Friday, July 19, 2019

Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering 2019: Biotechnology 2019

Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering 2019: Biotechnology 2019: Biotechnology is technology that utilises biological systems, living organisms or parts of this to develop or create different products. ...

Biotechnology 2019

Biotechnology is technology that utilises biological systems, living organisms or parts of this to develop or create different products.
Brewing and baking bread are examples of processes that fall within the concept of biotechnology (use of yeast ( living organism) to produce the desired product). Such traditional processes usually utilise the living organisms in their natural form (or further developed by breeding), while the more modern form of biotechnology will generally involve a more advanced modification of the biological system or organism.
Today, biotechnology covers many different disciplines (eg. genetics, biochemistry, molecular biology, etc.). New technologies and products are developed every year within the areas of eg. medicine (development of new medicines and therapies), agriculture (development of genetically modified plants, bio fuels, biological treatment) or industrial biotechnology (production of chemicals, paper, textiles and food).
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Friday, June 28, 2019

How is genetic engineering used in the improvement of agriculture?

Genetic engineering is when the genetic makeup of an organism is altered by inserting, deleting or changing specific pieces of DNA.
Over the years, genetic engineering has become more common in agriculture. Globally, there are over 25 countries that grow genetically engineered crops on approximately 420 million acres of land, and those numbers are increasing every year. The United States is responsible for producing almost half of the genetically engineered crops planted worldwide and currently devotes over 40% of U.S. cropland to these modified crops.
Although many crops have been genetically engineered over the years, there are three crops - corn, soybean and cotton - that are the focus of genetic engineering. In the United States, about 80% of corn and cotton and 93% of soybeans that are produced are genetically modified.

There is a wide variety of types of genetic engineering used in agriculture. One of the most common types of genetic engineering is to insert the genes for bacteria into the crop. This type of genetic engineering works like an insecticide, which is a pesticide that targets unwanted insects, because when the insects consume the crop, they will be infected by the bacteria and will get sick and eventually die.
Another common type of genetic engineering is when genes for herbicide resistance are inserted into crops. When herbicides, which are pesticides that target unwanted plants, are sprayed on the field, the weeds will be killed, while the crops survive due to the insertion of the resistant genes. 

In addition to these common types of genetic engineering, agricultural crops are also modified to resist diseases and produce crops that have higher protein concentrations, higher levels of vitamins and minerals and delayed fruit ripening.
Benefits of Genetic Engineering :- 
The use of genetic engineering and the creation of genetically modified crops has resulted in many benefits for the agricultural world. The most noticeable benefit is that genetic engineering has made it possible to produce more crops in a shorter time period. Due to the modifications that make crops resistant to diseases, it has been possible to increase overall yields. Many genetically modified crops are also designed to grow at a faster rate, which also helps increase overall yield.

Genetic engineering has also increased yield by making it possible to grow crops in regions that would otherwise be unsuitable for agriculture, such as areas with salty soil, areas that are drought prone and areas with low amounts of sunlight. Through genetic engineering, crops have been modified to tolerate salty soils, be more drought resistant and increase their rate of photosynthesis to take advantage of limited sunlight.

In addition to increasing productivity, genetic engineering has had several other benefits to agriculture. 
By modifying crops so that they are resistant to diseases and insects, less chemical pesticides have to be used to combat diseases and pests. Also, if crops are genetically modified to include components of fertilizers, less chemical fertilizers have to be placed on the fields.
By reducing the amount of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, there will be less harm done to the environment. Genetic engineering has also made it possible to produce new varieties of crops by mixing genes from multiple different species. For example, pluots are a new type of fruit that was produced when the genes of plums and apricots were mixed.

Friday, June 21, 2019

What are two benefits of using the biotechnology?

Biotechnology is a field made up of many interlinked areas of research. It is any modification of an existing biological process to enhance/improve its performance or to create a novel technique mimicking nature could be considered as Biotechnology.

Advantages of Biotechnology:-
  • Improvement in crop yields and selectivity in desired traits in plants/fruit & vegetables. This is necessary in countries where food production is very low.
  • Developing vaccines for preventable diseases. Targeted therapy for cancer treatment, Nano robots for cleaning plaque, for drug delivery for specific body parts is being studied.
  • Improvement in processes used in the industry. For example, using enzymes instead of chemicals makes the process ecofriendly and hence, less carbon footprint.
  • Producing energy efficient fuels and energy sources. Read about the microbial fuel cell.
  • Increased Food safety with anti-microbial packaging, detection methods for contamination, avoiding food wastage by various techniques.
  • Another interesting advantage is, use of microbes for cleaning up oil spills, for bio remediation purposes

With these advances, we do have disadvantages of Biotechnology. Mainly, antibiotics resistant microbes that are currently one of the biggest concern in pharmaceutical/healthcare. New allergens leading to new allergies to modified crop.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Should Genetically Modified Food items can be trusted?

GM crops are based on the concepts of "Biotechnology" and "Tissue culture". Today, we can manually rearrange the genes to increase productivity and introduce desirable traits. This is called Transgenic.

There is no scientific consensus or agreement on whether the GM crops are safe or unsafe. However, what we all do agree upon is that once they are allowed, the process might be irreversible. 

