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How genetic engineers manipulate genes April 11, 2010

Posted by HubTechInsider in Biotech.
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How genetic engineers manipulate genes

Genes are the instructions to make proteins, which are responsible for almost all of the processes that keep organisms alive.

Genetic engineering techniques are used to insert genes from other organisms into bacteria, which then churn out proteins that produce hepatitis-B vaccine and insulin for diabetics. Botanists genetically modify crops to boost hardiness and nutritional value.

But geneticists do more than bestow organisms with new characteristics. They also manipulate DNA to study the role of individual genes. Scientists add, delete, or modify genes, thus altering the corresponding proteins’ structure or levels in the cell and revealing the genes’ role.

Genetic Engineering

Genetic Engineering

Genetic engineers have manipulated the DNA of organisms as diverse as mammals, birds, fish, insects, worms, plants, fungi and bacteria. These studies have given scientists valuable insights into how the human body functions and why diseases arise in humans.
Scientific identification of genes can also provide targets for new antibiotic and antiviral drugs. Further, gene therapy could someday allow scientists to cure diseases and cancers by replacement of defective genes.

In addition, genetically engineering microbes could produce new biodegradable polymers or clean up radioactive waste sites or petroleum spills.

Although scientists have sequences the complete genomes of many organisms, including humans, there is still a great deal unknown about what all those genes do. As the quest for this genetic knowledge continues, the important role that genetic engineers play will only expand.

Four ways to manipulate genes:

1. Amplify a genetic characteristic:
The purpose would be to learn more about a gene’s role in an organism.

Genetic engineers would effect this change by manipulating or adding an extra copy of the gene to increase its activity.

Because over expression of a gene responsible for a cell’s ability to respond to a protein called epidermal growth factor is associated with most cancers, this has led to the development of anti-cancer drugs that target the expression of this gene.

2. Delete a genetic characteristic:
The purpose would be to learn more about a gene’s role in an organism, this time by seeing what happens when the gene is removed.

Genetic engineers or scientists would remove or replace the normal functioning version of the gene to delete it.

Deleting certain genes in mice has shown how their absence affects disease. Knocking out genes like PINK1 or DJ-1, for example, can lead to Parkinson’s symptoms in mice, providing an animal model to study the disease.

3. Modify a genetic characteristic:
The purpose would be to identify the specific sequence of DNA that is responsible for a gene’s function.

A mutated gene is inserted into an organism. The gene produces a modified protein.

Modified genes may explain how enzymes bind to other molecules. Angiotensin-converting enzyme, for example, plays a role in heart function and diabetes. Protein sequences allow the enzyme to bind to ions, which helps to regulate its activity.

4. Map a genetic characteristic:
The purpose would be to understand the activity of a gene and its protein.

A “marked” gene is transferred into an organism’s cells.

Proteins of marked BRCA1 genes, whose mutation can increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, were found in the cells’ mitochondria. BRCA1’s presence there may be important for tis function in suppressing tumors, because cancer is often associated with mutated mitochondrial DNA.

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About the author.

I’m Paul Seibert, Editor of Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a Boston focused technology blog. You can connect with me on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, even friend me on Facebook if you’re cool. I own and am trying to sell a dual-zoned, residential & commercial Office Building in Natick, MA. I have a background in entrepreneurship, ecommerce, telecommunications and software development, I’m the Senior Technical Project Manager at eSpendWise, I’m a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of Tshirtnow.net.

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