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    Genetic Engineering
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    Background Information


    Genetic engineering applies to the direct manipulation of an organism's genes. Genetic engineering is different from traditional breeding, where the organism's genes are manipulated indirectly. Genetic engineering uses the techniques of molecular cloning and transformation to alter the structure and characteristics of genes directly.


    Genetic engineering, or GE, is a branch of biology. It focuses on making food, animals and plants better adapted to the need of humans. It does this by tweaking genes. Some people see a problem in this.

    Genetic Engineering is when scientists can duplicate and can add on genes to the animal's chromosomes to make meat more satisfying, but some people see a problem in this. Some people find that Genetic engineering is disturbing because some of the animal’s bodies may have traces of infectious diseases.

    There is a risk that some genetically modified (GM) organisms may be better adapted to some niche in nature, and will take away some space of another organism. It could also be that some of the genetic modifications leak into unengineered plants. Many people do not think so, however. They feel the risks do not outweigh the benefits of GE.

    Common genetic modifications are that some plants produce pesticides and fungicides themselves, or that they spoil only later on. Genetic engineering is also used to clone animals. The process of genetic engineering is a common topic of debate among scientists and scholars alike.

    GM crop debate: We can now produce and use GM and GE seeds. Some large countries like India and China have already decided that GM farming is what they need to feed their populations of the future. Other countries are still debating the issue. This debate involves scientists, farmers, politicians, companies and UN agencies. Even those involved in the production of GM seedlings are not in total agreement.

    Topics of Interest

    Genetic engineering, recombinant DNA technology, genetic modification/manipulation (GM) and gene splicing are terms that apply to the direct manipulation of an organism's genes. Genetic engineering is different from traditional breeding, where the organism's genes are manipulated indirectly. Genetic engineering uses the techniques of molecular cloning and transformation to alter the structure and characteristics of genes directly. Genetic engineering techniques have found some successes in numerous applications. Some examples are in improving crop technology, the manufacture of synthetic human insulin through the use of modified bacteria, the manufacture of erythropoietin in hamster ovary cells, and the production of new types of experimental mice such as the oncomouse (cancer mouse) for research.

    The term "genetic engineering" was coined in Jack Williamson's science fiction novel Dragon's Island, published in 1951, one year before DNA's role in heredity was confirmed in 1952 by Alfred Hershey and Martha Chase and two years before James Watson and Francis Crick showed that DNA has a double-helix structure.

    There are a number of ways through which genetic engineering is accomplished. Essentially, the process has five main steps.

    • Isolation of the genes of interest
    • Insertion of the genes into a transfer vector
    • Transfer of the vector to the organism to be modified
    • Transformation of the cells of the organism
    • Selection of the genetically modified organism (GMO) from those that have not been successfully modified

    Applications: The first genetically engineered medicine was synthetic human insulin, approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration in 1982. Another early application of genetic engineering was to create human growth hormone as replacement for a compound that was previously extracted from human cadavers. In 1987 the FDA approved the first genetically engineered vaccine for humans, for hepatitis B. Since these early uses of the technology in medicine, the use of GM has gradually expanded to supply a number of other drugs and vaccines. One of the best-known applications of genetic engineering is the creation of GMOs for food use (genetically modified foods); such foods resist insect pests, bacterial or fungal infection, resist herbicides to improve yield, have longer freshness than otherwise, or have superior nutritional value. In materials science, a genetically modified virus has been used to construct a more environmentally friendly lithium-ion battery. A new type of slowly growing artform is being established via gene engineering and manipulation. Bioart, an artistic form, uses gene engineering to create new art forms that both educate the public about genetics and create living artforms.

    Genetic engineering and research: Although there has been a revolution in the biological sciences in the past twenty years, there is still a great deal that remains to be discovered. The completion of the sequencing of the human genome, as well as the genomes of most agriculturally and scientifically important animals and plants, has increased the possibilities of genetic research immeasurably. Expedient and inexpensive access to comprehensive genetic data has become a reality with billions of sequenced nucleotides already online and annotated.

    Human genetic engineering is the modification of an individual's genotype with the aim of choosing the phenotype of a newborn or changing the existing phenotype of a child or adult. It holds the promise of curing genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis and increasing the immunity of people to viruses. It is speculated that genetic engineering could be used to change physical appearance, metabolism, and even improve mental faculties like memory and intelligence, although for now these uses are relegated to science fiction.

    Advantages and disadvantages: The modification of the DNA structures of agricultural crops can increase the growth rates and even resistance to different diseases caused by pathogens and parasites. This is extremely beneficial as it can greatly increase the production of food sources with the usage of fewer resources that would be required to host the world's growing populations. These modified crops would also reduce the usage of chemicals, such as fertilizers and pesticides, and therefore decrease the severity and frequency of the damages produced by these chemical pollution. Domesticated animals can undergo the same mechanism. Genetic engineering can also increase the genetic diversity of species populations, especially those that are classified as being endangered. Increase in genetic diversity would enabled these organisms to evolve more efficiently that would allow better adaptation to the ecosystems they inhabit. It would also reduce the vulnerability of certain diseases produced by pathogens, as well as decrease the risk of inbreeding that would produce infertile youths. Genetic engineering can be performed to increase to the efficiency of the ecosystem services provided by the other organisms. For example, the modification of a tree's genes could perhaps increase the root systems of these organisms reduce the damage produced by flood phenomena through flood mitigation.

    Biotechnology is technology based on biology, agriculture, food science, and medicine. Modern use of the term usually refers to genetic engineering as well as cell- and tissue culture technologies. However, the concept encompasses a wider range and history of procedures for modifying living organisms according to human purposes, going back to domestication of animals, cultivation of plants and "improvements" to these through breeding programs that employ artificial selection and hybridization. By comparison to biotechnology, bioengineering is generally thought of as a related field with its emphasis more on mechanical and higher systems approaches to interfacing with and exploiting living things.

    Cloning in biology is the process of producing populations of genetically-identical individuals that occurs in nature when organisms such as bacteria, insects or plants reproduce asexually. Cloning in biotechnology refers to processes used to create copies of DNA fragments (molecular cloning), cells (cell cloning), or organisms. The term also refers to the production of multiple copies of a product such as digital media or software.

    A transgene is a gene or genetic material that has been transferred naturally or by any of a number of genetic engineering techniques from one organism to another.

    Genetically modified bacteria were the first organisms to be modified in the laboratory, due to their simple genetics. These organisms are now used for several purposes, and are particularly important in producing large amounts of pure human proteins for use in medicine

    A genetically modified organism (GMO) or genetically engineered organism (GEO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. These techniques, generally known as recombinant DNA technology, use DNA molecules from different sources, which are combined into one molecule to create a new set of genes. This DNA is then transferred into an organism, giving it modified or novel genes. Transgenic organisms, a subset of GMOs, are organisms which have inserted DNA that originated in a different species. Some GMOs contain no DNA from other species and are therefore not transgenic but cisgenic.

    Source: Wikipedia (All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License and Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)

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    Last updated: June 2013
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