Genetics in the Future | Teen Ink

Genetics in the Future

March 2, 2009
By Nikhila Janakiram BRONZE, Saratoga, California
Nikhila Janakiram BRONZE, Saratoga, California
2 articles 0 photos 1 comment

Have you ever wondered what genes you have inherited from your parents? You probably have. As of now, scientists are trying to find ways to expand the knowledge of genetics. DNA testing is pretty limited even though it is becoming more common nowadays. Families with a history of known diseases seek genetic testing to know if their child will be at risk of inheriting diseases, such as Tay-Sachs disease, sickle cell anemia, or cystic fibrosis. There are genetic counselors available to identify the risks in having a child with recessive, inherited traits. Genetic tests can be conducted on fetuses by gathering cell samples from the womb. Two techniques used are amniocentesis and chronic villi samples. Newborns are tested for phenylketornuria, a genetic disease that can cause mental retardation, by taking blood samples.

However, not all genetic tests are performed on children. They are also used to match organ donors and recipients, to establish paternity and maternity, and for identifying evidence from crime scenes. Genetic tests are now available for a range of cancers as well. These tests do not directly test for cancer; instead, they show any chances for that person having any type of cancer. The person might not even get the type of cancer predicted. Many cancers are triggered by other mutations in the cells, and can develop without 'cancer genes.' An example is breast cancer. Breast cancer has two gene variants called BRCA1 and BRCA2. These gene variants are only involved in 5% of breast cancer cases.

How about if a genetic test showed that at the age of 50 or so you would lose control of your muscles and you wouldn't live as long as you normally would? This is a sign that you have Huntington's disease, which has no cure. You may not want to know if you have these particular kinds of diseases, but it helps you to decide whether to have children or not.

Wouldn't you want to know the origin of a mutation in your body? Well, now you can. With the help of biochips, doctors can detect thousands of mutations in your body at once. Biochips or DNA arrays are a new technology that simplifies a wide range of genetic tests. Each chip contains rows and rows of DNA sequences which test for a particular DNA sequence that contains a mutation. If there is a mutation in the DNA sequence, then the chip will start to glow under a special light.

Biochips are probably the first step towards genetic ID cards. These cards are something like a credit card, except it contains all your genetic information. These cards help your doctors tailor your medical care and pick the right drugs and dosages.

Before, if you were diabetic, your doctors would prescribe drugs that would have come from a pig! As of now, many medicines can be made by specifically-modified bacteria, called transgenic bacteria. These kinds of bacteria behave the same way like any other bacteria, except they also produce human proteins for medicines and vaccines.

Nowadays, animals are also used to produce human proteins. This method of producing the necessities for human medicines is called gene pharming. An example is antithrombin III. This drug prevents blood clotting, and it is secreted in transgenic goat milk. To creating this drug, scientists inject a DNA sequence coding for antithrombin III into the transgenic goat eggs. The scientists then transplant the fertilized eggs into a female goat.

In the future, scientists hope to create 'magic bullets.' They hope that these drugs will target specific antigens, disease-causing substance, while still leaving the healthy tissue alone. However, there are side-effects to 'magic bullets since they would consist of antibodies.

In the year of 2007, four companies opened to the public, and promised a detailed look at you DNA. For 1000 dollars, 23andMe and deCODEme promised to look at their customers' DNA and identify 500,000 SNP's. For 2500 dollars, Navigenics promised to look at their customers' DNA and give them a report of 20 or so different diseases. For 350,000 dollars, Knome promised to look at their clients' DNA and give what all 6.4 million letter of their DNA would look like. These are signs that show advancement in the genetics field.

Numerous universities, private corporations, and federal agencies finished decoding the human DNA sequence in 2003. Now, the same institutions want to cut a fraction of cost for decoding the DNA sequence and do it much more quickly. The goal set by the National Human Genome Research Institute, is to cut the cost to a hundred thousand dollars by 2009 and to approximately a thousand dollar by 2014. If this goal is met by scientist, then people could by a digital readout of their entire personal genome. With this information, doctors could predict diseases years before the symptoms show up. This could revolutionize medical diagnosis and treatment.

The author's comments:
After reading and researching so much on genetics, I was inspired to write an essay on such an abstract subject. I want people to gain an awareness for what is happening in the genetics field. We only briefly cover genetics in biology, but never talk about today's research and discoveries.I am definitely looking forward to writing more articles and/or essays in the future.

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