DNA research, in itself, is neither good nor bad. It’s a tool. It’s like asking if a hammer is good or bad. A hammer is good for pounding in nails, and bad drilling in screws. Nevertheless, I think we can agree that having the option to use a hammer if the solution to a problem calls for a hammer is a good thing. The same can be said about DNA research.
Possibilities in Neuroscience
In neuroscience, for example, we can take a segment of DNA coding for a gene, let’s say a green fluorescent protein (GFP) produced in nature by a jellyfish, and transfect this plasmid into cultured neurons. The neuron will start expressing GFP, and we can then see it under a fluorescent lamp under a microscope and see a living neuron in its entirety. We can watch it grow and change under different drug conditions and learn a great deal in basic research about the fundamentals of how neurons function. In cell cultures, we can even transfect DNA sequences to raise the expression of molecules, ion channels, for example, to learn more about how those ion channels work.
A common way of studying molecules in cell culture is to knock out the molecule entirely or to overexpress it, both of which are techniques involving DNA research. Even in creating transgenic lines of mice we can study glowing cells or over-expressed or knocked out molecules, all made possible because of our understanding of how DNA functions in the body.
Moving Forward with Biotechnology
DNA gets transcribed into mRNA and tRNA translates the code replicated in mRNA into amino acids and proteins are produced. RNA interference (RNAi) takes advantage of an innate molecule called the DICER complex which degrades mRNA before it can be read as a template for creating more protein. RNAi is a way we have of knocking down endogenous genes and our ability to use this technique is due to DNA research. It takes advantage of a natural process and allows us to study proteins expressed in cell cultures that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to knock down. This is a fundamental technique used in different fields of study. This simple concept alone, based on previous DNA research allows us to learn more about infinite biological processes than we otherwise would. Again, it’s a tool. It’s a very powerful tool, and it’s good to have the option to use it.
We have already made significant breakthroughs taking advantage of simple concepts like how bacteria can replicate DNA and even produce proteins from it. Insulin for diabetics, for example, is produced by prokaryotes because of DNA transfection techniques.
If gene therapy turns out to be a cure for cancer or perhaps, more straightforwardly, a cure for Fragile-X syndrome or congenital heart defects, how can we even consider turning a blind eye to such a positive possibility? It’s up to us not to use research of any kind, DNA-based or otherwise, for harm. DNA research can do so much good. It already has.