Biohazards of genetic engineering

In science and technology, every method, technique or an invention has its pros and cons. These pros or cons are actually outcomes of intelligent, sensible discussions done by curious, enthusiastic and broad minded people and the scientists. Therefore, these good and bad sides of methodologies need to be verified for our well being. The dawn of century initiated with the talk of genetic engineering; the words genetic engineering are very energetic and today we are living with its many generous gifts in the form of discoveries. Genetic engineering has contributed in every field of science and technology; let it be agriculture or industry. The contributions of genetic engineering have been splendid like transformation of bad bacteria into good bacteria or making a clone of sheep or mapping the human genome. But the phrase 'every coin has 2 faces' also applies here in case of genetic engineering. We are very well aware of good side of it and we will go courageously through some bad aspects in the form of this article regarding biohazards of genetic engineering.

Recombinant DNA research: Recombinant DNA research involves potential dangers for our consideration. Recombination consists of joining of DNA from different species, hybridization and its insertion (via plasmid or transposons or virus vectors) into the host cell of other species. It is also known as horizontal gene transfer. It generates novel life forms like hybrid animals, plants or microbes possessing extraordinary characteristics which may prove lethal or harmful with time. DNA recombination is bothered for its unpredicted results on environmental health including plants, animals and microbes. It has been a topic of debate in scientific discussions and conferences. The great concern has been shown with respect to antibiotic resistant bacteria, toxin synthesizing bacteria, generation of new bacterial or virus strains causing novel diseases, hybrid plants with insecticidal protein or generation of new life forms that never existed before. Biohazards related to mishandling of microbes in laboratory could lead to serious problems. This would be possible by agencies like laboratory staff, washer, scientists or visitors and via accidental reagent spills and aerosols. It is very likely that microbe harboring recombinant DNA might escape from laboratory and be introduced into the living system beyond the hopes of recovery. Plasmids and other vectors like viruses and transposons are used to carry and integrate foreign DNA into the host cell. In the process, they can integrate into host genome along with foreign DNA and may express harmful traits under favorable conditions. It is hazardous if plasmid or virus carries replication, virulence or toxin genes and more risky during the preparation of DNA libraries. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs), plants, animals or microbes have been produced to solve the problems like food scarcity or pest susceptibility or to increase the yield but practically these solutions never achieved their goal. There was no noted yield increase and more production of grains or no answer for killing of good insects after feeding on BT crops. Pest resistance in plants was in fact responsible for competitive generation of pesticide and herbicide resistant weeds and insects. Effects of GMOs on health or ecosystem were unproved, underestimated or never determined before their release into the environment. Amplification of negative effects, if any would not be noticeable immediately but would very difficult to control after passing through many generations of living thing including human being. There would always be threat from possible dangers of mutation, multiplication and spread of GMOs in environment. Genetic engineering does not have solution for such genetic pollution.

Molecular biology laboratory waste: Apart from possible hazards of recombination DNA research, the laboratory where actual genetic research work is carried out also poses a source of biohazards. Molecular biology laboratories generate large amount of various types of waste from routine experiments and is of serious concern. In molecular biology lab, it is impossible to work without pipettes, tips, syringes, eppendorfs, tubes, gloves, petri plates or plastic bottles. Similarly, use of reagents like ethidium bromide (EtBr), formamide, several types of staining solutions, fixatives, acids/alkali, buffers, spent electrophoresis gels, nutrient broths, agar media, immunolabelling or radiolabelling reagents is mandatory but represent wide range of environmental pollutants. EtBr and formamide are carcinogenic, teratogenic and mutagenic; EtBr is so lethal that it can mutate researcher's DNA! Proper disposal and treatment of waste from molecular biology laboratory is as challenging as nuclear waste.

Others: It has been criticized that genetic engineering experiments interfere with natural process of evolution; simultaneously it is also responsible for breaking down the natural barrier between prokaryotes and eukaryotes. It is very threatening since the technology is also adopted by terrorists. Certainly, microbes will be modified in terrorists' laboratory for containing genes of pathogenicity/toxin production and used in biological warfare. Possible health risks of genetically engineered foods include creation of new toxins and allergens. Increase in allergic or autoimmune responses in humans and animals cannot be denied. Intentional greed to use genetic engineering to overproduce anything at commercial scale is actually leading to natural imbalance. For example, irreversible and fatal consequences of overproduction of hormones which naturally are produced in micro amounts under controlled conditions would remain unpredictable.

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