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Applications of genetic engineering Featured

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Genetic engineering employs the processes used in living cells to reprogram the machinery of other living cells. It seeks to redirect the chemistry in some or all of the many cells makeup an organism to change it in some particular ways. The changes, usually one or a small number, are made at the level of information stored by the cell that tells the cell what to do and when by altering the long strands of DNA code known as a genome.  

Genetic engineering has visible and potential applications in various disciplines ranging from biomedicine to agriculture. The advance in this technology has seen revolution in various industries. In biomanufacturing, numerous genetic researches have contributed to the modern medicine sector. A number of important products are now produced by genetically engineered microorganisms or animal cells.  Some of the key products produced through genetic engineering include insulin, erythropoietin, interferons, growth hormones, blood-clotting factors, antigens for vaccine’s production, and white blood cell proliferation inducers.   In addition, genetic counseling has become a common trend in the health care sectors. Couples are seeking genetic counseling to assess their susceptibility to genetic diseases and reduce incidences of genetic diseases. Although surrounded by controversies, the possibility of making children with only the desired characteristics through cloning is being explored. Already non-primate animals have been cloned. In addition, the concept of surrogate parents has helped individuals who cannot reproduce. Genetic research has enhanced the use of chemotherapy and radiology, which are used in the treatment of terminal illnesses. The treatment of genetic diseases has been made possible through the manipulation of genes before birth.

In the agricultural sector, genetic engineering has been used to improve food production and quality.  Genetic engineering is crucial in plant and animal breeding projects where desired changes in traits can be made, condensing generations of breeding and crossbreeding. Bioengineering has enabled the production of fertilizers and bio synthesizers, which have improved food production.  In addition, biotechnology has been used to induce certain nutrients in plant foods and introduce nutrients to the soil, which are absorbed by plants. Bioengineering has also been crucial in pest and weed control. New strains of pest and weed resistant plants have been developed.  For example, scientists have developed transgenic bacteria that protect plants from injury by frost.   Genetic engineering has also increased animal production through cheap and high value feedstocks.  Genetic engineering has enabled the increased production and availability of new classes of industrial building blocks. In addition, induction of growth hormones in animals has increased their yield in terms of milk and meat. The development of genetically modified food is promising to improve food security in the global.

Biotechnology plays a great role in the industrial production of fermented products such as cheese, yoghurt and alcoholic beverages. The controlled breeding of crops plants and animals in pursuit of high yields of particular industrial chemical building blocks such as plant oils with desired characteristics has continued unabated.  Genetic engineering has allowed for quantum leaps in production efficiency of single products in a very short time compared with the years of crossbreeding required by traditional genetics. There are numerous synthetically produced raw materials in many industries.

  Biotechnology has also found great applications in environmental conversation and bioconversion. Using specific genes or even multicomponent metabolic pathways from esoteric organisms cloned into “workhorse” strains of bacteria, algae and yeast, normal cellular metabolic products can be converted into scarce drugs or precursor’s chemicals for industrial uses. Bioengineered organisms are currently used in the biodegradation of waste products including wastages that have traditionally been a problem to humans. For example, synthesized organisms are used to clean up oil spillages.


Bioengineering is also used in the production of clean energy and renewable fuels.  Over the years, fermentation of garbage, animal and human wastage has been used in the production of biogas. However, the industrial production of biogas has been limited due to lack of efficient production processes. To achieve economic efficiency in the fuel production microorganism are being engineered to use low-cost energy sources and function at elevated temperatures. Bioproduction of ultimate clean fuel, hydrogen, which yields only water on burning, is now carried out by green algae.  Genetic engineering of metabolic pathways in woody plants to pulp posts and reduces the cost of chemical treatment of wood fibers.

Genetic engineering and biotechnology has also found wide application in welfare.  For example, there have been developments of ‘superbugs,’ which are highly lethal and resistant to environmental influences.  The development of biological warfare is a threat to international peace and stability.

In addition to the numerous applications, there are unlimited researches that are exploring other applications of bioengineering.  However, some applications of bioengineering have received a lot of debate and ethical issues.  Moral questions on the viability of cloning have dominated researches and practices in cloning.  The use of genetically modified foods has received resistance in some developed and developing countries. However, bioengineering remains one of the greatest advancement in the 20th century.

References

LeVine H (2006). Genetic Engineering: A reference handbook.  Springer Publishers.

Ormandy H., Dale J and Griffin G (2011). Genetic Engineering of animals. Canada Veterinary Journal. Vol. 52(5); 544-550.

Dana M (2011). Genetic engineering: Recent developments in applications. CRC Press. 

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