What is Genetic Engineering - An Easy Explanation of Gene Therapy


Dec 11, 2012 (4 years and 6 months ago)


What is Genetic Engineering?

An Easy Explanation of Gene Therapy

Mar 25, 2009


Bridget Coila

Genetic engineering is a hot topic in the news. This article explains how
gene therapy works and what scientists are doing in genetic
engineering research.

erstanding the basics of genetic engineering is important to
understanding the latest research developments in biology.

DNA 101

The Basics Behind Gene Theory

The simple explanation of genetics is that a gene, made of DNA, is copied to a “template” of

and from that template, a protein is made. DNA provides “instructions”, RNA is the
“translator”, and proteins are the “workers” that carry out instructions in the body.

Engineering the Genome

How Genetic Engineering is Done

Because of the consistent way

genes work, scientists have learned how to manipulate these
processes and alter genes. Put simply, genetic engineering is anything scientists do to alter
genes or the action of those genes.

In animals, DNA is present in the cell nuclei as a long strand of

material wound into a helical
coil. But in bacteria and viruses, it's a small circle of DNA. This circle can be manipulated to
carry a specific gene or part of a gene into an animal cell. Scientists cut a piece out, put in the
gene they want and send thes
e "vectors" into the cell.

Sometimes the inserted vector stays in the cytoplasm, the liquid filling the cell, where it acts
like a small virus. Instead of producing harmful compounds, a vector produces necessary
proteins that the cell's defective genes don
't produce.

Potential gene therapy for cystic fibrosis and hemophilia are examples of this kind of
treatment. Gene therapy inserts a little circular strand of DNA containing the correct gene,
which produces proteins and makes up for the lack of natural pro

Other examples of gene therapy take things a step further, maneuvering the new gene into the
actual DNA of the patient's cells. This is possible because vectors take advantage of cell repair
mechanisms to slip the desired gene into the cell, using

similar pathways as viruses do.

Uses of Genetic Engineering

From Designer Babies to Cancer Gene Therapy

Aside from developing cures for diseases in which the body doesn't make enough necessary
proteins, scientists are also investigating other uses of ge
netic engineering technology.

Curing Cancer with Gene Therapy: Using gene engineering for cancer treatments is one
idea scientists are working on. Researchers are trying to create vectors that will enter
cancer cells and change their DNA, either shifting t
hem back into acting like normal
cells or turning on specific genes that cause them to self
destruct or attract immune
cells to destroy them.

Prenatal Cures and Designer Babies with Gene Therapy: Another potential use of gene
therapy is to alter genes in e
mbryos, so that the resulting child will never develop
certain diseases that run in their family. There is some fear that research of this type
could eventually lead to "curing" things that aren't really diseases, like eye color,
height or IQ.

Aging G
enetic Engineering: Another hot area of gene therapy research is in
longevity treatments. Scientists think they may be able to use gene therapy to reset
cells into thinking they are young. This could lead to treatments for everything from
Alzheimer's and a
rthritis to baldness and wrinkles.

Genetic Engineering in Plants

Genetic engineering doesn’t just work on animals. Scientists have also been successful in
putting genes into plants to provide disease resistance, extra vitamins, and even medicines.
Most of

these genes come from other plants and have been moved into the food plants to
provide added benefits without the random risks involved with cross breeding.

Citation of Original Web Document

Coila, Bridget. "What is Genetic Engineering? An Eas
y Explanation of Gene Therapy."
. suite101, 25 mar
2009. Web. 13 Oct 2011. <http://bridget


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