Chapter 7: Advances in genetic engineering and changes in biodiversity and ecosystems: economic and ecological considerations
As a result of scientific advances in the last few decades, human beings are able to alter genomes directly, thereby creating a new type of organism. It is now possible (in many cases) to insert new DNA into a host genome, or to ‘knock out’ some genetic information contained in an existing genome. Consequently, the attributes of the targeted organism are altered. Genetic engineering or genetic modification has been defined as ‘the process of inserting new genetic information into existing cells in order to modify a specific organism for the purpose of changing its characteristics’ (Anon, 2014a, p.1). Types of genetic engineering include transgenic and cisgenic. Transgenic organisms have genes inserted into them which are derived from a different species, whereas in the case of cisgenic organisms, the transfers are from variants of the same species or from a closely related species (Anon, 2014a). In the case of transgenic organisms, the transfer of genes may even occur between kingdoms, for example, genes from bacteria have been successfully transferred to plants, and from animals to plants. A variety of methods exist for achieving such transfers (see, for example, Anon, 2014a), all of which are technically challenging. These processes (which no doubt will be refined and extended in their applications in the future) have significantly added to the ability of humankind to alter biodiversity.
Even prior to the introduction of genetic engineering, the actions of human beings in selective breeding and altering ecosystems had already greatly altered the...
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