The Process of Genetic Engineering

The process of genetic engineering is not a simple task, it requires complex machinery and innovative minds. Since farming began, humans have been selectively breeding different plants, doing so provided more food and better food for all. This process is genetic engineering in much simpler terms than we think of it today.

Now, when one thinks of genetic engineering, they are more likely to picture a complicated science which involves altering the very building blocks of life. The are several steps in the process of genetic engineering. Scientist follow a step by step process in order to alter the DNA of an organism. In describing the process, the example of a soybean will be used as a guide to each step.

  1. First, a gene is picked that will be altered, added or removed. This step requires that the wanted gene is found and isolated. If a new breed of soybean were to be given a pesticide, the effective bacteria in the pesticide would be isolated. The bacteria genes are needed in order to be placed in the soybeans genome.
  2. The isolated gene is copied several times.The DNA from the bacteria is then copied several times. This is done by splitting the DNA down the center of the double helix and pairing it with the appropriate chemical (Goldbas).
  3. The gene is transferred to the new organism. It is transferred into the tissue of the organism. Since it is impossible to insert the DNA into each cell of an organism, the DNA is now injected into the tissue of the soybean plant. The soybean plant is then grown to maturity in a greenhouse. A technique used today involves shooting DNA from a .22 caliber charge into plant tissue (Goldsburg).
  4. Create a new plant/animal/trait from the newly modified tissue. Now that the new DNA is present, the soybeans will continue to grow, only now they posses a new trait.
  5. Check the insertion produces desired results.
  6. Check that the new gene can be found in the offspring (seeds) of the organism. This is most crucial step in genetic engineering. If the offspring of the genetically modified organism does not posses the traits given to the parent, the engineering has failed and must be done again.

Figure 3: A machine used at Monsanto inc. to study DNA. Source: Popular Science