The application of DNA technology in today’s day and age is important. Today, we consume various products that are a direct or indirect result of genetically modifying a plant, animal, or microbe’s DNA structure.
So what is DNA technology?
DNA refers to the biological material an organism inherits from its parents. DNA is hereditary. An essential characteristic of DNA is replicating and making copies of itself. This property is vital in cell division because every cell needs to have the exact same DNA structure. You can think of DNA as a recipe book; it holds all the necessary information and steps for making proteins in our bodies. The DNA structure is a double helix and looks much like a twisted ladder.
DNA technology involves cloning, analyzing, and altering the DNA of organisms. This is mostly done to bring about desired or ideal characteristics in an organism.
In 1997, DNA technology made a significant breakthrough with Dolly, the first successfully cloned mammal, a sheep. Since then, advancements in the field of medicine, agriculture, animal husbandry, etc., have led to tremendous growth in the field of DNA technology. Scientists today consider DNA technology to be a new frontier in science, opening doors that we couldn’t open before.
Genetically engineering the DNA of organisms has led to the development of a wide range of medicinal products. The first medical products developed using DNA technology were insulin and a human growth hormone. Both of these were obtained from the bacteria E. Coli. Since this first development, the medicine market has hosted a wide variety of products obtained through DNA technology. The products obtained from E. Coli include the following,
1. Tumor necrosis – used to treat tumour cells
2. Interleukin-2 – used to treat cancer, immune deficiency, and HIV
3. Prourokinase – used to treat heart attacks
4. Taxol – used to treat ovarian cancer
5. Interferon – used to treat cancer and viral infections
Traditionally, vaccines were produced by first denaturing the disease. It was then injected into a human. Through this, scientists hoped that the injection of the virus or bacteria into the human would activate the body’s immune system, helping it to fight future diseases by the same bacteria or virus. Unfortunately, the patient sometimes still ended up with the same condition.
Today, however, the application of DNA technology in medicine has led scientists to produce vaccines that are much more effective than traditional ones. With DNA technology, scientists copy and inject only the outside shell of the microorganism into a diseased host. This is safer than conventional methods since scientists here use only the organism’s outer surface. Counter to traditional methods; they do not inject the whole disease-causing microbe into the patient. Scientists developed vaccines for hepatitis B, herpes type 2, and malaria using DNA technology. There are many more vaccines currently in trial for use in the near future.
Agricultural crops are one of the main applications of DNA technology. Scientists use technology to alter the DNA of crops to induce in them desired characteristics. The selected features include improved crop resistance to diseases and insects and delaying ripening for transportation over long distances.
Many lauded the successful attempts of researchers to create transgenic crops resistant to certain herbicides. Upon finding the herbicide-resistant bacteria, researchers isolated its genes and injected them into a crop plant. The resulting crop was immune to that herbicide it was injected with. Using a similar approach, researchers developed crops resistant to insects and pests. They do this by finding bacterial enzymes that immobilize or destroy unwanted insects and injecting them into crop hosts. Similarly, they increase crop strength and yield with bacteria that increase nitrogen fixation in the soil.
Currently, researchers are on the cusp of a huge technological breakthrough. It is a well-known fact that every plant needs nitrogen to grow. Although nitrogen makes up 78% of our atmosphere, it is in a form that plants cannot use. However, rhizobium, a bacteria found in the soil, converts atmospheric nitrogen into a form that plants easily and readily use. We also find these nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the plants of legumes such as soybeans and peanuts. Because plants like peanuts and soybean contain these unique and unusual bacteria, they can grow in soils that are nitrogen-deficient, which would not be possible with other plant species. Researchers hope to identify the segment of the bacteria’s DNA that enhances nitrogen-fixing, isolate it, and inject it into the DNA of more beneficial and economic crops. If they succeed in this, the new transgenic crop will be able to grow in areas not generally suited for their growth.
We can effectively describe the application of DNA technology in the animal husbandry sector in three steps:
1. A scientist will first remove healthy egg cells from a female host and fertilize them in a laboratory.
2. The scientist will then observe the genes of another species. The scientist will identify, isolate, and clone the desired gene.
3. The scientist will then inject the cloned genes into the fertilized eggs and surgically implant the eggs into the female host.
Through the above steps, scientists and researchers hope to provide farmers and ranch owners with a cheap and quick way of obtaining animals with desirable features. The application of DNA technology in animal husbandry increases the production and supply of animal products such as meat, wool, leather, etc.
Ever since Dolly the sheep was successfully cloned in 1997, researchers and scientists have continued experimenting with cloning livestock. The most attractive feature of this method is that we can obtain an animal genetically identical to its parent. Scientists describe cloning in essentially four steps:
1. Removing a differentiated cell with a diploid nucleus from an animal. This cell will provide the DNA for cloning.
2. Removing an egg cell from a similar animal. Scientists strip this cell off its nucleus and leave behind only cytoplasm.
3. Fusing the two cells with an electric current to form a single diploid cell. The fused diploid cell will continue to grow normally with cell division.
4. Placing the embryo into a surrogate female animal.
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