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Genetic engineering

GloFish, genetically modified fish GloFish, genetically modified fish Genetic engineering, also often called genetic modification or GM, is the process of changing an organism’s genome—the instruction book composed of all its genes. New genes can be added to the genome, so that the organism (living thing) produces a useful new substance or performs a new function. In gene therapy, a disease-causing gene can be replaced with a healthy one. Today, genetic engineering is used in farming, medicine, industry and scientific research. Many individuals and groups oppose genetic engineering for religious, moral or social reasons.

A GM “blue” rose A GM “blue” rose

Transplanting DNA

A gene, or group of genes, contains the instructions for giving an organism a particular trait—such as being a certain colour, having fur, or being able to make a particular hormone. Genes are encoded (“written”) in DNA, which is found in chromosomes in the nucleus of all living cells. DNA is a universal language, which means that DNA from one species can be transplanted into the cells of another.

If one species (called the donor) has a desirable trait, that trait can be given to another species (called the host) by transplanting that section of DNA. Often the trait can then be passed down to offspring (“children”) of the host organism.

The first genetically modified organisms were types of bacteria, created in 1973 by the American biochemists Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer.

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