Christian Brothers High School


            In many areas of study, biotechnology is extremely controversial.  In the quest to find a way to prevent genetically linked obesity, a few legal and ethical issues arise.  Many people do not believe that genetic testing is ethical or moral and this popular belief hinders the advancement of biotechnology research.  With so many differing opinions, it is difficult to draw flawless ethical boundaries in this field of study.

            First off, let’s talk legal issues.  Many people are concerned that government funds are aiding in biotechnology research that is not within their moral or ethical beliefs.  Public funding of such research is about 1.5% to 3% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  Even if the research for the genetic testing is paid for by a private company or corporation, it is likely that once the reasons behind genetic obesity are more clearly understood and proven, the government will fund biotechnology labs to develop a new drug or treatment for genetic obesity.  When the government decides to invest in these new products, money will have to be made by raising taxes, which means taking more of the public’s dollars.  For those who oppose the genetic testing and the bioengineered drugs to make people lose weight, the loss of more money will only make their opinion of the testing and developing more unfavorable.

            Right now, genetic testing on obesity is in the very early stages of research.  There have been tests done on mice that lack the protein leptin, which sends signals to the brain, alerting the body that it is full and can stop eating.  Scientists found that once the mice were injected with leptin, they immediately lost weight and reversed their diabetes.  However, for the leptin to have the same results on humans, humans would have to take leptin pills every hour or so because the leptin humans produce in their fat cells does not stay in the system long enough.  Therefore, in advancing this research on genetically linked obesity, scientists would not have to take much personal information and would not have to bioengineer actual human cells.  Scientists would be able to take bacteria and genetically modify it with amino acids so that the leptin would last up to a few days in the human body, which would hypothetically help an overweight person lose that extra weight. 

            This potential advancement of the use of genetically modified leptin goes against what some people consider to be “natural” to the human body.  If this research is funded and takes off, people will argue that the body is not meant to have a new type of leptin in their bodies and that the long term affects could be much worse than the affects of being obese.  On the other hand, this new leptin could replace procedures such as gastric bypass surgery, lap band surgery, or liposuction.  On average, 1 out of 100 gastric bypass surgeries end in death, lap band surgery has a high chance of the body rejecting the foreign objects placed in it due to the surgery and have a high risk of stomach tears which would create the need for another surgery, and liposuction can create blood clots, damage to nerves, and damage to vital organs.  In all, the risks that come along with the leptin tests could be just as serious as all the FDA approved alternate procedures that already exist, or the risks could be much less dangerous and overall healthier for the body.

            In foreign countries, the overall amount of public spending on such genetic engineering products is relatively the same.  In fact, a few countries, Sweden, for example, spend even more public dollars on such experiments than the United States.  The difference is that public opinion in foreign countries is much more positive than in the United States.  Most countries are more than willing to introduce new drugs to the market that will hopefully better the general society.  It is important to note, however, that many countries have far less legal regulations than the United States, so their tests are not necessarily as safe. 

            Overall, the United States is much stricter and the general public is more skeptical about all the biotechnology testing than other countries, but at least we know the tests are safe and well developed.  Hopefully, someday soon, we will all benefit from the advancements that biotechnology is surely bringing to the world.


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