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walk through time

Walk Through Time...from Stardust to Us
Six Winning Essays from the WTT at Singapore

Essay 4

"How did the world begin?" This simple, plaintive question is, in fact, an enigmatic conundrum that has probed massive inquisition worldwide. The origin of life on earth has baffled taxonomists, mystified science enthusiasts like myself and intrigued million others. The theory of Evolution put forward by Charles Darwin states that all living creatures are interrelated by descent from common ancestors. It also explains the staggering diversity of life on this planet. The lineage of organisms seems to have changed through generations and diverged through time. However, buried under controversy and furiously challenged by religion, this theory has its own loopholes and grey areas. For instance, though the development of the species has been traced in detail, their primary origin is yet to be known.

We, Homo Sapiens now attempt to trace our roots. Knowingly or unknowingly, we do it with our sovereign; the omnipotent tool simply know as ‘Science’. Together with our evolutionary cerebral gift, science reinforces our power to accomplish new heights of sophistication.

Like life, science evolved. Since the dawn of civilization, masonry, alphabet, pottery and other basic sciences have converged, diverged and developed into this dynamic age of robotics. I feel that now, at this point of our progress, we should give as much thought to evolution in the future as we give to the original evolutionary process.

Yes. Life still evolves. There are now over 2000 species of living organisms waiting to be discovered. Furthermore, known organisms cross-breed and produce an offspring of unique characteristics. The aspect of science that man will inevitably use to aid evolution in the 21st century is undoubtedly genetic engineering. Genetic engineering is the spectre of modern sciences invoking images of strange mutations; master organisms being manufactured there and then at the fancy of mad scientists. However, the reality is both less alarming and at least equally fascinating. This area of science will definitely be instrumental in the evolutionary process in the next millennium. This can be attested by most scientists who believe that the world is on the brink of a genetic explosion.

Genetic engineering is, essentially, the scientific alteration of genes or genetic material to produce new traits in an organism or to eliminate undesirable ones. In other words, it is the deliberate effort by humans to create perfect new borns of any organism by simply correcting or altering the features of the unborn foetus itself. The countless numbers of applications of this wide realm of study are yet to be recognized and be put into good use. What can it actually do for mankind? How could it possibly be responsible for something as inexplicable and abstract as evolution in the next century? To attempt to consolidate all the possible uses of genetic engineering into a few pages would be unthinkable. So, here are but a few facts that would enforce the title.

One way to aid evolution is to stimulate and upgrade the living environment of existing organisms. For example, a positive change in our lifestyle can be brought about easily by the discovery of simple products that decrease our workload. This will raise the standards of living in the beings and lead to the evolution of life to new heights of maturity. Where even drastic differences in the physical form can be brought about by radical changes in the environment of the unborn foetus, improvement in lifestyle will surely steer living beings towards physical and intellectual progression.

Genetic engineering was developed in the 1980s primarily to create new strains of micro-organisms useful in manufacturing or as drugs. Today, organic constituents of products such as artificial food flavourings are synthesized easily under stringent laboratory conditions. The only drawback is, that the enzymes present in the original genetic material are either denatured or unable to support the ‘clones’. Being proteins in nature, these enzymes are readily hydrolysed by artificial catalysts into unstable amino-acids. Further studies of this reaction of organic compounds to genetic treatment are being conducted to improve the efficiency of genetic principles put to commercial use. The commercial products such as food, health care products and drugs play small roles in upgrading humankind that will then evolve into a more sophisticated generation.

The use of this science in drugs, however, is trickier to exploit. Of course, some vaccines that were the result of genetic experimenting, have virtually eliminated some of man’s most dreaded diseases. For instance, tuberculosis once took the world by alarm by devouring life after life. Then came the complex vaccinal nectar, by the name of BCG. Now, fatal cases of tuberculosis are seldom heard of. Likewise common diseases such as influenza have been rendered less fearful. There is an urgent and compelling need to understand the genetic basis of all diseases; not just those known to be inborn errors of metabolism. For genetic diseases, the solution lies in curing the defects rather than in managing lifelong and often inadequate treatments. Genetic research is being done by serious and responsible scientists, and chances of the accidental spread of potentially dangerous microbes are kept to a minimum. This measure is absolutely necessary, not only for obvious reasons, but also because such dangers are highly exaggerated. Consequently, this matter has generated a great deal of public concern and even political debate. However, one must realise that the blowing up of paranoid though of the possible dangers of genetic chemistry diverts attention from the research needed to solve the difficult problem of disease, which would otherwise beset mankind. Thus, it is best to continue research with care and beget the benefits that may be derived from genetic engineering.

Next, I would like to touch on a topic that has sparked human interest worldwide. As we should first know, the evolutionary process tends to be interrupted by mass extinction. Therefore, the prospect of using the principles of genetics to slow down the rate of extinction was, indeed welcomed as a novel idea. Well, it did make sense. If micro-organisms could be ‘cloned’ why not higher animals? Eventually, the word ‘cloning’ officially entered the scientific dictionary.

In mid 1997, news of the birth of ‘Dolly’, the first successful attempt at cloning, hogged newspapers and magazines of every kind. Half the world rejoiced at the new breakthrough in biotechnology while the other half was rather flabbergasted at its possible misuse and the probable impending disaster. So far, none of what many feared has happened though different scientists have managed to produce yet more ‘clones’. Later in 1997, a pair of twin calves was produced. Unfortunately, those calves did not survive as their surrogate mother had carried a fatal, cancer causing virus. Undaunted, as cloning produce a string of higher organisms ranging from frogs to kittens to mice, the world finally began to acknowledge what cloning could achieve and accomplish.

The possibility of the cloning of humans is, indeed, a fearful one. Imagine the kind of robotic world we would be living in if human clones were to be sanctioned. In my opinion, the stigma of the individuality of each person, ultimately, is definitely to be protected. However, I feel that if this practice is put to good use, keeping moral and social values in mind, we could radically upgrade our descendants to an incredible level of advancement! Not only that. The danger faced by the diminishing population of endangered wildlife can be circumvented. The very concept of extinction can be made extinct! This is exactly what is being considered by ambitious scientists. Their dreams are pin close to a stunning reality. This is what I mean by ‘stunning reality’:

"Firstly, no innocent child faces the unlawful punishment of being born with a birth defect. As for diseases, cross-breeding of various plantae, monera and other organisms will effect as powerful vaccines. Then, an infinite amount of animal varieties thrive and delight zoologists and animal lovers. We may never have to worry about extinction again. The eternal process of evolution is uninterrupted with delightful new possibilities of the uses if genetic engineering in the future ..............."

Scientists still explore the world of genetic engineering. My supporting statements on genetic engineering have to be left off at the present day as now, there is absolutely no telling what may happen next. I can only give my predictions of the future of genetic engineering; my vision of what may become of the most talked-about aspect of science nowadays, heavily influenced by my vivid imagination of how I might help with research in the future and my hopes that genetic engineering would gain importance and public approval.

Genetic engineering will become of the most revolutionary topics etched in the annals of scientific progress in future. Once it has given the world all it can on its own, it will combine with other sciences to brilliantly light up the course of mankind. For the countless possibilities of the role of genetic engineering in evolution in the 21st century, there is never a full-stop. The full-stop only stands after the last word of my essay .........

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