sustainable and efficient. But people have been  concerned about these modifications, worrying that these crops may affect negatively human  health.  

One of the most critical issues of our time, environmental sustainability, can also be addressed  through genetic engineering. There are various branches to biogenetic engineering such as  bioremediation, which uses modified organisms to clean up environmental pollutants. Also,  modified plants can be worked to effectively absorb higher levels of carbon dioxide, contributing  to the fight against climate change.

As it seems that these type of modifications with genetic information provide a big number of  positive impacts but there are a big number of negative aspects to this as well. And the  deployment of genetic engineering is not without its ethical dilemmas and potential risks. The  alteration of genetic material poses serious ethical concerns regarding the extent to which  humans should intervene in natural processes. Genetic privacy, the possibility of designer  offspring, and the unintended repercussions of genetic changes all present serious moral  

challenges. Furthermore, the health hazards linked with GMOs and gene treatments, including as  potential allergic reactions and long-term environmental consequences, require extensive  research and regulation. Also, scientists use living things, known as model organisms, to  experiment with DNA alteration.  

Different aspects such as healthcare, agriculture, and environmental sustainability could all be  revolutionized by genetic engineering, but ethical issues and possible health risks and potential  hazards need to be thoroughly considered before using genetic engineering for social good.  Rigorous scientific research, open public conversation, and strong regulatory frameworks are  required to ensure that the benefits of genetic engineering are achieved without jeopardizing  human health or environmental integrity. This thesis seeks to investigate the various implications  of genetic engineering in healthcare, agriculture, and environmental sustainability, as well as to  critically examine the ethical and safety concerns that must be addressed in order to fully realize  its social benefits.


Literature Review  

The investigations and complexity around this topic are wide. The controversy of genetic  engineering holds a lot of opinions depending on perspectives and different factors. Some  resources are biased, and others are not, but because I want to include the controversies and  opinions about this topic, I tried to write the most recurrent concerns that appeared similarly in 

different resources. I decided to not include gene therapy, I did this to narrow down the different  resources and opinions. Genetic engineering is a very broad branch, it also has different methods,  gene therapy is included in this branch as it is also genetic modification, known as “therapeutic  genetic engineering.” To make it more specific, genetic engineering will be used more narrowly  for the kind of modifications that wants to achieve more direct enhancement, not therapy. I  didn’t write down too much information about the first discoveries of genetic engineering, as it  doesn’t contribute much to the opinion of people towards this topic. Yet this doesn’t mean that  the discoveries of this topic shouldn’t be discussed because it is very important to what this  branch has become today. It all started with the first GMO, according to an article by Melissa  Petruzzello in Britannica When Were the First GMOs Developed? (2022), “The first genetically  modified organism was developed in 1973 by biochemists Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen,  who inserted DNA from one bacterium into another.” The purpose of this study is to evaluate  whether, despite ethical and health-related debates, genetic modification research and use should  continue. The study highlights the need for careful planning and ethical considerations to reduce  animal use and manage potential health hazards by examining the benefits and dangers. 

By using as sources different websites, opinions, help of professionals, and various articles, a  search was conducted across various academic databases revolving around the importance and impact of genetic engineering since it first started and how it should be controlled due to its  controversy. In the article written by The School of Medicine, University of Missouri (Gene  Therapy and Genetic Engineering) “Gene therapy is often viewed as morally unobjectionable,  though caution is urged. The main arguments in its favor are that it offers the potential to cure some diseases or disorders in those who have the problem and to prevent diseases in those whose  genes predisposed them to those problems.” 

This thesis states that while genetic engineering has the potential to be transformative, more  study and applications are necessary. On the other hand, it highlights the necessity of thorough  risk assessment, strict ethical inspection, and fair reward distribution. A well-rounded strategy  that includes robust legal protections and public discussion is necessary to maximize the  advantages of genetic engineering while reducing its drawbacks.

The purpose of genetic Engineering 

The purpose of genetic engineering is to identify and solve a problem that affects life or to  enhance products for them to have a deeper positive impact; it’s the direct manipulation of an  organism's genome using biotechnology. It works around the targeted introduction of a foreign  gene or genes into an organism's DNA. Genes may be separated from one creature and  

transferred to another, or they may be changed and reinserted into the same species, another way  is to force the gene to mutate. Genetic engineering emphasizes a wide range of techniques,  including gene cloning, gene transfer, and genome editing technologies like CRISPR-Cas9. In  the journal article published by the National Library of Medicine, What is CRISPR-Cas9 (2016) “CRISPR/Cas9 is a gene-editing technology which involves two essential components: a guide  RNA to match a desired target gene, and Cas9 (CRISPR-associated protein 9)—an endonuclease  which causes a double-stranded DNA break, allowing modifications to the genome.” 

