Genes act as instructions to make specific substances (proteins) used in the body for specific structural and physiological purposes. Genetic engineering is an advanced technique in biotechnology in which scientists select and isolate a helpful gene from one organism (donor organism) and insert it into another organism (usually a bacterium).
An organism that contains a foreign gene in its cells is called a transgenic organism. The inserted gene produces the transgenic organism’s desired product (protein).
Importance of Bacteria in Genetic Engineering
Scientist uses bacterial cell because it is straightforward to grow. It does not have an organized nucleus. The chromosome, consisting of DNA, floats in the cytoplasm. Additional circular pieces of DNA called plasmids are also in the cytoplasm.
Plasmids can be easily isolated from a bacterial cell, and a gene can be attached. Plasmid can carry the attached foreign gene into the bacterium. In this way, the plasmid acts as a carrier of a foreign gene. Another reason for using bacteria in genetic engineering is their fast reproduction rate.
Introduction of Gene into Bacterium
The first step of genetic engineering for inserting a gene into a bacterial cell is identifying and isolating the gene of the desired protein from the donor organism. An enzyme is used to cut the gene from the donor organism. The isolated gene is then attached with plasmid DNA taken from a bacterium.
The same enzyme (used for cutting the donor gene) is used to cut the plasmid DNA at a specific site so that the gene can be attached at the cut end of the plasmid. The attached gene of desired protein and the plasmid DNA is called recombinant DNA.
The recombinant DNA is Incorporated back into the same bacterium from which the plasmid was isolated. The bacterium which takes in the recombinant DNA is called a genetically modified bacterium (GM bacterium) or transgenic bacterium.
Genetic engineers change the genetic material of organisms by the removal and additional modification of genes. The organism whose genes are modified is called a Genetically Modified Organism (GMO). It is the modern method to change the characters of organisms.
For example, this process is used in crops to develop resistance in plants against disease-causing microorganisms. Similarly, edible plants are genetically modified to improve the nutritional quality of plants. Moreover, GMOs are used to prepare valuable products such as insulin, vaccines, etc. Read about Advances in Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology
Insulin is an animal protein that is produced by the pancreas. It controls the glucose level in the blood. If the pancreas does not make a product that requires the amount of insulin, the blood glucose level rises.
This condition is known as diabetes mellitus in humans. Diabetic patients need regular insulin injections to control glucose levels in the blood. Previously, insulin was Excerpted from the pancreas of animals. Nowadays, genetic engineers produce insulin by inserting its gene into bacteria.
The vaccine is a material that contains weakened or killed pathogens (disease-causing germs) and is used to produce immunity (resistance) against a disease. When a vaccine is injected into the human body, the blood cells take the weak or dead pathogens as real ones and prepare antibodies against them.
These antibodies remain in the blood. When any actual pathogen enters the body, the already present antibodies kill it immediately, and the body becomes protected from disease.
Nowadays, biotechnologists use bacteria to prepare vaccines. They identify some proteins of pathogens that do not cause disease but can stimulate blood cells to make antibodies.
APPLICATIONS OF BIOTECHNOLOGY
Four major areas in which biotechnology is applied include agriculture, food production and preservation, health, and the environment.
Biotechnology has played a revolutionary role in improving our agriculture and the production of high yields of crops. Herbicides (weed-killing chemicals) and pesticides (insect-killing chemicals) are used to eliminate crop enemies (weeds and insects). Such chemicals also cause damage to crop plants.
Using biotechnology, scientists insert weed-resistance and pest-resistance genes into the plants. Such genetically modified plants prepare proteins that harm weeds and pests/insects.
Cultivation of such genetically modified crops improves the yields of the crops and makes them safe for human use. The major crops that have been modified are maize (corn), wheat, rice, canola, potato, soybean, cotton, etc. Drought and excessive salts in the soil also harm crop productivity.
Biotechnologists are working to find genes enabling crops to tolerate such extreme conditions. Scientists in some universities have introduced a gene to raise iron content in rice and wheat. This may help to overcome an iron deficiency in food. Many biotech crops such as wheat, rice, and potato have been developed in Pakistan.
Biotechnology techniques are also used for curing diseases and improving health. The diseases are previously unavailable, for no adequate treatment can be treated using biotechnology techniques. Identification of root causes of diseases, production of medicines for fighting against diseases, curing and correcting genetic defects, etc., are the primary roles of this technology in developing better health. Various biotechnology products which are used in Pakistan to save lives include:
Insulin: beneficial for diabetics
Vaccines: used against many infectious diseases
Growth hormone: helpful in stimulating growth
Beta-Endorphin: a painkiller drug
Interferon: anti-viral proteins
Environmental problems, like pollution, land, sewage water degradation, etc., are also resolved using biotechnology. Microorganisms, e.g., genetically modified bacteria, are used to treat sewage and refuse. They may also be used to clear spilled oil. Microbes used as bio-pesticides, bio-fertilizers, biosensors, etc., are being developed using biotechnology techniques. Read more about health and tech combination: Healthcare Startups and Healthtech Companies
In summary, genetic engineering and biotechnology have transformed various industries, from agriculture to healthcare and environmental conservation. By manipulating genes, scientists have developed genetically modified organisms with improved traits, resulting in higher crop yields and enhanced nutritional value. Biotechnology products like insulin and vaccines are now synthesized using advanced genetic engineering techniques, offering effective disease treatments. Furthermore, biotechnology is crucial in addressing environmental challenges, utilizing genetically modified microorganisms for waste treatment and pollution control. Overall, these advancements in biotechnology have paved the way for innovative solutions and have the potential to shape a healthier and more sustainable future.