Research Proposal: Future of DNA Testing

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Future of DNA Testing

The Beginnings of Genetic Identity Testing

DNA fingerprinting

Genetic identity testing establishes the patterns of genetic material, which is specific and unique for almost every human being.1 The sequence differences between individuals are used as basis for identity testing. The techniques applied are DNA fingerprinting, DNA profiling, and DNA typing. Identity testing in crime investigation began with the analysis of the ABO blood group. Later, it proved useful in identity and paternity identification. But two decades ago, Professor and geneticist Alec Jeffreys of the University of Leicester in the UK found and introduced DNA-based identity testing.1

DNA is deoxynucleaic acid, the hereditary material in the nucleus of the human cell, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

DNA analysis is still the major biological link to suspects in investigating persons in crimes and disasters.1 It has also proved useful in settling or deciding paternity in custody and child support litigation. The usefulness of DNA fingerprinting continues to grow. It can now be used in the study of population genetics, sudden changes in populations, the effects of population fragmentation and interaction among different populations.1

Getting Rid of Genetic Defects through DNA Testing

The father of DNA science, James Watson, expressed the belief that legislation could eliminate genetic defects from future generations.2 Current fears of creating "designer babies" control the law and these fears obstruct the dream from getting realized. In that dream, the genes of sperms, eggs and embryos can be altered to remove those defects. There may be risks, Dr. Watson admits, but calculated benefits far outweigh and justify those risks. Dr. Watson shared the Nobel Prize for the discovery of the DNA double helix in 1953 with Francis Crick.2

Germ-line gene therapy alters the genes of sperms, eggs and embryos.2 It is specifically forbidden by law in Britain, America and other countries for ethical and moral reasons. It manipulates genetic material and may introduce undesirable side effects, which will pass on to future generations. The goal of the therapy is to eliminate undesirable genes and introduce desirable ones so as to improve genetic stock. Critics raise the fear of eugenics, the practice of altering human genes by the Nazis. But Dr. Watson insisted that society should reconsider its rejection of the germ-line gene therapy. He expressed strong favor for controlling the genetic destinies of today's children and their future offspring. He argued that the truly moral approach to the issue is to work wisely and intelligently in assuring that good genes dominate as many lives as possible. In response to those who fear ethical and moral consequences, he stated that he did not know any illness or fatality to have resulted from genetically manipulating an organism.2

Strong efforts limited the use of DNA manipulation almost 3 decades ago when scientists agreed to a temporary moratorium.2 Dr. Watson insisted that experiments with defined future benefits should never be postponed to give in to fears of dangers, which cannot be quantified. Dr. Watson played a formative role in the human genome project.2

More Miracles Forthcoming

Leader of the Human Genome Project, Dr. Francis Collins, predicted forthcoming field discoveries that would significantly change medicine and improve human life.3 He specifically referred to the studies going on in five major researchers throughout the nation. He said that the studies were proceeding much faster than thought in mapping 80 million base pairs of DNA in discovering what causes baffling diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and AIDS. According to him, virtually all diseases have a genetic component. He said that about 1% of people possess genes, which render them immune to AIDS. In agreement with Dr. Watson, Dr. Collins pointed to the marvels of human genetics in treating diseases.3, 2

He predicted that in 2010, genetic tests for 20-25 disease conditions could determine a person's risks for developing them.3 Methods could be devised to reduce the risks. Gene therapy 2 could also treat disease and genetic medicine would be a regular part of primary care. Advances in 2010 could include gene-based designer drugs for the treatment of diabetes, hypertension and other major conditions; better cancer treatment; and improved diagnosis of mental illnesses. Dr. Collins foresaw that these therapies would rely less on the tendency of blaming patients for their mental illnesses. And by 2030, genetics could explain the cause of human aging and thus prolong life. He could not, however, predict how the public would accept these developments and possibilities. He recounted adverse reactions to the introduction of genetically altered food. Similar outrages broke out over ethical, legal and social consequences of the Human Genome Project when begun in 1990.3

Despite these objections, Dr. Collins attributed success to the experiment.3 But he acknowledged limitations in the collective endeavors. "We will not understand what love is all about or have a better understanding of the spiritual side.3 " Nonetheless, his overall argument was that the world would stand a better chance at alleviating human suffering.3

Shaping Tomorrow's Super People

Genomics is the science, which describes and manipulates mitochondrial and Chromosomal DNA,4 Already, this science has altered global economy. It is predicted to alter human life as well. Genetically influenced diseases and infertility would become treatable by transferring genes into the afflicted body or with the use of spray aerosols. Correcting undesirable human behaviors could become possible along with the development of new biological warfare weapons. One may also be able to read his own genome and create a "virtual genetic self" on a computer. He can pre-test drugs for effectiveness and determine the doses. This revolutionary capability would save money, hasten recovery and even save life. This could be a possibility in the field of pharmacogenetics. It is now only one of the new "life sciences," which carry much promise for the health care industry.4

By 2025, physicians could advise patients whether to re-engineer their embryo or resort to gene therapy when the child would be born to eliminate the symptoms of sickle-cell anemia, for example.4 By 2040, designer children could pose legal havoc. Should it be a private or government concern to choose an infant's sex, IQ, eye color or athletic capabilities? How many genes could be changed and still retain the child as one's offspring? Children in the next 25 years would not likely to be born from the traditional random combination of genes. And by 2050, the court system could sentence a criminal to redesign his behavior with gene therapy rather than serve a sentence. Psychiatrists could resort to gene therapy instead of drugs to manage chronic depression.4

But genomics would still not be the cure-all. Only 2% of all diseases are directly traceable to a single gene mutation.4 The rest have complex origins of the combined biological environments and multiple gene influences. Many genetic diseases can now be diagnosed but most of them remain incurable. And lastly, genomic information may no longer enjoy confidentiality when one's total DNA information would become accessible to insurance agents, employers or the church. Even now, there is a trend to breaking that confidentiality.4, 9

DNA Knowledge, a Prime Advantage in Court

Knowledge about DNA evidence has been a most crucial part of adequate defense in court.5 Since the first criminal case involving the use of DNA evidence in 1989, reliance on it steadily increased. Those showing the greatest support for the use of such evidence, as well as its reliability and admissibility in court, were often also the ones most familiar with DNA testing and DNA itself. But while it is incontestable, defense lawyers who did not have adequate knowledge about DNA could not effectively defend their clients. The study suggested a closer examination of all the aspects involved in bridging law and science in the courtroom. As it was, justice could be compromised then technical issues are not effectively appreciated by non-technical people.5

Unbeatable Forensic Tool

Laborious and lengthy criminal investigation mechanisms are a thing of the past. With DNA technology and procedures, a single hair or cell sample can bring in the culprit in a criminal case.6 A Florida-based company has come up with a test, called Retinome, which could establish the suspect's eye color from DNA. It could facilitate the development of drugs for the treatment of color-related diseases like cataracts and melanoma. The new test examines genes involved in coloring human tissues. The company's scientists would also explore the development of tests for characteristics like height and weight of suspects.6

Injectables in Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment

A group of Israeli scientists recently devised a molecular computer out of DNA, which could diagnose and treat diseases like cancer.7 The revolutionary invention by these scientists from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel was listed at the 2004 Guinness Book of World Records as the smallest biological computing device. It was programmed to target four genes in prostate cancer and one form of lung cancer. The computer's transition molecules would detect changes in cell activity of a cancer's genes. When they do, an enzyme is instructed to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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