These technologies aim to treat genetic disorders caused by single gene mutations. Some of the  plants on the following investigation are going to be addressed as GMOs (genetically modified  organisms) which are living organisms that have had their genes altered in some way.  

Genetic Engineering in Healthcare  


It is crucial to know that natural selection has made genetic information change by itself in order  to evolve as humans depending on the situation since the beginning of time. But it is very clear  that mutations are not always beneficial. There are countless hereditary conditions that have been  discovered and there are more to yet be discovered. The National Library of Medicine (2021)  points out that to thoroughly comprehend and accurately treat disorders caused by genetic mutations, molecular strategies and tools are essential. This highlights the critical importance of  rapid advancements across various scientific and technological fields.  

Genome editing technologies, including Zinc finger nucleases and particularly the CRISPR-Cas  system, have revolutionized the field of genetic engineering in medicine. These technologies are  extensively used to create cell models for studying different hereditary and infectious diseases,  including cancer. They enable researchers to understand the molecular and cellular mechanisms  of disease pathogenesis, identify potential drug and treatment targets, and correct pathogenic  DNA mutations in various medical conditions.  

Animal models of human diseases, such as cancer, obesity, heart disease, and Parkinson's  disease, are created through genetic engineering to aid in treatment development and testing. 

Stem cell transplant is something that comes to mind when we think of genetic engineering; stem  cell therapy is a treatment that takes advantage of stem cells' unique ability to replenish and  repair tissues. Stem cells are the body's building blocks, with the ability to differentiate into  multiple cell types. They are used to cure or prevent diseases by replacing damaged or diseased  cells with healthy new ones. Stem cell therapy is mostly used to treat blood malignancies and  haematological illnesses such leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma. Stem cells can be harvested  from the patient or a healthy donor and put into the body to replace diseased or damaged cells.  This procedure is referred to as hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT).  

Stem cell therapy has been contentious due to the use of embryonic stem cells and the possibility  of human cloning. There have also been worries about the safety and efficacy of certain stem cell  treatments. Some private facilities have faced criticism for providing unproven and perhaps  dangerous stem cell treatments, raising public health concerns.



There are various challenges such as the precise delivery of these systems to target cells, the  efficacy and accuracy of the editing process, different methods for inducing DNA changes, and  significant bioethical concerns, the impact of genome editing technologies on medicine is  indisputable. The future of genome editing approaches and strategies for treating diseases is  complex but holds exciting possibilities as it doesn’t have many limitations.  

The concerns surrounding the idea of stem cell transplantation is the possibility of tumors.  Teratomas, a form of tumor caused by embryonic stem cells, are one of their distinguishing  characteristics. Stem cell researchers must first learn how to prevent these cancers before any  

transplantation-based therapy may be effective. Also, some stem cells may not react in a positive  way once the transplant in done. For example, if we try to make stem cells become tissue cells,  there are risks that the stem cells may become bone cells and worsen the problems first given.  This transplant could easily cause an infection in someone’s body. And there is always the  possibility that the body would reject these new cells. This could lead to serious internal damage.  Some people worry that this transplant won’t show in long lasting results.  

Model Organisms  

In medicine, model organisms are used to be tested. A model organism is a non-human creature that has been  thoroughly researched to better understand specific biological processes. These organisms were chosen for  their ease of maintenance and manipulation in the laboratory, such as rapid development, short life cycles, and  well-understood genetics. Model organisms include the nematode worm, zebrafish, mice, and others. They are  used to reduce human experimentation. But this doesn’t justify the use of living things. There are serious  ethical concerns about the care and welfare of animals when they are used in research. Minimizing the use of  model organisms reduces the pain and moral quandaries that come with using animals in experiments. There is rising public and scientific concern about the moral implications of utilizing sentient beings for study,  especially when other options exist. These alternatives to animal testing include sophisticated  

tests employing human cells and tissues, in vitro procedures, computer-modeling techniques and  ask for human volunteers. 

Because of species variations and the complexity of human biology, model organisms have  limits even if they have made valuable contributions to scientific research. The genetic,  physiological, and biochemical composition of these organisms frequently differs greatly from  that of humans, which can limit the application of research findings. Data differences could arise  from model organisms not correctly replicating human-specific illnesses and treatment  responses. Furthermore, model species frequently do not accurately reflect the complex  physiological and genetic characteristics of humans, leading to results that are either inadequate  or inaccurate. These drawbacks highlight the necessity of creating and applying substitute  research techniques that more closely resemble human biology. 

