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 from one organism and inserting them into another. The inserted gene is typically responsible for a desirable characteristic.

  • DNA that has been formed by combining genetic material from multiple sources, often different species, 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 main purpose of creating GM crops is usually to improve food production, as GM crops can produce a greater yield than conventional crops. For example, plants can be genetically modified to make them:

  • Resistant to pests (containing genes that deter or kill the pests)
  • Produce bigger and higher quality fruit that last longer
  • Resistant to drought, allowing them to thrive in drier conditions

Some GM crops are resistant to specific herbicides, so they remain unharmed when farmers spray fields to kill weeds.

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 insulin gene 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 specific genes will impact other genes.

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