In earlier sections several benefits of animal genetic engineering have been discussed in biomedical research and diagnostics, production of therapeutic proteins, development of transgenic live stock with beneficial traits (e.g. increased milk).
Besides all benefits, genetic modification raises may ethical concerns. These refer to moral objections about the genetic modification brought about in animals. Because these modifications result in ‘unnaturalness’ of this technology; for example,
1. Transfer of human gene (e.g. blood factor IX) into the food animals (e.g. sheep, etc.).
2. Transfer of animal genes into food plants (e.g. interferon-alpha gene into plants) which may be used by vegetarians.
3. Transfer of human genes into such organisms that can be used as animal feed (e.g. modified yeast producing medically important human protein).
4. Transfer of genes from such animals (whose flesh is not eaten by some religious groups) into the others that they normally eat.
Considering the religious belief of people, it was recommended that (i) if alternative food is available, gene transfer in food organism should not be carried out, (ii) products from transgenic organisms should be properly labelled as ‘Transgenic’ or ‘GM Products’ so that some religious group whom these are ethically unacceptable may have the choice open.
If there occurs suffering of animals by genetic engineering, it may face much moral opposition. Earlier such oppositions have been met. For example, there are evidences where animals suffer from severe arthritis that has been injected with transgenic hormones for the improvement of quality of their meat.
Therefore, justification must be made for producing and using GM animals that their use will not pose any risk to humans, other animals, and the environment.
Some of the concerns about safety which must be considered seriously are given below:
1. Concerns about Escape of Transgenic:
The transgenic animals may breed with other domestic or wild animals. Therefore, there is risk for transferring the transgenic to other populations too.
2. Concerns about Risk for Escape of Retroviruses:
Retroviruses are used as vector for the production of genetically modified animals. There is risk for escaping retroviruses from laboratory and transferring transgenic to other animals also.
3. Concerns about the Risk to Human and Animal Health:
Human and animals consume products from transgenic animals. Still there is fear and risk in the society that the GM products and trangenic food animals may create the health problem like permanent disability, allergy, etc.
4. Concerns about the Risk from Drug Resistance Gene Markers:
Certain gene markers (for drug resistance e.g. kanamycin resistance, kanr) are used in certain process of genetic engineering. These marker genes might inadventently get transferred and expressed.
5. Ecological Concerns:
There is a major concern about the wide effects of producing disease resistant animals.
6. Concerns in Xenotransplantation:
During transplantation of animal organs in human there is risk for the contamination of animal organs by animal viruses. If so, the wide population may be infected by such viruses.
7. Concerns about Gene Therapy:
The therapeutic DNA introduced into target cells must remain functional and the cells containing the therapeutic DNA must be long-lived and stable.
Problems with integrating therapeutic DNA into the genome and the rapidly dividing nature of many cells prevent gene therapy from achieving any long-term benefits. Patients will have to undergo multiple rounds of gene therapy.
Secondly, the risk of stimulating the immune system in a way that reduces gene therapy effectiveness is always a potential risk. Because the immune system is designed to attack the invader of host cell. Furthermore, the immune system’s enhanced response to invaders has been difficult for gene therapy to be repeated in patients.
Viruses while the carrier of choice in most gene therapy studies; present a variety of potential problems to the patient such as toxicity, immune and inflammatory responses, and gene control and targeting issues.
In addition, there is always the fear that the viral vector, once inside the patient, may recover its ability to cause disease. If the DNA is integrated in the wrong place in the genome, for example in a tumor suppressor gene, it could induce a tumor.
However, most of the people of our society do not know about the scientific discoveries of biotechnology, and its merits and demerits. Hence to them transgenic animals, gene therapy and GM products look threatening.
Therefore, there is an urgent need to have mass communication and societal education about the ethical and moral issues raised due to biotech products. Hence, popularisation of biotechnology will certainly remove the fear from possible risks and enhance bio-business.