The human manipulation of the genetic material of a cell.
Genetic engineering involves isolating individual DNA fragments, coupling them with other genetic material, and causing the genes to replicate themselves. Introducing this created complex to a host cell causes it to multiply and produce clones that can later be harvested and used for a variety of purposes. Current applications of the technology include medical investigations of gene structure for the control of genetic disease, particularly through antenatal diagnosis. The synthesis of hormones and other proteins (e.g., growth hormone and insulin), which are otherwise obtainable only in their natural state, is also of interest to scientists. Applications for genetic engineering include disease control, hormone and protein synthesis, and animal research.
An international code of ethics for genetic research was first established in the World Medical Association's Declaration of Helsinki in 1964. The guide prohibited outright most forms of genetic engineering and was accepted by numerous U.S. professional medical societies, including the AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION (AMA).
In 1969 the AMA promulgated its own ethical guidelines for clinical investigation, key provisions of which conflicted with the Helsinki Declaration. For example, the AMA guidelines proposed that when mentally competent adults were found to be unsuitable subjects for genetic engineering studies, minors or mentally incompetent subjects could be used instead. The Helsinki Declaration did not condone testing on humans.
The growth of genetic engineering in the 1970s aroused international concern, but only limited measures were taken by governments and medical societies to control it. Concern focused on the production of dangerous bacterial mutants that could be used as harmful eugenics tools or weapons. The Genetic Manipulation Advisory Group was established in England based on the recommendations of a prominent medical group, the Williams Committee. Scientists were required to consult this group before carrying out any activity involving genetic manipulation in England. Additional measures required scientific laboratories throughout the world to include physical containment labs to prevent manipulated genes from escaping and surviving in natural conditions. These policies were subsequently adopted in the...