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Introduction to Genetic Engineering

Introduction to Genetic Engineering

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Published by Sarah Syazwani

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Published by: Sarah Syazwani on Jun 25, 2012
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 Introduction to Genetic Engineering
Probably the most important scientific event of the 20th century was the 1953discovery, by James Watson and Francis Crick, of the structure of the DNA moleculewhich is the basis of heredity. Darwin had shown how species might have changedover eons by slow, random natural processes. Watson and Crick gave us the key tomoving evolution along much faster, to suit our own purposes. (Whether thebiological world is governed by God's plan or Darwin's is a matter which continues todivide people, but nothing in this report should require you to change your own view!)A DNA molecule is like a string of letters, using a four letter alphabet, easily copiedwhen living cells reproduce. The sequences of letters make sentences, which we callgenes. These sentences are the instructions for making and operating a living cell.There are two kinds of sequences. One kind of gene gives a cell the necessaryinstructions for making one of the various kinds of protein, used for structures,enzymes, signals, all the basic mechanisms of life. The other kind of sequence is usedas a control mechanism so that a cell can tell when to make which proteins and whento do something else.By 1966, scientists had learned the languageof protein-making gene sequences. This language is the same for all forms of life. That means that a human gene sentence formaking insulin, a kind of protein, could be transferred to, say, a yeast cell, and thenthe yeast cell could equally well make human insulin.The other gene sequences, the control sequences, are like switches that turn othergenes on or off. A control sequence could have different results in differentorganisms, just as an electrical switch can produce a different result in a car or in anoil burner. In particular, it could control a completely different protein-making gene.Some control genes are used to turn another gene on, and others are used to turnanother gene off, and some control genes turn other control genes on or off.In a simple case, suppose a cell needs protein A, but not too much. If the gene thattells the cell to make protein A is turned on, eventually the control gene will sense thatthere is lots of protein A available, so it will turn off the protein making gene. Laterwhen the supply of protein A has diminished, the control gene will relent and let theprotein making gene turn back on.
There are more complicated control arrangements. For example, the gene whichmakes insulin is turned on in pancreas cells but not in liver cells.To understand the connection between a gene and its function requires lots of scientific work, enough to keep biologists busy for a very long time. Even in thesimplest cases, one first needs to know what sequence of letters make up the protein-making gene, and what sequences make up the control genes which turn it on or off,as well as where they are situated on the chromosome;one needs to know what signals activate the control genes; then one needs to know the chemical reactions inwhich the protein molecule takes part, and finally one needs to know how thosechemical reactions relate to some activity of the cell. Each different organism has tensof thousands of different genes and makes a huge number of proteins. Life isenormously complex.Slowly but surely, more and more secrets of living things are being uncovered.Hundreds of genes are now understood completely. There are many more genes whichhave been discovered and associated with some function, but not yet understood verywell.It is now possible to transfer a gene from the DNA of one species to the DNA of another species. For cases in which scientists know exactly what a gene does andexactly how it does it, it is now possible to express that function in another species.That is genetic engineering.There are practical applications of this knowledge. The first practical applicationswere in medicine, using genetically modified bacteria to make medical drugs such asinterferon, human growth hormone and human insulin. The second kind of applicationwas to modify organisms for agricultural purposes. It is this second application thatwill occupy us now.to top 
Some Early Fruits of Transgenic Agriculture
Let's see what some of these agricultural applications have been and what they mightbe in the future.
Rice with Vitamin A
Rice does not contain very much vitamin A. In the poorer partsof Asia, where rice is almost the only food of the ruralpopulation, a vitamin A deficiency is common, leading to earlyblindness. Now Drs. Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer, two geneticengineers, have transferred the genes for vitamin Arom other species into rice, creating a strain of rice which is rich in vitaminA -- the amount of rice in a typical third world diet could provideabout fifteen percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A, sufficient to prevent blindness. Now that a few plantswith this trait have been created, they are being cross bred withother varieties of rice using conventional breeding techniques, ashas been done for centuries. Such cross breeding could furtherincrease the vitamin A content.The development of rice with vitamin A was carried out at theSwiss Federal Institute of Technology, making free use of patented technology and of the earlier research which hadestablished the basic facts about how plants synthesize vitamins.The corporations holding the various patents all agreed to cost-free use of their patents as long as the rice was to be providedfree to poor third-world farmers. The new rice strain was thenturned over to the International Rice Research Institute, a non-profit organization based in the Philippines, where it will beevaluated for its adaptability to various growing conditions, foodsafety, and environmental impacts, etc. The IRRI preservesthousands of varieties of rice with different genetic characteristics, so the new straincan be cross bred to produce varieties suitable for almost any locality.The result is that rural Asians can soon expect to retain normal eyesight.Genetic engineers also intend to produce a rice variety rich in iron, because iron-deficiency anemia is a common problem in the same rural populations. But this is amore difficult problem than increasing rice's vitamin A content. Rice contains a

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