Genetic Engineering

By Abby Ciesielczyk

What is Genetic Engineering?

It is the process of adding and/or removing a number of genes from an organism. The goal is to change the DNA coding to create a specific trait that was not originally part of that organism. The results of genetic engineering can be found in some aspects of our daily lives. Common examples include crops that resist pesticide, certain insects and/or different oil content.

To Understand How Genetic Engineering Works, One Must Understand the Basics...

DNA is composed of double-helical structure of nucleotides. Their structure consists of a phosphate group, deoxyribose sugar and a base. There are 4 different types of bases; adenine (A), thymine (T), cytosine (C) and guanine (G). As can only pair with Ts and Cs can only pair with Gs, with opposite bases facing each other on opposing strands. A section of nucleotides is called a gene. Usually, one gene codes for one section of a chromosome that expresses one trait. Specifically, the nucleotides code for certain amino acids which tell the proteins how to fold and act, which therefore expresses a certain [Above - structure of DNA]

trait or function. However, DNA by itself would never be able to do anything without RNA, which transcribes the DNA and does all of the actual work. DNA is more or less of a blueprint.

Codes look a little something like this: CTTGCTAGTAGA. If you have the coding of one DNA strand, you also have the coding of the other because they come in pairs. Genetic engineers use this code to identify similarities between species and members of the same species. They can also search for differences to help diagnose genetic diseases and illnesses. Additionally, these base pairs are universal to all organisms.

What is the Process When Adding a Gene?

DNA naturally "zips" and "unzips" when it replicates itself. Genetic engineers use this to their advantage and, to put it simply, insert or remove the nucleotides that create the code for the desired trait. When adding a gene, they must create a transgenic organism. First, the engineers extract the gene from an organism that naturally shows the trait. Using a process called PCR, which stands for Polymerase Chain Reaction, the engineers can isolate the gene and copy it a million times over to make sure that there is enough of it to work with. Once they have the desired trait, it is inserted into an extracted plasmid, which is a small circular piece of DNA. Then the plasmid is inserted back into a vector (usually yeast or a type of harmless bacteria). Then the vector is copied, most commonly through a culture or through natural asexual reproduction.

Process of Creating Insulin

[Called Humulin, this form of human insulin is genetically modified from a yeast or bacterium cell. After additionally fermentation and purification processes, it is bottled and shipped for those with diabetes that cannot make their own insulin.]

Uses of Genetic Engineering in Real Life

  • Human insulin - "Humulin"
  • Genetically pest resistant foods
  • Herbicide/pesticide resistant foods
  • Larger, more abundant foods
  • Modifying goats and cows to a) produce more milk and/or b) produce certain proteins and nutrients in their milk
  • Glow in the dark organisms to track specific data
  • And many more...

My Reaction

I found this project intriguing because the possibilities of genetic engineering are endless. While there are obvious controversial issues with it, there are also fantastical aspects to it, such as bioluminescent plants, which I would find quite wonderful as I'm a huge sci-fi and fantasy fan. Sometime in the future, this could additionally become useful for 'curing' genetic diseases with a greater success rate.

Citations

"PCR." Learn.Genetics.Utah.Edu. University of Utah Health Sciences, n.d. Web. 13 May 2016. <http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/labs/pcr/>.

"What Is Genetic Engineering and How Does It Work?"AgBiosafety.UNL.Edu. University of Nebraska-Lincoln, n.d. Web. 13 May 2016. <http://agbiosafety.unl.edu/basic_genetics.shtml>.

"What Is Genetic Engineering?" YourGenome.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 May 2016. <http://www.yourgenome.org/facts/what-is-genetic-engineering>.


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