Everything You Need to Know About Genetic Engineering
When we think of genetic engineering, we tend to think of a Sci-Fi Hollywood movie where anything is possible. Well, the analogy might be correct. But at the base level, we have a
simple definition of genetic engineering.
What is genetic engineering?
A basic explanation of genetic engineering is that it gives us the power to suitable alter the genome of an organism. It involves artificially changing the DNA of an organism, such as bacteria or yeast, by adding in new genetic material.
This can be done by inserting a gene from another foreign organism.
The process is based on experiments involving inserting genes that code for antibiotic resistance into the DNA of plasmids in bacteria, which could then be passed on to other bacteria. The new types of bacteria are not considered GMOs unless they were specifically designed by humans. These "mutant" bacteria reproduce more easily than the parent species and survive where they are not usually found.
The result of genetic modification has yielded outcomes that have proven to be phenomenal. Altering the genetic makeup of cells allows for unique organisms or enhancements within the target organism.
This experiment has been conducted on various organisms. Some have shown tremendous success in being commercially made available. At the same time, others are still within the realm of the R&D labs, where further tests may go on to prove the viability of their
What are the 5 genetic engineering techniques?
Manipulating the genes of the target organism can take shape in different formats. Let us look at these in detail.
1 – Transformation
In this method, the cell's organic component is directly modified. This is achieved by passing the genetic material of the source organism cell into the cell membrane of the target organism cell. The subsequent processes of cooling the cell membrane and them exposing it to heat
shock. This allows the passing of the cell components through the walls of the cell membrane.
2 – Transfection
It is the in-vitro transfer of the source cell component into the cultured animal cells of the target organism. The most common transfection method is to use chemical-based compounds that are acted upon to facilitate the entry of the cell DNA into the target organism. Other methods of transfection involve the use of electroporation and biolistics.
3 – Transduction
In this method, the foreign DNA is passed on by a virus and into the host organism. The process is usually carried out using a virus that is capable of penetrating through the cell membrane through its attachment proteins. A virus with a modified vector may be used to carry foreign DNA into the host cells.
4 – Regeneration
This method of genetic engineering is accomplished by combining either DNA from another organism or the DNA of related organisms. They are then used to regenerate the organism's characteristic features. This is achieved by introducing a combination of the host and donor's genetic material or vice versa.
5 – Gene Confirmation
This involves testing the inserted DNA into the target organism's cell. This is needed to
ensure that the tissues and other parts of the organism's body will respond favorably or as
expected to the inserted DNA. Various tests will look for and measure the altered material in the cell. They will also identify RNA processing patterns and gene expression to give more well-rounded data about how the inserted DNA is behaving with the tissues of the target organism.
What are the applications of genetic engineering?
1 - Agriculture
With Genetic engineering, one can grow crops that are resistant to disease, drought, and the salinity of the soil. These genetically engineered plants were first grown in 1988. Plants have been genetically modified to include genes that are foreign to their species. These foreign genes improve their resistance against pests, weeds, and other plants.
Scientists use genetic engineering to modify the DNA of plants in a laboratory, then grow the plants in fields. Some of the most common genetically engineered plants are corn and
soybeans. Having different characteristics for agricultural purposes is one benefit of this technology.
Even pesticides are altered at the cell DNA level to make them conducive to agricultural practices. In the cornfields, there are field pests like the larvae of corn rootworms. The larvae eat the root and leaves of corn, making it difficult for farmers to grow a good crop.
In the past, farmers had to use insecticide poisoning or other methods in order to control them. Nowadays, this unwanted pest is kept under control by releasing genetically engineered insecticides that kill only the larvae without harming other animals or plant life.
2 - Medicine
Through a proper genetic engineering approach, we can quickly develop drugs to cure diseases. For example, some diseases can now be cured through genetic engineering of a specific chemical compound or drug that is used to treat that specific neurodegenerative
disease. Genetic engineering can be used in treating many diseases caused by a single gene defect or inherited from parents.
There are many examples of gene therapy. Gene therapy can be used to fix a specific gene in an individual suffering from a certain disease. The "transduced" cells are given back to the individual after the treatment is finished for him or her to express the normal gene.
One example is sickle cell disease, which is caused by abnormal hemoglobin genes inherited from parents that cause abnormal red blood cells to form, leading to painful and
life-threatening complications in individuals with this genetic disorder. Gene therapy has been used in these patients to correct the hemoglobin genes with those of the patients.
Gene therapy is also used in the treatment of cystic fibrosis. Patients suffering from cystic fibrosis are given a drug that contains many genes that are absent or mutated in normal individuals. The drug replaces and repairs the damaged gene in the patient.
3 - Safety
Genetic engineering can provide us with safe and effective vaccines, bacteria, and fungi. By modifying the genes of a certain organism, we can develop drugs or vaccines that are highly effective and less harmful to the body. Through genetic engineering, scientists have been able
to create a much safer vaccine for hepatitis B, which has no side effects. The benefit is greater scientific knowledge and safer vaccines for people.