Hence, the extreme caution in various countries such as India where people are primarily depended on subsistence agriculture. It would be prudent to say that GM food crops do have a future but a lot of research is yet to be done before they are given a green signal worldwide. GM non-food crops like cotton are already a hit in major parts of world including India.

Why GM Food Crops?

  • World Population has already crossed 7 billion and is projected to cross 9 billion by 2050 growing at rate more than that of agricultural produce. People are dying of hunger in south Asian and sub-Saharan African countries. GM food crops, according to many, are not a luxury but a necessity as they increase the productivity manifold (bt cotton has doubled the yield in Maharashtra).
  • Huge use of pesticide and insecticide resulting in land degradation. GM Crops are Pest resistance & Drought resistance (resists environment stress - heat, frost, drought, salty soil).
  • Improved Nutritional Value. Crops can be genetically modified to contain additional nutrients that are lacking from the diets of many people in developing countries.
  • It is a Rapid method of crop improvement (3-4 years). Conventional methods based on selection and hybridization take at least a decade or even more to come up with improved varieties of wheat or rice (e.g. the HVY seed used in green revolution were developed after decades of effort).

Why not GM Food crops?

  • GM foods have never been part of the human food chain. Allergic Reactions & Side-Effects are potential results in case of weak regulation.
  • Although qualities such as drought & pest resistant are appreciated, GM crops require huge irrigation facilities (bt cotton). Also, bt seeds cost a lot more. Critics allege that GM crops were created not because they're more productive but because they're patent-able. Their economic value is oriented not towards helping subsistence farmers to feed themselves but toward feeding the already overfed rich.
  • Increased nutritional value is has not been established scientifically.

All and All, GM food crops are treated differently in different countries. USA allows GM market and lets consumer to choose by putting in place a strong regulation. GM apples in the US have to be marked that way to inform consumers. This kind of regulatory mechanism in place is difficult in developing nations as the neither the enforcement is practicable nor the people are matured enough to differentiate.

In India, the Supreme Court-appointed panel recommended a ban on GM field trials and 10-year moratorium on GM Food Crops. However, government has more or less ignored that. GM crops are being analyzed on case to case basis.

Friday, June 14, 2019

What is the difference between genetic engineering and genetic modification?

Genetic engineering implies that DNA was transferred from one organism to another through artificial means.  I'm using artificial here to mean anything that isn't strictly gamete combination - methods like artificial insemination and selective pollination are not considered genetic engineering.  This means that the target organisms don't need to have Any chance of successfully cross-breeding. 
 My favorite example is frogs and potatoes:

Though you could take DNA from, say, one cow, insert it into the genome of another cow, and produce a calf from the resultant DNA.  The calf would be considered genetically engineered, since their DNA was not entirely produced by the combination of an egg and sperm, even though their genome is still technically 100% bovine.

Genetic modification is a general term that refers to any type of human-driven modification, and is a close synonym to the word agriculture.  This is something we've been doing rigorously for thousands of years, and is the reason why corn is not a tiny seed head with more cellulose than sugar, why chickens are not little balls of feather and gristle, and why apples are not inedible tart.  
Genetic engineering is included as a form of genetic modification, in the same way that ballet is included as a form of dance.  Genetic engineering is a specialized form of genetic modification.
Genetic engineering is the process by which piece of DNA are transferred one organisms to another. This is also called Recombination DNA technology.
first recombinant DNA molecule Was made by Paul Berg in 1972 by combining DNA from monkey virus (SV40) with lambda virus. The new DNA can be targeted to a specific part of the genome.

A organism that is generated through genetic engineering or Recombination DNA technology  is considered to be genetically modified (G. M) and the resulting entity is a Genetically Modified Organisms
First Genetically modified organisms was a bacterium generated by Herbert Boyer and standly cohen in 1973.Rudolf jenisch created the first Genetically modified animal when he inserted foreign DNA into a Mouse in 1974.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

What are the steps involved in genetic engineering?

Genetic engineering aims at synthesizing recombinant DNA which contains DNA from two different sources. Steps include:

  1. Acquire gene of interest
  2. Use molecular scissors to cut out the gene of interest. These are restriction endonucleases which cut gene at a site called palindromic sequences. 20 such enzymes are used extensively.     E.g. EcoR1.
  3. Molecular vector or carrier on which gene if interest could be placed. It can be bacterial plasmid or viruses
  4. The gene of interest along with the vector is then introduced into an expression system, as a result of a specific product is made.
  5. A small piece of circular DNA called a plasmid is extracted from the bacteria or yeast cell.
  6. A small section is then cut out of the circular plasmid by restriction enzymes, molecular scissors.
  7. The gene for human insulin is inserted into the gap in the plasmid. This plasmid is now genetically modified.
  8. The genetically modified plasmid is introduced into a new bacteria or yeast cell.
  9. This cell then divides rapidly and starts making insulin.
  10. To create large amounts of the cells, the genetically modified bacteria or yeast are grown in large fermentation vessels that contain all the nutrients they need. The more the cells divide, the more insulin is produced.
  11. When fermentation is complete, the mixture is filtered to release the insulin.
  12. The insulin is then purified and packaged into bottles and insulin pens for distribution to patients with diabetes.