How Does Biotechnology Affect Kids?

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013]

Biotechnology can affect children before they are conceived, before they are born and as they age. The knowledge base is expanding quickly, with new tools for DNA analysis. The ability to model and image molecular and atomic interactions, together with sophisticated scanning techniques that allow doctors to peer into tissue, has bolstered our capacity to re-engineer life. The power of such knowledge is obvious. It can be used for good, by repairing or replacing damaged organs and tissues, or it can be used for ill, by screening out traits that some perceived to be undesirable.

Immunization of children is a routine safeguard against disease, and despite the fears of a small minority, it has been and remains an effective defense against serious illness. Children today no longer need to fear diseases such as polio, measles, rubella, whooping cough and meningitis. These diseases once destroyed lives, and still do in regions around the world. Even as those historical dangers fade, new vaccines provide protection against HPV, which can cause cancer in women. HPV infection rates have fallen 56 percent among teenage girls since immunization for HPV became available.

Clean Clothes
Laundry soap enzymes help ensure kids live and play in clean clothes by breaking down proteins, starches, fats and grease. Proteases break down proteins in egg, gravy and blood, and amylases tackle starches, lipases take out fat and grease. Other common enzymes used include cellulase, mannanase and pectinase. This biotechnology has existed since the 1960s, but less well known is that the enzymes used in modern detergents are genetically modified organisms designed to lower costs.

Genetically Modified Foods
Genetically modified foods, which include children’s cereals, have been controversial since their inception, primarily due to the lack of comprehensive safety studies, concerns about their effect on the environment and legal issues related to intellectual property. However, it is certain that world population is growing and food prices will rise unless agricultural yields can be increased. Whether GMO foods can meet this challenge and maintain a record for safety is still a point of contention. The American Association for the Advancement of Science has noted that the “World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.”

Human Genetic Modification
Since the human genome was mapped in 2003, much has been learned about gene expression, interaction and the phenomenon of epigenetics, the response of genes to environmental cues. The first publicized germline genetic modification of humans occurred in 2001, resulting in the birth of 30 healthy children born with genes from three people. Germline genetic changes are passed on to future generations. Genetic alternations that prevent a debilitating or fatal disease will prevent children from acquiring these genes and becoming ill. They then pass this protection on to their children.