Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Biology of I am Legend

I am Legend portrayed many different aspects of biology. There was finding a cure for cancer, the effects viruses can have on humans, and, most importantly, genetic engineering. The movie starts with a scientist explaining how she has discovered a cure for cancer. She genetically engineered a measles strain to work for the body, instead of against it. It was trained to go through the body and kill only cancerous cells. It left normal cells as they were. The strain worked at first, but then it mutated into a lethal virus, killing off 90% of the world’s population. While this scenario is highly unlikely, genetically engineering is something that is happening today.

Scientists are working hard to cure diseases through genetic engineering. Currently, pregnant women can have their babies screened as a fetus for genetic diseases. If they do have a genetic disorder, all the parents can do is prepare to take care of the child. However, in the future scientists may be able to cure diseases with genetic engineering while the baby is still in its mother. This is just one thing scientists can do with genetic engineering. Genetic engineering has also been used for a growth hormone, a vaccine for hepatitis b, and to modify fruits and vegetables so that they are immune to some diseases. A lot of the stuff that you and I eat today has been genetically engineered. These are all things that genetic engineering can be good for, but, like with anything, there is a bad side of genetic engineering.

There are a few ethical problems with genetic engineering. Like in I am Legend, there is always the possibility that a genetically engineered disease could mutate and become a killer. Even though a disease can’t give people superhuman abilities, there is always the possibility of a global epidemic. In the 1300s, there was the Bubonic Plague that took about 200 million lives. In 1918, there was the Spanish flu that took about 40 million lives. It has happened in the past, and it could happen again in the future. One way to insure that there isn’t an epidemic caused by genetic engineering is to just stop genetically engineering diseases, even if they are for good. You never know how a virus is going to mutate by the time it is out in the public. The other way is to be prepared for the consequences. Before it is used, perform tests on it. Make sure that there is no possible way for it to go wrong. If there is, make sure that it is curable. Have the cure ready to go if it goes wrong. In my opinion, I think that genetic engineering is a good thing. I think that it should be continued, but that scientists should be prepared to handle it if something goes wrong.

(In case you're wondering why I wrote this, it was an assignment for biology, and I figured I'd kill two birds with one stone! I've been crazy busy this week, so I figured I'd take just one assignment off my back.)