Cytogenetic research is on the rise and can affect every aspect of life, from curing disease to growing the perfect tomato. Cytogenetics is the study of cells called chromosomes that make up deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and how those cells affect heredity. The first known use of the word "cytogenetics" was in 1931. The field's relationship to medical diagnoses and genetic engineering has become a hot topic.
Cytogenetics offers several benefits. Cytogeneticists have developed ways to diagnose types of cancers and determine the best treatment method. The molecular study of chromosomes can provide doctors and their patients with a prognosis for developing certain diseases. For example, prenatal testing may reveal the susceptibility of an unborn child to contracting childhood leukemia or even severe communication disorders. Studies of plant and animal chromosomes and structure allow scientists to modify foods genetically to withstand disease and, as a result, feed more people.
Cytogenetics has disadvantages, too. Some scientists argue that the costs of cytogenetics research outweigh the benefits. Others contend that its widespread use could lead to upsetting the natural course of evolution. Its role in biological warfare also is a concern. Scientists throughout the world have the capability to create pathogens much more virulent than those found in nature. Even if they are not used as weapons, the risks of small amounts leaving a laboratory due to human error are high and could have devastating effects.
Cytogenetics research is increasing rapidly, and so are the questions about its impact on societies and cultures. Concerns include ethical dilemmas about reproductive rights, access to testing and subsequent care, effects on the ecosystem and genetic diversity. Some people wonder whether or not cytogenetic testing should be performed to reveal a disease for which no treatment exists. Other people consider the implications for genetic counseling if cytogenetic testing leads to a relatively low detection rate for fetuses with abnormal chromosomes.
Advances in cytogenetics have taken place for decades and continue to increase at rapid rates. Each discovery presents a host of advantages and disadvantages to consider. Economics, medicine, politics, law, nutrition and ecology are affected and play a part in the use of cytogenetic research and its results.
- Merriam-Webster: Cytogenetics
- "Cytogenetics"; S. Sundara Rajan; 2004
- "EMBO Reports"; Genetic Engineering and Biological Weapons; Jan van Aken and Edward Hammond; June 2003
- U.S. Department of Energy Genome Programs, Human Genome Project Information: Ethical, Legal and Social Issues
- "The Principles of Clinical Cytogenetics"; Martha B. Keagle, et al.; 2005
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