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Genetic Engineering – The Technology of 21st Century
Genetic engineering today is no longer a new term for the world. New inventions of genetic engineering are noticed every day in newspapers, televisions, magazines. Genetic engineering can be described as the practice of manipulating an organism’s genes to produce a desired result. Other techniques that fall into this category are: recombinant DNA technology, genetic modification (GM) and gene splicing.
The roots of genetic engineering go back to ancient times. The Bible also sheds light on genetic engineering where selective breeding is mentioned. Modern genetic engineering began in 1973 when Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen used enzymes to cut a bacterial plasmid and inserted another strand of DNA into the gap created. Both pieces of DNA were obtained from the same type of bacteria. This step became the milestone in the history of genetic engineering. As recently as 1990, a young child with an extremely weak immune system received gene therapy in which some of her white blood cells were genetically engineered and reintroduced into her bloodstream so that her immune system to function properly.
Genetic engineers hope that with enough knowledge and experimentation, it will be possible in the future to create “custom-made” organisms. This will lead to new innovations, including perhaps customized bacteria to clean up chemical spills, or fruit trees that bear different types of fruit in different seasons. In this way, new types of organisms and plants can develop.
Genetic engineering requires three elements: the gene to be transferred, a host cell into which the gene is introduced, and a vector to carry out the transfer. First of all, the genes needed to be manipulated must be ‘insulated’ from the main DNA helix. The genes are then ‘inserted’ into a transfer medium such as a plasmid. Third, the transfer medium (eg plasmid) is introduced into the organism to be modified. The next step is transformation of the element where several different methods including DNA weapons, bacterial transformation and viral introduction can be used to apply the transfer medium to the new organism. Finally, a separation phase occurs, where the genetically modified organism (GMO) is isolated from other organisms that have not been successfully modified.
Genetic engineering has affected every field of life, be it agriculture, food and processing industry, other commercial industries, etc. We will discuss them one by one.
1. Applications in Agriculture
With the help of genetic engineering it would be possible to prepare clones of genetically engineered plants and animals of agricultural importance with desirable characteristics. This would increase the nutritional value of plant and animal foods. Genetic engineering could lead to the development of plants that would fix nitrogen directly from the atmosphere, instead of expensive fertilizers. Creating nitrogen-fixing bacteria that can live in the roots of agricultural plants would make it unnecessary to fertilize fields. The production of these self-fertilizing food crops could usher in a new green revolution. Genetic engineering can create microorganisms that can be used for biological control of harmful pathogens, insect pests, etc.
2. Environmental Applications
Genetically modified microorganisms can be used to degrade waste, in sewage, oil spills, etc. Scientists at New York’s General Electric Laboratories have added plasmids to create strains of Pseudomonas that can break down a variety of hydrocarbons and are now being used to clean up oil spills. It can degrade 60% of crude oil, while the four parents from which it is derived degrade only a few components.
3. Industrial Applications
Industrial applications of recombinant DNA technology include the synthesis of substances of commercial importance in industry and pharmacy, the improvement of existing fermentation processes, and the production of proteins from waste.
4. Medical applications
Among the medical applications of genetic engineering are the production of hormones, vaccines, interferon; enzymes, antibodies, antibiotics and vitamins, and in gene therapy for some hereditary diseases.
The hormone insulin is currently produced commercially by extracting it from the pancreas of cows and pigs. However, about 5% of patients suffer from allergic reactions to animal-produced insulin due to its slight structural difference from human insulin. Human insulin genes are implanted in bacteria which, therefore, become capable of synthesizing insulin. Bacterial insulin is identical to human insulin, as it is encoded by human genes.
Injecting an animal with an inactivated virus stimulates it to produce antibodies against viral proteins. These antibodies protect the animal against infection by the same virus by binding to the virus. Phagocytic cells then remove the virus. Vaccines are produced by growing the disease-producing organism in large quantities. This process is often dangerous or impossible. Moreover, there are difficulties in making the vaccine harmless.
Interferons are virus-induced proteins produced by virus-infected cells. They appear to be the body’s first line of defense against viruses. The interferon response is much faster than the antibody response. Interferons have antiviral action. A type of interferon may work. Against many different viruses, ie it is not virus specific. However, it is species specific. Interferon from one organism does not protect the cells of another organism against viruses. Interferon provides natural protection against viral diseases such as hepatitis and influenza. It also appears to be effective against some types of cancer, particularly breast and lymph node cancer. Natural interferon is collected from human blood cells and other tissues. It is produced in very small quantities.
The enzyme urokinase, which is used to dissolve blood clots, is produced by genetically modified microorganisms.
One of the goals of genetic engineering is the production of hybridomas. These are long-lived cells that can produce antibodies to be used against disease.
5. Genetic therapy for the treatment of hereditary diseases
Previous gene transplant experiments involved transplanting genes in vitro into isolated cells or bacteria. Gene transplant experiments have now been extended to live animals.
6. In the sense of biological processes
Genetic engineering techniques have been used to gain basic knowledge about – biological processes such as gene structure and expression, chromosome mapping, cell differentiation and integration of viral genomes. This could lead to a better understanding of the genetics of plants and animals, and eventually humans.
7. Human applications
One of the most exciting potential applications of genetic engineering involves the treatment of genetic disorders. Medical scientists now know of about 3,000 disorders that arise due to errors in an individual’s DNA. Conditions such as sickle cell anemia, Tay-Sachs disease, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Huntington’s chorea, cystic fibrosis, and Lesch-Nyhan syndrome result from the loss, misinsertion, or alteration of a single nitrogenous base in a DNA molecule. -‘s. Genetic engineering makes it possible for scientists to provide individuals who lack a particular gene with exact copies of that gene. The proposal for human cloning is still expected to come to the floor. Genetic engineering has benefited couples who are infertile.
The safe guards of genetic engineering
General safeguards for recombinant DNA research are described below:
1. Genes coding for the synthesis of toxins or antibiotics should not be introduced into bacteria without proper precautions.
2. Animal genes, animal viruses or tumor viruses should also not be introduced into bacteria without proper measures.
3. Laboratory premises should be equipped to reduce the ‘chance’ of escape of pathogenic microorganisms by using microbial safety cabinets, hoods, negative pressure laboratories, special traps in drain lines and vacuum lines.
4. The use of microorganisms that occupy special ecological zones such as hot springs and salt water should be encouraged. If such organisms escape, they will not be able to survive.
5. The use of non-conjugative plasmids as plasmid cloning vectors is recommended as such plasmids are unable to promote their transfer by conjugation.
The dangers of genetic engineering
Recombinant DNA research involves potential risks. Genetic engineering can create dangerous new life forms, either accidentally or on purpose. A host microorganism can acquire harmful characteristics as a result of the introduction of foreign genes. If disease-carrying microorganisms formed as a result of genetic manipulation escaped from laboratories, they could cause a variety of diseases. For example, Streptococcus, a bacterium that causes rheumatic fever, scarlet fever, strep throat, and kidney disease, never acquired resistance to penicillin in nature. If a plasmid carrying a gene for penicillin resistance is introduced into Streptococcus, it will give the bacterium resistance to penicillin. Penicillin would now become ineffective against the resistant organism.
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