11:32 am - Monday May 28, 2012

Genetic Engineering

Genetic engineering, also called genetic modification, is the direct human manipulation of an organism’s genome using modern DNA technology. It involves the introduction of foreign DNA or synthetic genes into the organism of interest. The introduction of new DNA does not require the use of classical genetic methods, however traditional breeding methods are typically used for the propagation of recombinant organisms.

Definition of Genetic Engineering

genetic engineeringAn organism that is generated through the introduction of recombinant DNA is considered to be a genetically modified organism. The first organisms genetically engineered were bacteria in 1973 and then mice in 1974. Insulin-producing bacteria were commercialized in 1982 and genetically modified food has been sold since 1994.

The most common form of genetic engineering involves the insertion of new genetic material at an unspecified location in the host genome. This is accomplished by isolating and copying the genetic material of interest using molecular cloning methods to generate a DNA sequence containing the required genetic elements for expression, and then inserting this construct into the host organism. Other forms of genetic engineering include gene targeting and knocking out specific genes via engineered nucleases such as zinc finger nucleases or engineered homing endonucleases

Genetic engineering techniques have been applied in numerous fields including research, biotechnology, and medicine. Medicines such as insulin and human growth hormone are now produced in bacteria, experimental mice such as the oncomouse and the knockout mouse are being used for research purposes and insect resistant and/or herbicide tolerant crops have been commercialized. Genetically engineered plants and animals capable of producing biotechnology drugs more cheaply than current methods (called pharming) are also being developed and in 2009 the FDA approved the sale of the pharmaceutical protein antithrombin produced in the milk of genetically engineered goats

Impacts of Genetic Engineering

There are many environmental issues surrounding the agricultural, farming, and ecological applications of biotechnology. Many people question the wisdom of keeping genetically altered livestock, citing the possibility that the altered genes might escape into wild gene pools, where they might have undesirable effects. Objectors to altered crops express similar concerns, also wondering how engineered pest and herbicide resistance might affect local ecology. For example, they ask if herbicide resistance would lead to increased use of dangerous herbicides to kill weeds, since farmers would no longer worry about the dangers of their crops’ overexposure to these chemicals. In addition, these people express concern that depriving insects of crops for food would, in turn, deprive birds and frogs of insect prey.

There are also many objections to the release of genetically engineered organisms into the wild. Environmentalists express misgivings about the effects of introducing new and novel organisms into a given ecological systems. They say that the effects of new organisms - or even ordinary ones with new genes - are too complex to be predicted, and potentially too dangerous to be risked.

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