The search to decipher DNA and the development of drugs which could address the causes of diseases such as cancer, rheuma toid arthritis, and heart disease is accelerating.
Each of the human body's 75 trillion cells, except for the red blood cells, has a full complement of chromosomes in its nucleus. Each nucleus has 46 chromosomes in 23 pairs. In each chromosome is a wadded-up strand of DNA, which includes hundreds of millions of base pairs. Stretched out straight, it would measure anywhere from three to nine feet long and about 20 atoms across.
The DNA code is universal, whether it be human, rat, bat, mouse, worm, fruit fly, or microbe. (All codes of life came from the same "software house.")
The Human Genome Project, a $3 billion international effort to map the entire genome, was launched in 1990 and involves 350 labs. It isn't expected to complete its task until 2005. One of the leading organizations, Human Genome Sciences, has 135 scientists using the most advanced computer, laser, and scientific technologies deciphering and decoding the molecular sequences making up the human genome.
Human Genome Sciences, along with its associated research foundation, the Institute of Genomic Research, is expected to have isolated and deciphered most of the important human genes within two years. (It is a public company with the backing of drug giant SmithKline Beecham.)
Lambs are now being born on a farm in Scotland which have had their genetic construction so altered that they will produce a drug called Alpha-1-antitrypsin (AAT) in their milk. Clinical tests of this drug will begin in late 1995 on humans suffering from lung disorders.
Genzyme Transgenics hopes that its anti-thrombosis drug, anti- thrombin-III (AT-III), produced in the milk of genetically engineered goats, will be ready for clinical trials in early 1995.
GenPharm International (Mountain View, California) has just produced the first progeny from a Dutch biotech bull in the hopes of producing drug-manufacturing cows with a milk yield ten times that of goats or sheep.
In Britain, researchers at the government-backed Roslin Institute are reporting progress in breeding genetically engineered chickens which will be capable of producing drugs and vaccines in their eggs.
Giant Business Opportunities
The potential economic stake is enormous. Genzyme Transgenics (Cambridge, Massachusetts) anticipates that the market for milk- produced drugs alone will be worth over $1 billion per year within the next decade. New start-up companies as well as the big drug "giants" are rushing to build in-house gene-hunting capabilities.
There are also organs being produced for eventual transplant into humans. Researchers at the British company Imutran estimate that hearts and other organs produced from genetically altered pigs could be transplanted into humans within three years. The first litter of suitably adapted pigs was born last month (June 1994). Estimates suggest that more than 100,000 patients a year could receive such pig organs.
Are Concerns Justified?
The proponents of genetic engineering claim that they have learned from the development of nuclear power, and environmental legislation is now being introduced to control potential damage. However, no laboratory security, no matter how effective, can deal with unforeseen post-release effects.
Controls designed to protect high-security farming of genetically manipulated farm animals can't deal with the damage that would follow the release of genetically manipulated plants, fish, or animals. The areas of risk include: the escape of an introduced gene by crossing it with wild relatives; unexpected alterations of normal characteristics in different environments; and, unexpected advantages conferred by genetic manipulation which could lead to the establishment and persistence of an organism.
There are already many examples where the introduction of exotic species to a new environment has caused the displacement of indigenous fauna and flora without the added ingredient of genetic manipulation. Rabbits in Australia, zebra mussels in North America, and rhododendron in parts of north Wales are but a few examples.
There are some scientists and doctors who believe that the AIDS virus was the result of a government genetic experiment that went out of control. They point to some combinative aspects of the HIV virus which suggest that it was engineered in a laboratory. (See the Strecker Memorandum reference at the end of this article.)
Supporters of genetic engineering say that it is no different in concept from traditional breeding methods. This is misleading, since no traditional breeding method could result in the introduction of a human or pig growth hormone, for instance, into fish; or of insect genes into plants.
The instinctive shudder that passes down one's spine is not limited to uninformed laymen; some scientists share these same misgivings. There is little doubt that these efforts could lead to adverse, possibly catastrophic, consequences.
"These are the risks of disturbing the integrity of nature." As the experimentation continues and expands, and as increasing investments are made in this dynamic new field, the risks multiply. As the new "Sorcerer's Apprentices" continue to tamper with the "engines of Creation," no one can predict the results. There could be big trouble ahead.
It seems ironic that the vigorous and talented pursuit of solutions to relieve human suffering and misery might also be leading to some major, perhaps global, tragedies for mankind.
Revelation Chapter 9 is just one Biblical example which presents some pretty weird creatures of the future, described as "locusts." However, they can't be normal locusts since they have a king (and Proverbs 30:27 reveals that natural locusts have no king). Most commentators view them as a demonichorde. Could they be genetic mutants, brought on to fulfill an apocalyptic destiny? Rather wild. Who knows?
In this rapidly changing world, as we see the deterioration of morality, the increasing corruption at the highest levels of government, and the increasing risks in the unbridled application of only partially understood technologies, isn't it reassuring that God is in control of your life? Or is He? Have you put Him in control, or are you "winging it" yourself?
If you are gambling your eternity that the Bible is wrong, you've got more guts than I have. Think about it.