Discussion Group Outline for the 2001 Young People’s Convention
I. Biology background
1. Each organism (worm, mushroom, bacteria, dandelion, human, etc) is what it is due to the set of instructions each was born, hatched, or germinated with. These instructions or recipes are called DNA
2. DNA can be thought of as a pearl necklace containing about 3 billion pearls. Each pearl is either white, black, pink, or yellow.
3. The sequence of colors determines whether the organism will be a bacteria or a human or…
4. In reality the pearls are called nucleotides and are not really different colors but are distinguished one from the other by one of four nitrogen containing bases: Adenine, Guanine, Cytosine, or Thymine.
5. So then the reason you are different from the person next to you is due to each of you having different sequences of bases somewhere in your string of 3 billion nucleotides. For example you might have a sequence somewhere of CCGATTAC and the person next to you might have a sequence of GGCATTAC.
6. This entire sequence of 3 billion bases is called the genetic code.
7. Each cell in your body with the exception of blood cells has a complete copy of this genetic code.
8. Thus a skin cell has the recipe for making an eye, heart, etc. but only uses those recipes needed by the skin. Each recipe is called a gene. Just like one recipe is the directions for a cake and another is the directions for pudding and yet another is the directions for beef stew, so also each gene is the recipe for one product called a protein (new research has shown that one gene can actually be the recipe for many proteins but let’s not make this any more complex than we need to). We then are a compilation of hundreds of proteins, each one made by our cells as a result of following the recipes with which we were born.
9. We have between 30,000 and 60,000 of these genes (recipes) in each cell.
10. This complete set of recipes makes up the human genome.
1. Proteins are the cakes, pies, stew, etc. that were made from the recipes; That is, our genes are the recipes for the proteins that make us what we are physically.
2. Proteins give us our physical characteristics such as eye, hair, and skin color, height, etc.
3. Proteins also give us many inner, unseen characteristics such as the ability to digest sugar, or the ability to maintain proper blood pH, or the ability to fight infection.
4. Like DNA, proteins can also be envisioned as a pearl necklace.
5. This time, however, the individual pearls are not nucleotides but rather amino acids. And this time there are not just 4 kinds but rather 20 different amino acids.
6. Again, like DNA, the sequence is of utmost importance. In order for a protein to function properly the amino acids must be in the correct sequence. This sequence is determined by the sequence of nucleotides (bases) in the DNA with which you were born.
7. Just as a mistake in the recipe for a cake could have disastrous results (e.g. adding a cup of salt instead of a cup of flour) so also a mistake in a gene can have enormous consequences in the protein for which it codes.
8. Thus if you were born with the DNA sequence ACCCCGATA you would have the amino acid sequence Tryptophan-Glycine-Tyrosine.
9. If however you were born with the DNA sequence ACACCGATA you would have the amino acid sequence Cysteine-Glycine-Tyrosine.
10. This one amino acid change in a protein that is several hundred amino acids long is enough to cause such genetic disorders as cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs, hemophilia, etc.
C. Genetic Engineering
1. The goal is to “fix” the incorrect recipe by removing it from the chromosome were it resides and inserting a corrected version of the gene.
2. This process is not widely available yet for many genetic disorders.
3. Cells from an embryo can be examined to determine whether or not the embryo has a genetic defect. This is called genetic screening. This screening is available for some but not all genetic disorders.
4. Screening can determine if a defective gene is present but no cure is yet available for most genetic disorders. In most cases the only “cure” offered is an abortion.
1. Does an embryo have a soul?
2. Should a Christian couple have a genetic screen done on an embryo in order to check for genetic abnormalities?
3. Should we tamper with the genetic code we were conceived with in order to “fix” problems with the genes? What if we could prevent a child from being born with Tay-Sachs, hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, or perhaps Down’s Syndrome? Should we tamper with the genetic code this person was conceived with in order to “fix” these “mistakes” in the embryo’s genes? (This technology is not actually available yet but may become available in the near future.)
4. Should we tamper with the genetic code to produce a designer baby with the characteristics we want such as height, hair color, etc.?
5. Should researchers insert human genes into animals in order to get human proteins from animals such as human insulin from bacteria and human milk proteins from cows? (This technology is available and is being used at this time.)
6. Should humans have animal genes inserted into them in order to cure some diseases? (To the best of my knowledge this has not been done but the technology is available to do it.)