Are there signs of genetic engineering in human DNA? Will Hart says that the more we learn about genetic engineering, the more it seems that this is the case. He lays out his case for us. Then, Linda Moulton Howe finds out some astonishing truths about Dark Matter. Most of the universe isn’t even visible to us!
Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is a molecule that encodes the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms and many viruses. DNA is a nucleic acid; alongside proteins and carbohydrates, nucleic acids compose the three major macromolecules essential for all known forms of life. Most DNA molecules are double-stranded helices, consisting of two long biopolymers made of simpler units called nucleotides—each nucleotide is composed of a nucleobase (guanine, adenine, thymine, and cytosine), recorded using the letters G, A, T, and C, as well as a backbone made of alternating sugars (deoxyribose) and phosphate groups (related to phosphoric acid), with the nucleobases (G, A, T, C) attached to the sugars. DNA is well-suited for biological information storage, since the DNA backbone is resistant to cleavage and the double-stranded structure provides the molecule with a built-in duplicate of the encoded information.
The two strands of DNA run in opposite directions to each other and are therefore anti-parallel, one backbone being 3′ (three prime) and the other 5′ (five prime). This refers to the direction the 3rd and 5th carbon on the sugar molecule is facing. Attached to each sugar is one of four types of molecules called nucleobases (informally, bases). It is the sequence of these four nucleobases along the backbone that encodes genetic information. This information is read using the genetic code, which specifies the sequence of the amino acids within proteins. The code is read by copying stretches of DNA into the related nucleic acid RNA in a process called transcription.
Within cells, DNA is organized into long structures called chromosomes. During cell division these chromosomes are duplicated in the process of DNA replication, providing each cell its own complete set of chromosomes. Eukaryotic organisms (animals, plants, fungi, and protists) store most of their DNA inside the cell nucleus and some of their DNA in organelles, such as mitochondria or chloroplasts. In contrast, prokaryotes (bacteria and archaea) store their DNA only in the cytoplasm. Within the chromosomes, chromatin proteins such as histones compact and organize DNA. These compact structures guide the interactions between DNA and other proteins, helping control which parts of the DNA are transcribed.
The obsolete synonym « desoxyribonucleic acid » may occasionally be encountered, for example, in pre-1953 genetics.
Genetic engineering, also called genetic modification, is the direct manipulation of an organism’s genome using biotechnology. New DNA may be inserted in the host genome by first isolating and copying the genetic material of interest using molecular cloning methods to generate a DNA sequence, or by synthesizing the DNA, and then inserting this construct into the host organism. Genes may be removed, or « knocked out », using a nuclease. Gene targeting is a different technique that uses homologous recombination to change an endogenous gene, and can be used to delete a gene, remove exons, add a gene, or introduce point mutations.
An organism that is generated through genetic engineering is considered to be a genetically modified organism (GMO). The first GMOs were bacteria in 1973; GM mice were generated in 1974. Insulin-producing bacteria were commercialized in 1982 and genetically modified food has been sold since 1994. Glofish, the first GMO designed as a pet, was first sold in the United States December in 2003.
Genetic engineering techniques have been applied in numerous fields including research, agriculture, industrial biotechnology, and medicine. Enzymes used in laundry detergent and medicines such as insulin and human growth hormone are now manufactured in GM cells, experimental GM cell lines and GM animals such as mice or zebrafish are being used for research purposes, and genetically modified crops have been commercialized. .