Genetic Engineering in Agriculture  


Plant breeding has been an important tool that has been used to creating new and improved plant  genotypes and phenotypes with desirable characteristics. But these methods have various  limitations, for example, when plants are crossed, many traits are transferred along with the trait  of interest including traits with undesirable effects on yield potential. These types of undesired  effects led scientists to experiment with genetic modification as it doesn’t have limitations and  shows results in short periods of time. It offers the precise alteration of genetic material; genetic engineering gives unprecedented opportunities to enhance crop resilience, increase yields, improve nutritional content, and sustainable farming practices. These advancements have deep  involvement for food security, environmental sustainability, and the global agricultural economy. 

Being more specific, one of the cons of these methods is that crops, contain altered genes, which  produce proteins toxic to specific insect pests. This already built-in pest resistance reduces the  need for chemical pesticides, leading to lower production costs and less environmental pollution.  While traditional methods are the use of pesticides that damage human health.  

These GMOs promise to be cheaper and bring nutrients to the food we eat. It has a positive  impact in economy, farmers don’t need as much amount of pesticides, water and soil.  

Other applications being researched include animals that have been altered are more resistant to  infections and disease, more nutritious or better adapted to different environmental conditions. 


Despite these benefits, it is important to address the cons to these ideas. The use of genetically  modified crops has different opinions. The major concerns revolve around the idea of the  possible long-term health consequences of consuming GMOs. These practices are seen as  relatively new, meaning is not very clear all the possible long term health consequences these  modifications in food might bring. For example, these modifications might cause an allergic  reaction to the consumer. There have been worries that eating GMO foods may contribute to the  development of cancer by increasing the quantities of possibly carcinogenic chemicals in the  body. And it also has various problems concerning the environment. For example, The  possibility of outcrossing, in which genes from GMO foods transfer into wild plants and other  crops. 


There is also worry about the economic impact on small farmers; they may lack access to  genetically modified seeds and the resources needed to compete with giant agribusinesses. 

To address these issues, it is necessary to build regulatory frameworks and conduct  comprehensive risk discussions. Also, the public participation and open communication about  the science and safety of genetic engineering must be heard and are useful in acceptability  

among consumers. Which makes ensuring equitable access to the benefits of genetic engineering  can help reduce the disparity between emerging countries. 

Environmental Sustainability 


The use of genetic engineering to create bio-based materials provides a sustainable alternative to  conventional petroleum-based products. For example, genetically modified bacteria and yeast  can create bioplastics that are biodegradable and have a lesser environmental impact than  ordinary plastics. These bio-based materials lessen reliance on fossil fuels while also reducing  plastic pollution, a key environmental concern. Genetically modified organisms can generate  renewable resources like biofuels and bio-based compounds more effectively. These bio-based  alternatives can replace nonrenewable resources, lowering the environmental impact of industrial  operations and contributing to a circular economy in which materials are reused and repurposed.  Genetic engineering can help to increase the genetic diversity of endangered species. Scientists  can help endangered species survive evolutionary bottlenecks by importing genes from resilient  populations or closely related species. This genetic rescue can help sustain healthy populations  and avert extinctions, benefiting overall biodiversity. Genetic engineering can also help to  preserve and enhance biodiversity. One option is to construct genetically modified organisms capable of controlling invasive species, which pose a significant danger to native biodiversity.  

For example, genetically modified mosquitos have been introduced to control disease-carrying  species, which can kill local wildlife populations and alter ecosystems. 

Genetic engineering also helps to mitigate climate change by improving the ability of plants and  other creatures to sequester CO2. Plants naturally absorb carbon dioxide during photosynthesis,  but genetic tweaks can improve efficiency. Scientists are working on developing crops with  improved photosynthetic pathways that can capture more carbon dioxide from the environment,  lowering total greenhouse gas levels. Genetically modified algae are being created to absorb  carbon dioxide more efficiently than their natural counterparts. These algae can be used to  produce biofuel, which is a more sustainable alternative to fossil fuels. When these algae-derived  biofuels are utilized instead of conventional fossil fuels, they considerably reduce carbon  emissions, helping to reduce the carbon footprint of energy generation. 

One of the most important uses of genetic engineering in environmental sustainability is  bioremediation. Bioremediation is the use of living organisms, typically microorganisms, to  detoxify contaminated environments. Genetic engineering improves the effectiveness of this  procedure by developing microbes that are specifically designed to breakdown toxic compounds  more efficiently. For example, genetically modified bacteria can be developed to degrade oil  spills, heavy metals, and other harmful pollutants, greatly lowering the environmental impact of  industrial activity. These genetically modified organisms can be programmed to thrive in  contaminated situations where native microorganisms may be ineffective. For example, microbes  have been genetically modified to digest petroleum hydrocarbons, making them essential in oil  spill cleanup. Plants and bacteria have also been developed to absorb heavy metals such as mercury and arsenic from soil and water, decreasing the toxins' long-term ecological and health  effects. 


