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A Brief History of Genetic Engineering

The debate over the act of genetic engineering has been around for as long as genetic engineering itself, so actually since prehistoric times. However, the genetic engineering of humans has only been happening since 1973, when splicing came into the public eye.

Gene splicing is quickly defined as the procedure where pieces of DNA are cut up and reattached to form recombinant DNA. Gene splicing came to the forefront of science when Herb Boyer and Stanley Cohen formed the first recombinant DNA strand  - by incorporating a gene from the African Clawed Toad, Xenopus with some bacterial DNA.

Although, the scientist Paul Berg had actually created the first recombinant gene the year before, in 1972.

Since then, there has been genetically engineered human insulin, in 1978. Scientists had created synthetic genes and coupled them with codes for insulin, and thus, created insulin. This drug hit the market in 1982.

Now, in 2017, scientists have made the first known attempt to create genetically modified human embryos, in Portland, Oregon. It is the first known safe method of altering them, even though three previous attempts were carried out in China. In doing this, it’s been proven that it is possible for scientists to safely make attempts to stop the spread of fatal diseases through generations. This process has been termed “germ line engineering” and this may open the floodgates to the long sought-after world of designer babies. However, in the US, any attempts to put these genetically modified embryos into babies has been blocked by Congress, for now. Despite these barriers, a gene-edited person may be attempted at any moment in countries where there have not been such restrictions placed on the gene editing.


Written by Victoria Nicoll

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