Genetic engineering offers many good hot button research topics.
Here are some term paper ideas on genetic engineering in humans, GMO foods and genetically modified crops and genetic modification of plants for medicine.
Children with three parents
Genetic engineering with humans conjures up the Island of Dr. Moreau or Orphan Black, but a good term paper idea is to discuss some of the good coming from this research. Here’s one example. Women with defective mitochondria often miscarry or have children that die in infancy from genetic diseases. Newcastle University in England has been researching a procedure that replaces the mitochondria with material from a healthy donated egg. This procedure would allow the women to have children free of disease, and it would remove the genetic imperfection from future generations. The baby would be considered to have three DNA-contributing parents—two mothers and one father.
As expected, there is an ethical debate about the issue. Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies said, “Allowing mitochondrial donation would give women who carry severe mitochondrial disease the opportunity to have children without passing on devastating genetic disorders,” Fiona MacRae reported in “100 Babies a Year in UK Will Have 3 Parents,” published in London Daily Mail, February 28, 2014. Those opposed to the procedure say it is a slippery slope to parents choosing eye and hair color for their babies, that undiscovered genetic problems could be inadvertently passed down for generations and that barren couples can adopt children instead.
GMO debate: facts and myths
Another research paper topic is to search for the truth in the highly controversial genetically modified organism (GMO) debate. Scientists genetically modify food crops to add vitamins, increase yield to feed millions more people or to remove toxins that cause allergens in foods like peanuts. They also create strains that are insect repellent and disease resistant. In fact, about 80% of processed foods (cereals, baby formula, soda, cheese, chips, even salmon) contain GMOs. Natural methods of genetic manipulation, like grafting and hybridization, have been going on for millennia.
Anti-GMO advocates call GMO crops “Franken-food.” They advocate for GMO labeling on food; say that the big GMO companies like Monsanto are hiding health risks; claim farmers are using more herbicides on GMO crops, not less; and say there are no long-term studies on food safety. In the January 17, 2016, article “Digging for seeds of truth in GMO debate,” Barry Petersen of CBS News quoted senior scientist Marcia Ishii-Eiteman at the Pesticide Action Network as saying, “Researchers are only just beginning to investigate the myriad of potential adverse health effects. The issue is that we don’t have the long-term independent studies to be able to answer these questions fully.” Ishii-Eiteman added, “Americans have a right to know what’s in our food and the right to know how it’s been grown.”
Genetic engineering in medicines
Another good term paper topic is to write about ways genetic engineering is used to create new medicines. For example, scientists have been using the endangered Himalayan mayapple plant to extract its podophyllotoxin (which it makes naturally able to ward off insects) as a compound in making cancer fighting drugs. Scientists have discovered how to splice genes for enzymes that make the molecule used in creating the cancer drugs. According to Robert F. Service in “Genetic engineering turns a common plant into a cancer fighter,” in ScienceMag.org, September 10, 2015, “The new work could ensure an abundant supply of the anticancer drug and make it easier for chemists to tweak the compound to come up with safer and more effective versions.”
For more information, check out Questia’s library on Genetic Engineering.
What’s your opinion on the role of genetic engineering?