Genetic Engineering

Genetic engineering, also known as genetic modification (GM), is the process of modifying an organism’s genome. This can be done by removing the genes within an organism and inserting it into another organism. The inserted gene is typically responsible for a desirable characteristic.

  • The DNA of the host organism that contains DNA from another organism is called recombinant DNA.
  • The organism that receives the genetic material becomes a genetically modified organism.

Uses of Genetic Engineering

GM crops

Foreign genes can be transferred into crops, to produce genetically modified (GM) crops. The purpose of creating GM crops is usually to improve food production, as GM crops produce a greater yield than normal crops. For example, plants can be genetically modified to make them:

  • Resistant to pests (they contain genes that kill the pests)
  • Produce bigger and higher quality fruit that last longer
  • Resistant to drought, so they can be grown in drier conditions

Some GM crops are resistant to certain herbicides. So, when farmers spray fields to kill weeds, the GM crops will not be harmed.

Many people believe that GM crops are harmful to insects and other plants. There are also concerns about the long-term effects of eating GM crops.

Producing human insulin

Insulin is a hormone that is involved in human glucose regulation. People who have type 1 diabetes are unable to produce insulin, so their blood glucose level becomes high. This can be treated by regularly injecting insulin.

Bacteria have been genetically modified to produce insulin, by inserting the human gene for insulin into them. This insulin can be purified and used to treat type 1 diabetes.

Treating inherited disorders

Researchers are looking at ways to use genetic modification to treat inherited disorders, such as:

  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Polydactyly
  • Sickle cell anaemia

The long-term effects of this type of treatment are currently unknown. For example, we don’t know if modifying genes will affect other genes.