What is Genetic Engineering?
Genetic engineering is the direct manipulation of an organism’s genes using biotechnology. It is a set of technologies used to change the genetic makeup of cells, including the transfer of genes within and across species boundaries to produce improved organisms. Genetic engineering also called genetic modification or genetic manipulation.
When conducting genetic engineering, the organisms that have their genetic makeup altered are referred to as genetically modified organisms or GMOs. During the process of genetic engineering, a piece or several pieces of DNA are altered to change a characteristic of the organism. If DNA is inserted, it can come from another individual with the desired characteristic, it can come from a different species or it could be artificially produced.
Unlike traditionally animal and plant breeding, which involves doing multiple crosses and then selecting for the organism with the desired phenotype(set of observable characteristics of an individual), genetic engineering takes the gene directly from one organism and inserts it in the other. This is much faster, can be used to insert any genes from any organism and prevents other undesirable genes from also being added.
The Process of Genetic Engineering
Creating a “Genetically Modified Organism“(GMO) is a multi-step process. Genetic engineers must first choose what gene they wish to insert into the organism. This is driven by what the aim is for the resultant organism and which traits we want in the GMO. This process involves the following steps:-
- Identification of an organism that exhibits the desired trait or gene of interest.
- Extracting the DNA from that organism.
- Cutting of DNA at specific locations by restriction enzymes or molecular scissors.
- Amplification (making multiple copies of a gene) of the gene of interest using PCR.
- Preparation of recombinant DNA. The source DNA as well as the vector DNA are cut with a specific restriction enzyme and later combined with ligase.
- Insertion of recombinant DNA into the host cell/organism.
- Obtaining the product by providing appropriate conditions for growing host cell/organism.
Here are some of the examples of genetically engineered foods like Bt. Cotton, modified maize etc.
Genetic engineering has applications in medicine, research, industry and agriculture. Plants have been modified for insect protection, herbicide resistance, virus resistance, enhanced nutrition, tolerance to environmental pressures and the production of edible vaccines. Most commercialised GMOs are insect resistant or herbicide tolerant crop plants. Genetically modified animals have been used for research, model animals and the production of agricultural or pharmaceutical products.
Agriculture: GMOs have been developed that modify the quality of produce by increasing the nutritional value or providing more industrially useful qualities or quantities. Plants and animals have been engineered to produce materials they do not normally make. Pharming uses crops and animals as bioreactors to produce vaccines, drug intermediates, or the drugs themselves. Cows and goats have been engineered to express drugs(a chemical which is given to people in order to treat or prevent an illness) and other proteins in their milk.
Medicine: Genetic engineering has many applications include the manufacturing of drugs, creation of model animals that mimic human conditions and gene therapy. One of the earliest uses of genetic engineering was to mass-produce human insulin in bacteria. Genetic engineering could potentially fix severe genetic disorders in humans by replacing the defective gene with a functioning one.
Research: Organisms are genetically engineered to discover the functions of certain genes. These experiments generally involve loss of function, the gain of function, tracking and expression. GMOs are used to study normal physiology and development, the study of disease and vaccine safety.
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