The bad side of these practices include a huge loss in biodiversity. The widespread use of  genetically altered crops may encourage monoculture agricultural methods, in which a single  crop variety is farmed over enormous areas. Monocultures diminish genetic variety, leaving  crops more susceptible to diseases and pests. This may lead to an increased reliance on genetic  alterations and chemical inputs, worsening environmental issues. 

If we hear the ethical concerns, people think that the benefits of genetic engineering run the risk  of being unevenly distributed, with poorer nations and small-scale farmers suffering  disproportionately from a lack of access to these cutting-edge technologies. The exclusive  technologies and exorbitant prices of large biotech businesses can pose challenges for these  groups seeking access to genetically modified crops. Due to the fact that wealthier regions and  large-scale agricultural operations profit from increased production and resilience while poorer  areas and small farmers find it difficult to compete, this inaccessibility has the potential to  exacerbate already-existing agricultural disparities. So the gap between wealthy and  impoverished farming communities can widen, worsening economic inequality and limiting  opportunities for sustained agricultural growth in neglected areas. 

Due to the ongoing costs of restricted seeds and related technology, these farmers may find  themselves relying on certain biotech corporations for seeds, inputs, and assistance, which would  result in a loss of agricultural independence and greater cost. This arrangement has the potential  to destroy biodiversity and traditional farming practices as farmers move toward monocultures of genetically modified crops supported by biotech companies. In order to establish a more  

sustainable and balanced agricultural environment worldwide, it is necessary to overcome these  structural and economic constraints, encourage local innovations, and advocate for inclusive  policies in order to ensure fair access to the benefits of genetic engineering. 


Genetic engineering offers great potential to change different aspects of our everyday lives for  the better. It holds great promises for improving customized medicine, creating crops that resist  diseases, and other methods. But it is impossible to ignore the significant ethical, social, and  environmental issues these advantages raise. 

Genetic engineering has already shown to have revolutionary potential in the healthcare industry.  The potential elimination of hereditary illnesses and the development of novel treatments have  been made possible by the ability to modify genomes. Numerous people now have hope as gene  therapy and stem cell research show promise in healing diseases that were once thought to be  incurable. However, the long-term repercussions on human health, the possibility of unexpected  consequences, and the ethical issues of modifying human DNA demand close thought and strict  control. It takes constant communication between ethicists, scientists, policymakers, and the  public to strike a balance between innovation and ethical duty. 

Genetic engineering has a lot to offer agriculture: higher crop yields, better nutritional value, and  more resistance to pests and climate change. The difficulties to food security brought about by an  increasing global population and shifting environmental conditions can be addressed by  genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. But it's important to carefully consider the health and  environmental dangers connected to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), including the possibility of allergic reactions and the emergence of pest resistance. Additionally, the  socioeconomic effects on developing nations and small-scale farmers emphasize the necessity of  access to this technology. Strong legal frameworks and pro-genetically engineered policy are  necessary to guarantee that the benefits of genetic engineering are shared equally. 

Another crucial area where genetic engineering can have a big impact is environmental  sustainability. Promising approaches to addressing environmental degradation and climate  change include carbon sequestration, bioremediation, and the creation of bio-based products. In  order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase biodiversity, and clean up pollution,  genetically modified organisms can be extremely important. However, there are ecological  dangers associated with releasing genetically modified creatures into the wild that need to be  carefully handled. These risks include the disturbance of ecosystems and gene flow to non-target  species. Since the long-term ecological effects are not entirely known, care must be taken to  avoid negative effects on natural ecosystems. 

After this research and investigating some of the aspects that genetic engineering contributes to,  seeing the pros and cons to these actions, and some of the main concerns that people have  towards this kind of experimentation, I have a clearer idea about this topic and the answer to my  question. Is it worth it to keep investigating and keep trying to modify genetic information when  it has so much controversy? Yes, it is worth it to keep working on genetic engineering and  modifying genetic information. But there must be some ways of controlling the way of research  to reduce all the amount of damage possible. By this, I mean the lease use of mode organisms  and start recurring to other alternatives. Scientists must be aware of the controversial side and  opinions people have to find the best way to carry out these processes. Which my prediction was right. Different aspects such as healthcare, agriculture, and environmental sustainability could all  be revolutionized by genetic engineering, but ethical issues and possible health risks and  potential hazards need to be thoroughly considered before using genetic engineering for social  good.  


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