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What is Genetic Engineering? Types, Process & Applications

  • Utsav Mishra
  • Jun 01, 2021
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Heard about genes? The biological things that are responsible for the characteristics of any living organism. Be it me, you, or an animal, or a microbe. 


Genes define the characteristics of the organism, they are made up of DNA and most of the genes act as an instruction manual to make protein. Generally, these genes come from the parents. Each organism has two sets of genes, one from each parent.


The majority of genes are identical in all humans, but a small number of genes (less than 1% of the total) vary slightly. Alleles are variants of the same gene with minor variations in DNA base sequence. These minor variations contribute to the individuality of each person's physical features. 


Genes are given special names by scientists to keep track of them. Sometimes, these names are too long, so scientists keep track of them with symbols or numbers.


Now that we know what genes are. Let me ask you a simple question. “Are genes only naturally occurring and can one gain them from their parents only?” 


No, they can be changed or manufactured using other genes. New genes can be formed in the laboratory. The best answer to the above question lies in the concept of genetic engineering. So, let us dive into the topic and explore what genetic engineering is.



What is Genetic Engineering?


The use of recombinant DNA (rDNA) technology to insert desired characters into species is known as genetic engineering. A genetically engineered (GE) animal is one that has a new trait, thanks to the recombinant DNA (rDNA) definition.  


Although traditional breeding methods have long been used to improve animal traits, genetic engineering is a much more effective method of incorporating desirable traits into animals.


Still, let’s understand the significance of recombinant DNA (rDNA) in genetic engineering;


Recombinant DNA (rDNA)


Recombinant DNA is nothing but a technology that uses enzymes to cut and paste desirable parts of DNA sequences. In this way, a new gene is formed by the use of rDNA which contains the characteristics which we desired to insert into an animal. This newly formed rDNA is then ferried to the suitable host cell where it can be copied in order to get the desired result. 


Human DNA, for example, can be engineered in such a way that it can be repeated or replicated in bacteria or yeast. 


Attaching suitable elements to a piece of DNA and then moving it into a bacterial or yeast cell, with those elements instructing the bacterial or yeast cell to copy this DNA alongside its DNA, is what this method entails. DNA cloning is the term for this procedure and the resulting DNA is called Recombinant DNA or rDNA.


(Must read: Nanotechnology Applications in Biology)



Types of Genetic Engineering Techniques


Genetic engineering techniques have the following types-


  1. Recombinant DNA: 


Here rDNA is used to create a new gene and then gene transfer is carried out by inserting the gene into plasmid liquid and then transferring it into the host cell.


  1. Gene delivering: 


Gene delivery is the technique of inserting the desired gene in the host genome to get the characteristics we wanted to insert. Some methods used in it are Electroporation, solicitation and viral vector-mediated gene transfer, and liposome-mediated gene transfer


  1. Electroporation: 


The modern method using electric current to carry out genetic engineering. In this, pores are created in cells using the current to enable the transfer of nucleic acid in a cell. This process is also referred to as electrotransfer.


  1. Gene editing: 


A gene-editing technique is used to edit the genome, allowing for the removal of unwanted DNA sequences or the insertion of a new gene into the host genome. Some well-known gene-editing techniques used in gene therapy experiments include CRISPR-CAS9, TALEN, and ZFN. 


Now you must be curious that even though these techniques are used, what is the process of genetic engineering?


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Process Involved in Genetic Engineering


The majority of recombinant DNA technology entails inserting foreign genes into the plasmids of typical laboratory bacteria strains. Plasmids are the tiny DNA rings that are not part of a bacterium's chromosome (chromosome is the organism's major reservoir of genetic information). 


Despite this, they are capable of guiding protein synthesis and, like chromosomal DNA, they are replicated and passed on to the bacterium’s progeny. 


Researchers are then able to generate an essentially infinite number of copies of the inserted gene by introducing foreign DNA (for example, a mammalian gene) into a bacterium. 


Furthermore, if the inserted gene is functional (that is if it drives protein synthesis), the transformed bacteria will create the protein that the foreign DNA specifies. 


In the end of all the creation, scientists figure out and choose the best technique for insertion or placing of the engineered gene in the desired genome taking the process to completion.



Applications of Genetic Engineering 


Many theoretical and practical aspects of gene function and organization have been substantially improved thanks to genetic engineering. 


In medicine, genetic engineering has been used to mass-produce human insulin, human growth hormones, alpha-interferon, a hepatitis B vaccine. \


Follistim (a fertility treatment), human albumin, monoclonal antibodies, antihemophilic factors, vaccinations, and a variety of other medications have been discovered with the help of genetic engineering.


Many other therapeutically important compounds have also been developed using recombinant DNA technology.


Still, the most important of them remains the manufacturing of genetically engineered crops. For example, let us suppose, there is a crop that grows in hilly areas and isn’t prone to rains. But after a few years in that area, it rains like the daily sunlight. 


In that case, the farmers there will need a crop that will grow like the same crop but will be resistant to water. So, some genetic engineering will be required here to insert the desired characteristic in the specific crop. 


This genetic engineering technique has helped a lot in the creation of hybrid plants and has saved the souls of many farmers.


Some of the other rDNA traits used in crop development are-


  • Herbicide resistance 

  • Virus resistance

  • Delayed fruit ripening 

  • Altered oil content 

  • Pollen control 

  • Development of cold and drought-tolerant plant species. 


Also, genetically engineered food is a prime application of it. (Source)


The Spider Goat (Example)


An example of genetic engineering as used by some researchers is in the making of a goat that produces spider silk. 


As we know, the stretchable spider web is one of the strongest fibers found around us. It has high tensile strength and is even stronger than steel. 


Theoretically, it might have changed use – from the making of fake tendons to the ropes for parachutes. On the off chance that alone we had the option to create it in adequate amounts. 


 Nexia Biotechnologies Company said it has an answer: " goat milk contains proteins of cobweb! The scientists embedded the quality from arachnid DNA quality into goats' DNA so that it secretes in their milk the protein for building the net.


This milk can be utilized to create Biosteel material with attributes like cobwebs. The webs formed from this process, i.e. the process of genetic engineering are called recombinant webs resembling the rDNA used in their creation.





In the field of genetic engineering, bacteria were the very first creatures to be genetically modified in 1973, followed by mice in 1974. Since then, scientists and researchers have come a long way and they mostly owe it to technology rapidly evolving each day. 


(Also read: What is Clean Energy?)


Gene is one of the most crucial components of a living organism and genetic engineering is like a blessing to natural scientists. 


Thanks to genetic engineering, plants can be scientifically modified to fix nitrogen, and genetic illnesses can be treated by replacing faulty genes with ones that work normally.

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