For the first time in the long history of genetics, an artificial code has been introduced into a creature allowing researchers to create biological traits completely from scratch. In the long history of genetic engineering most of the information and traits introduced into the genome have come from other creatures. And so it is no small step forward for genetic research that the creatures involved could be almost entirely made artificially or transformed from a basic mold into an entirely man-made organism. Biologists will have complete control over genetic traits from this point forward.
The research, which introduced artificial genetic code into a nematode created the first truly artificially altered organism using the technique. The creature was later proven to have the artificial gene in it when it glowed red under UV light. The discovery may be comparable to the successful splitting of the atom by geneticists who are looking to cure disease and create an artificially engineered group of humans. But in doing so, our genetic code will be significantly altered. And now the question has already caught up to us long before an answer was ever discovered. What is it to be human? Are we simply a series of codes and genetic sequences? And if so, what happens when those codes are altered significantly enough so that the being ultimately produced is less human than it is artificial construct, even if it is done with a familiar image? And is this the process that will ultimately claim future generations transforming humanity from a creature derived from evolution into something else entirely?
And then there are other problems as well. What about non-coding DNA? 98% of the human genome is made up entirely of so called “junk DNA” or DNA that copies, but does not necessarily alter any physical structure or generally “do anything.” But since its discovery, much of this so called junk DNA has turned out to have a significant purpose. And as time goes on, we may eventually be asking ourselves if the artificial DNA is an ultimate answer or if it will eventually manifest some irreversible, but also extremely dangerous change in the human race. A perfect example of this question still being unsolved is Dolly the Sheep.
In the DNA of all vertibrates there is an enzyme called Telomerase. Telomerase acts as a sort of biological clock, eventually shortening the lifespan of all creatures, according to the telomere theory of aging. In Dolly the sheep, when the telomeres were studied they were found to be significantly shorter. In fact, they were five years shorter than they should have been. When they were measured against the sheep the original cloned cells were pulled from they found it likely that Dolly had been born with the aging of an already five year old sheep. It’s unknown if this eventually contributed to her death.
So can we reliably foresee how biological alterations may affect us in the future? Not at the moment. But this is one of the major things researchers are working on in an attempt to eventually allow (or force, depending on how you look at it) the human race to realize its full potential.