GP Tuition: Genetic Modification

 – copyright Knowledge Skills LLP –
General Paper (GP) & O-level English tuition subject specialists
Adapted from A.Caplan


Science and Technology and their impact on society is a General Paper topic covered by all Junior Colleges and is a popular topic for most students.
One key issue that is usually covered during GP lessons is the advancement in the fields of bioscience. One area in this field would of course be genetic modification. It is current and raises many interesting ethical issues. Not surprisingly, it tends to appear often in many GP essay test papers. Fortunately, there are many articles debating the pros and cons of this issue and therefore obtaining the points needed to craft a good essay is easy to find.

We will use the article below to highlight some of these issues 🙂

Engineering the Better Baby

There should no longer be any doubt about whether humans will one day be genetically modified. A new tool – called CRISPR – is already being used to edit the genomes of insects and animals. Essentially a very sharp molecular knife, CRISPR allows scientists to carve out and insert genes precisely and inexpensively. It is only a matter of time before it will be used to engineer our descendants – eliminating many dangerous hereditary diseases in the process.

To be sure, this eventuality is being hotly debated. The main arguments against genetic modification of human embryos are that it would be unsafe and unfair, and that modification would quickly go beyond efforts to reduce the incidence of inherited maladies. But, ultimately, none of these reasons is likely to be persuasive enough to stop the technology from being widely used.

A readable introduction. Context is clearly set and an interesting example and a premise is provided. The intro gives some examples that students can use in future essays. However, this is an opinion piece and not similarly structured in the style most likely taught during GP or even O-level english lessons.

Safety is clearly an important factor, but it is unlikely to be a decisive one. The new gene-editing techniques appear to be very accurate. Animal tests and experiments with human embryos that will not leave lab dishes seem to be on track to prove that there is little risk involved in their application.

The takeaway is this: gene-editing techniques have become increasing safer. Why? How? If this was a GP essay, more substantiation would be required but this is still a point to add to your knowledge of genetic modification.

Likewise, as valid an ethical concern as fairness may be, it has never held back the adoption of technology. Yes, the benefits of CRISPR are likely to be made available primarily through private, profit-seeking companies, giving the rich far better access to the technology than the poor. But that fact is not likely to lead to a moratorium – much less a ban – on gene editing.

The world is rife with disparities. The rich send their kids to elite schools, while the poor hope the building in which their child attends lessons does not collapse while class is in session. And yet, as unfair as this may be, the rich are not waiting for the playing field to be leveled; they are making wide use of elite private education. The same dynamic will play out with genetic engineering.

This point about the inherent unfairness of technological benefit and social inequality is a major point that is almost always used by the best students in their essay relating to this topic. The ‘dynamic’ that he mentions rather briefly will be further covered with examples provided in our Science and Tech notes.

The critics’ last argument – that opening the door to repairing genetic disorders will also leave the way open for eugenics – is the most worrying. The same technology that can be deployed to eliminate hereditary diseases can undoubtedly be used to try to build genetically enhanced children. And yet, as slippery as this slope might be, we will, sooner or later, find ourselves inching our way down it.

Ah, a ‘critics’ argument. Or as most students will write, “As critics will argue…”.

The concern regarding eugenics and eliminating certain undesirable traits is definitely a good point. However, not much is elaborated upon here.
If the student could provide clear examples and elaboration, it can function as a good antithesis (or opposing argument) paragraph. Furthermore, the reason a ‘critic’ is raised is for it to be rebutted – which the author proceeds to do.  Students should be mindful of this.

The world is plagued with hereditary diseases that cause very real misery: sickle cell anemia, hemophilia, type 1 diabetes, cystic fibrosis, mitochondrial diseases, polycystic kidney disease, Tay-Sachs disease, Canavan disease, mucopolysaccharidoses, some forms of breast, prostate, and colon cancer – the list goes on. It is absurd to think that genetic engineering will not be used to eliminate them.

Pressure from parents seeking to prevent their children and grandchildren from suffering will undoubtedly overwhelm concerns about the possibility that others will use the same technology to attempt to build superkids – and rightly so. The sick should not be held hostage to worries about possible dangers or abuses.

There is no reason to waste time arguing about whether humans should be genetically engineered. As justifiable as some of the ethical concerns may be, there are simply too many benefits to be gained from preventing hereditary diseases. Those seeking to limit genetic engineering to such efforts would be better off devoting their energies to explaining why eugenics is wrong, rather than attempting to stop the march of progress toward healing the sick and eliminating awful disorders.

The slope may indeed be slippery. That is why it is far more important to refocus the public debate on appropriate safeguards. Rather than arguing about whether CRISPR should be used in humans, we should be working to determine who decides when it is safe enough to be deployed, what counseling should be provided for parents considering its use, and how to broaden access for the poor.

The more time we spend debating whether to adopt a technology that undoubtedly will be adopted, the less we will have to consider more relevant issues. We need to know, for example, how to respond to the promise of taller, smarter, healthier, cuter, stronger, and more loving children before commercial providers begin rolling out their marketing campaigns.

The author offers a series of rebuttals. Do not be confused by the paragraphing. Many of the points can be collapsed into a single paragraph. As mentioned earlier: the stylistics employed in editorials or current affairs magazines sometimes (or often) differs from the methods taught during GP or O-level English lessons. Neither is wrong. But that’s an entirely different topic. We won’t be discussing essay writing skills here.

 Some points one can apply from these last few paragraphs are
a) the benefits outweight the ethical concerns  – healing the sick is better than worrying about eugenic. (This point definitely needs more substantiation!)
b) Rather than limiting science, education and affordability should be addressed instead.

 Generally, this article will probably find its way into several schools’ reading packages for Science and Tech. Good points are provided but as this is not a ‘GP essay’, some points lack sufficient substantiation. A  well-guided class discussions and/or a good tutor should provide the necessary follow-up. The absence of these is perhaps why students sometimes feel they read a lot but still find it difficult to apply the points for their essays.


At Knowledge Skills, we provide structured notes that highlights the necessary points, evaluation and examples needed by the student to write coherent and effective essays and AQs.

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