What is biotechnology?
Contrary to its name, biotechnology is not a single technology. Rather it is a group of technologies that share two (common) characteristics -- working with living cells and their molecules and having a wide range of practice uses that can improve our lives. Biotechnology can be broadly defined as "using organisms or their products for commercial purposes." As such, (traditional) biotechnology has been practices since he beginning of records history. (It has been used to:) bake bread, brew alcoholic beverages, and breed food crops or domestic animals (2). But recent developments in molecular biology have given biotechnology new meaning, new prominence, and new potential. It is (modern) biotechnology that has captured the attention of the public. Modern biotechnology can have a dramatic effect on the world economy and society (3). One example of modern biotechnology is genetic engineering. Genetic engineering is the process of transferring individual genes between organisms or modifying the genes in an organism to remove or add a desired trait or characteristic. Examples of genetic engineering are described later in this document. Through genetic engineering, genetically modified crops or organisms are formed. These GM crops or GMOs are used to produce biotech-derived foods. It is this specific type of modern biotechnology, genetic engineering, that seems to generate the most attention and concern by consumers and consumer groups. What is interesting is that modern biotechnology is far more precise than traditional forms of biotechnology and so is viewed by some as being far safer.) How does modern biotechnology work?
All organisms are made up of cells that are programmed by the same basic genetic material, called DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). Each unit of DNA is made up of a combination of the following nucleotides -- adenine (A), guanine (G), thymine (T), and cytosine (D) -- as well as a sugar and a phosphate. These nucleotides pair up into strands that twist together into a spiral structure call a "double helix." This double helix is DNA. Segments of the DNA tell individual cells how to produce specific proteins. These segments are genes. It is the presence or absence of the specific protein that gives an organism a trait or characteristic. More than 10,000 different genes are found in most plant and animal species. This total set of genes for an organism is organized into chromosomes within the cell nucleus. The process by which a multicellular organism develops from a single cell through an embryo stage into an adult is ultimately controlled by the genetic information of the cell, as well as interaction of genes and gene products with environmental factors. (5).
When cells reproduce, the DNA strands of the double helix separate. Because nucleotide A always pairs with T and G always pairs with C, each DNA strand serves as a precise blueprint for a specific protein. Except for mutations or mistakes in the replication process, a single cell is equipped with the information to replicate into millions of identical cells. Because all organisms are made up of the same type of genetic material (nucleotides A, T, G, and C), biotechnologists use enzymes to cut and remove DNA segments from one organism and recombine it with DNA in another organism. This is called recombinant DNA (rDNA) technology, and it is one of the basic tools of modern biotechnology (6). rDNA technology is the laboratory manipulation of DNA in which DNA, or fragments of DNA from different sources, are cut and recombined using enzymes. This recombinant DNA is then inserted into a living organism. rDNA technology is usually used synonymously with genetic engineering. rDNA technology allows researchers to move genetic information between unrelated organisms to produce desired products or characteristics or to eliminate undesirable characteristics.
Genetic engineering is the technique of removing, modifying or...
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