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Chapter: Biotechnology Applying the Genetic Revolution: Gene Therapy

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Gene Therapy or Genetic Engineering?

Genetic engineering means that we alter an organism permanently so that the changes will be stably inherited.

GENE THERAPY OR GENETIC ENGINEERING?


Genetic engineering means that we alter an organism permanently so that the changes will be stably inherited. For multicellular organisms this implies deliberate alteration of the DNA in the germline cells. In contrast, gene therapy (occasionally called genetic surgery) is less permanent. The patient is cured, more or less, by altering the genes in only part of the body. For example, cystic fibrosis patients might be partially cured by introducing the wild-type gene into the lungs. However, these changes are not inherited, and the alleles in the germline cells remain defective.

 

True human genetic engineering is still in the future. At present, genetic engineering is restricted to nonhumans and has resulted in the creation of transgenic plants and animals as described. Eugenics refers to deliberate improvement of the human race by selective breeding. Early eugenic proposals were based on choosing superior parents by visual inspection or medical screening and breeding them in much the same way as for prize pigs and pedigreed dogs. Today we have reached the position where direct alterations of the human genome at the DNA level are technically feasible, although still clumsy.


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