4 - Industrial manufacturing
Did you know that genetic engineering has a hand in improving the yield, quality, and volume of products manufactured in certain industries? This branch of molecular biochemistry has been a driving force in producing recombinant microorganisms with a diverse array of industrial applications.
Take the case of hydrocarbon guzzling microbes. They have been proven to be effective in cleaning up the mess left behind by oil spills in oceans and water bodies.
The key ingredients in present-day laundry detergents and contact lens water, too, have genetically modified enzymes. The contact lens solution is produced by utilizing the plant (papain) and animal (pancreatin, trypsin, and chymotrypsin) protease.
5 – Cloning (?)
Of course, in addition to this, we see many landmark experiments like Dolly, the world's first cloned animal. Gosling used genetic engineering to produce Dolly the sheep, the first animal cloned from adult cells. This was done in 1996 by Ian Wilmut, Thomas, and William D.F. Sanger, and others at the Roslin Institute of the University of Edinburgh. It lived 6 years and paved the way for many other cloning experiments. These next phases cloned rats, mice, cats, dogs, monkeys, and even wolves!
What are the advantages of genetic engineering?
1 - Enhanced crop production
Through genetic engineering, scientists can modify the DNA of the plant and make it resistant to drought. This frees farmers from having to grow different crops under different
conditions. They can now plant only one variety of a crop that is resistant to drought, pest, or disease.
Some examples of GMOs or genetically modified organisms include GMO tomatoes. They have a much higher shelf life than organic tomatoes. Pest-resistant GMO potatoes lead to a higher yield.
Farmers get higher prices and augment their livelihood with better income levels. Plus, the burgeoning general population can consume more food products without having to worry about increasing yield from the limited agricultural land.
2 - Better resistance to diseases
Through genetic engineering, scientists get the power to alter the DNA of a certain microorganism. This helps them produce drugs that are much more effective and less harmful to the body compared to other traditional solutions.
They can create bacteria that are resistant to viruses by inserting genes from viruses into bacteria which makes the bacteria more resistant.
Do you know that synthetic insulin production today is derived from genetically altered
e-coli? Yes, you heard that right! Before this, insulin used to be derived from the pancreas of pigs and other animals.
3 - The development of drugs
Genetic engineering allows scientists to quickly develop drugs for treating diseases and improving the body's defense mechanism by replacing and repairing a mutated gene.
In fact, the first successful case of genetic mutation finds a mention in this category of practical applications. Boyer and Cohen are attributed to creating the e-coli in 1973 that had the genes to fight antibiotic resistance. It was a watershed moment for molecular genetics and biochemistry.
4 - It helps in preserving the environment
Genetic engineering helps to preserve the environment. With it, we can harvest resources that would otherwise be wasted. Say, for example, there is a plant species endemic to an area, but it is no longer found in that particular area. Through genetic engineering, we can develop a plant that is resistant to drought or heat, and this will help preserve the ecosystem.
Scientists can produce less damaging substances like pesticides and herbicides. They can also make plant tissues more resistant to injury. They can also change the plants, so it is not
affected by pests or diseases as much.
5 - Better use and yield of land for crop production
Through genetic engineering, farmers can grow only one variety of a plant that is resistant to both pests and diseases. This will allow them to save the land and have better crop yields.
We're not saying that it's a silver bullet for food security, but it certainly helps.
With the growing population, we only have a limited land parcel available for farming purposes. If it were not for genetic engineering, who knows? The world may have been facing a shortage of food in staple crops like rice, wheat, corn, and maize.
What are the challenges in the field of genetic engineering?
1 - Lack of regulations
Though the benefits of genetic engineering are great, there could be several risks involved. New applications and new concerns have to be addressed by governments and regulatory bodies. If a new product is not tested in a protocol before production begins, it can cause unknown side effects. Scientists often don't know the long-term effects of genetic modification on various species. To tackle this problem, there have to be proper guidelines and regulations in place so that products are tested properly before being produced.
2 - The dark side of unknown effects
There are also other unforeseen risks that could cause unknown side effects. Consider the
example of an antibiotic-resistant gene introduced in a bacterium. This bacteria may not just become resistant to the antibiotic, but it may also cause side effects on other types of bacteria.
3 - Environmental impacts
Genetic engineering also has an impact on the environment. There may be unintended effects that can affect wildlife and other organisms. If genetic engineering gives rise to new species, these may affect other species in a negative way.
4 - The use of genetically modified organisms in food production
The overuse of genetically modified organisms may cause environmental changes. If a
species is introduced and it becomes popular because of its benefits, it can alter the organic ecosystem. It can help possibly replace a natural species, thereby altering the entire
Genetic engineering is a highly relevant field in today's modern world. It has led to the development of many different products and some controversial ones as well. It could help
save the world from hunger, famine, and other concerns that plague this planet. But adequate study and research will be needed. This is because there are quite a few aspects of the field that is beyond the scope of human intelligence.
Content Authored By: Ayushi Hisaria