Genetic Engineering [UPSC Notes]

Genetic engineering, also called genetic modification, is the direct manipulation of an organism’s genome using biotechnology. It is a set of technologies used to change the genetic makeup of cells, including the transfer of genes within and across species boundaries to produce improved or novel organisms. Read important facts about Genetic Engineering in this article for the IAS Exam.

What is Genetic Engineering

  1. In simple words, genetic engineering can be described as the manual addition of a new DNA into an organism.
  2.  It aids the addition of such traits that are not originally found in the organisms.
  3. Recombinant DNA is required to create Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO.)
  4. An area of chromosome (gene) is spliced.
  5. Genetic disorders in humans can be corrected using genetic engineering.
  6. Selective breeding has been in the world since ancient times.
  7. Jack Williamson used the word ‘Genetic Engineering’ in his science fiction novel Dragon’s Island which was published in 1951.
  8. First recombinant DNA molecules were created by an American Biochemist, Paul Berg.

New DNA may be inserted in the host genome by first isolating and copying the genetic material of interest using molecular cloning methods to generate a DNA sequence, or by synthesizing the DNA and then inserting this construct into the host organism. Genes may be removed, or “knocked out”, using a nuclease. Gene targeting is a different technique that uses homologous recombination to change an endogenous gene and can be used to delete a gene, remove exons, add a gene, or introduce point mutations.

Aspirants reading, ‘GEAC’ can also refer to topics lined below:

Applications of Genetic Engineering

Medicine, research, industry and agriculture are a few sectors where genetic engineering applies. It can be used on various plants, animals and microorganisms. The first microorganism to be genetically modified is bacteria.

  1. In Medicine: Genetic engineering can be applied to:
    • Manufacturing of drugs
    • Creation of model animals that mimic human conditions and,
    • Gene therapy
    • Human growth hormones
    • Follicle-stimulating hormones
    • Human albumin
    • Monoclonal antibodies
    • Antihemophilic factors
    • Vaccines
  2. In Research: Genes and other genetic information from a wide range of organisms can be inserted into bacteria for storage and modification, creating genetically modified bacteria in the process.
  3. In Industry:
    • Transformation of cells in organisms with a gene coding to get a useful protein.
    • Medicines like insulin, human growth hormone, and vaccines, supplements such as tryptophan, aid in the production of food (chymosin in cheese making) and fuels are produced using such techniques.
  4. In Agriculture:
    • Genetically modified crops are produced using genetic engineering in agriculture.
    • Such crops are produced that provide protection from insect pests.
    • It is used or can be used in the creation of fungal and virus-resistant crops.
  5. Genetic engineering can be applied to other areas:
    • Conservation
    • Natural area management
    • Microbial art

Benefits of Genetic Engineering

  1. The production of genetically modified crops is a boon to agriculture.
  2. The crops that are drought-resistant, disease-resistant can be grown with it.
  3. As described earlier, genetic disorders can be treated.
  4. The diseases such as malaria, dengue can be eliminated by sterilising the mosquitoes using genetic engineering.
  5. Therapeutic cloning

Challenges of Genetic Engineering

  1. The production of genetically-engineered entities may result in an adverse manner and produce undesired results which are unforeseen.
  2. With the introduction of a genetically-engineered entity into one ecosystem for a desirable result, may lead to distortion of the existing biodiversity.
  3. Genetically-engineered crops can also produce adverse health effects.
  4. The concept of genetic-engineering is debated for its bioethics where community against it argue over the right of distorting or moulding the nature as per our needs.

Regulations in India

Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) is the biotech regulator in India. It is created under the Ministry of Environment and Forests. Read more about GEAC in the linked article.

There are five bodies that are authorized to handle rules noted under Environment Protection Act 1986 “Rules for Manufacture, Use, Import, Export and Storage of Hazardous Microorganisms/Genetically Engineered Organisms or Cells 1989”. These are:

  1. Institutional Biosafety Committees (IBSC)
  2. Review Committee of Genetic Manipulation (RCGM)
  3. Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC)
  4. State Biotechnology Coordination Committee (SBCC) and
  5. District Level Committee (DLC)

Which are the genetically modified crops in India?

  1. Bt Cotton is the genetically modified crop that is under cultivation in India.
  2. Bt Brinjal was initially approved but later was blocked from production.
  3. GM Mustard is yet to be allowed for cultivated. It will be the first genetically modified food crop in the country.

FAQ about Genetic Engineering

What are some examples of genetic engineering?

Soybean-Herbicide tolerance,Canola-Altered fatty acid composition,Plum-Virus resistance,Corn-Insect resistance

What are the pros and cons of genetic engineering?

Pros:Tackling and Defeating Diseases,Getting Rid of All Illnesses in Young and Unborn Children,Potential to Live Longer,Produce New Foods,Faster Growth in Animals and Plants,Pest and Disease Resistance.Cons:May Lead to Genetic Defects,Limits Genetic Diversity,Reduced Nutritional Value,Risky Pathogens,Negative Side Effects

UPSC Preparation:

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