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How Does Genetic Engineering Work?

written by: Rishi Prakash•edited by: lrohner•updated: 12/30/2010

In modern biotechnology, there are various applications of genetic engineering. How does genetic engineering work? Read the following article and unravel the secret.

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    Genetic Engineering

    Genetic engineering is one of the most advanced technologies in the field of science. After the discovery of DNA structure by Watson and Crick in 1953, scientists researched more on the structure and function of DNA that is present in every cell, how it codes for a gene and, finally, how an organism functions.

    In every organism, the genetic code is made up of four letters -- A, T, G and C. The entire genome in humans has approximately 3 billion base pairs or even more. The genome consists of various kinds of genes for performing different functions. For example, specific genes control hair color, and eye color.

    One of the historic discoveries of this generation is that DNA from one organism if transferred properly will function in other organism in the similar manner. This new technology through which genes are transferred from one organism to another is called genetic engineering. In other words, genetic engineering is a method whereby genes that perform specific functions in a cell are cut from one organism’s cell and joined into another. This process allows the other organism to perform new functions after receiving foreign genes.

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    How does genetic engineering work? Well there are several tools which are required for the process:

    • DNA, which is cut with the help of restriction enzyme
    • Genes are transported in the region of plasmids
    • Ligase enzyme

    The genes of interest from an organism are cut using a restriction enzyme. The genes that are cut are inserted into plasmids. Before insertion, the plasmids are cut using restriction enzyme. The foreign genes are inserted into the plasmids and sealed using the ligase enzyme. The new plasmid is transferred into an agrobacterium for culture. The agrobacterium is then transferred to the plant or animal cell.

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    Applications of Genetic Engineering

    Genetic engineering has various applications in today’s modern biotechnology. For industrial purposes, the technique may involve microorganisms as well as higher organisms. Following are some of the applications, which are readily being used by scientists worldwide.

    Agricultural Applications:

    Genetic engineering for controlling pests: For this, different genes are inserted into plants for the purpose of providing plants the ability to fight off pests. Genes that are inserted into plant cells produce natural toxins to kill or ward off pests.

    Human Applications:

    One of the potential applications of genetic engineering is the treatment of genetic disorders. About 3,000 disorders have been listed, which are caused by errors in individual’s DNA. Some of the disorders include sickle-cell anemia, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Tay-Sachs disease and Huntington's chorea among others. With the use of genetic engineering techniques, scientists provide foreign genes to individuals that lack a certain gene to correct the problem.