Genetic engineering is a new and controversial process. With its medicinal, therapeutic, and agricultural applications, many scientists view it as a scientific beacon leading to a new era of discovery and solutions. However, others view the novelty of genetic engineering as one of its downfalls—there are so many unknown aspects of this new branch of science that it is not possible to know that it is safe.
For students and professionals interested in sustainability or resource management, this tension is a pertinent one to explore. Read on for some of the most important pros and cons of genetic engineering for the field of environmental science and sustainability.
Pro: Genetic Engineering Produces Resilient Crops Suited to Survive Climate Change
According to the National Academy of sciences, genetic engineering could help make crops more resistant to the effects of climate change by introducing traits to plants that give them a wider range of temperature tolerance and make them more likely to survive drought conditions. This development holds great potential for those who study and build sustainable food systems and agricultural initiatives, as well as those developing policy to manage the effects of less ecological options.
Pro: CRISPR Technology is Efficient, With Effects That Can Be Studied Through a Master’s Degree in Environmental Science
One of the most recent advances in genetic engineering is the development of “CRISPR” gene editing technology. Derived from the anti-viral defense mechanisms of bacteria, CRISPR technology allows gene modification to be conducted more efficiently than ever before due to its precise gene targeting and cost-effectiveness. This can boost speed, helping to resolve the ‘bottleneck’ problem facing many geneticists—the processing of genetic data and experiments has generally been very time consuming, meaning many important experiments and scientific answers have been backlogged due to issues of efficiency rather than possibility. The impact of this technological acceleration is relevant to those pursuing an Environmental Science Degree online, as the potential ecological effects of genetic engineering multiply with increased gene editing capacity.
Con: Environmental Science and Sustainability Studies Suggest Ecological Concerns with Genetic Engineering
The effects of genetic engineering go beyond the lab: genetic transference and mutation take place within and between organisms in the natural environment. A recent bioethical study from the University of Chile suggests that strict regulatory norms be established in order to control the potential effects of the intergenerational passing of gene mutations between organisms, as these can have unpredictable environmental impacts. These concerns must be carefully considered by sustainability students. For example, students pursuing an M.S. in Professional Science at Unity College may address issues like this when studying Conservation Ecology, weaving together social sciences and ecological principles to develop system-level solutions to complex ecological problems.
Con: Genetic Engineering Technology is Improving, but Not Perfectly Precise
Finally, some environmental science and sustainability experts argue that genetic engineering must be conducted with restraint due to technological limitations. For instance, although CRISPR technology boasts incredible efficiency, it also results in a significant (though decreasing) number of “off-target effects”—that is, of accidental gene edits. Sustainability students and professionals must maintain a realistic understanding of the actual precision of genetic engineering technology so as to best anticipate its real-world effects.
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