Genetic Engineering or recombinant DNA technology is a method of artificially manipulating the genes of an organism. A gene is basically a segment of the DNA which specifies the protein sequence. Protein sequences are what give the DNA its characteristics. Recombinant technology uses methods like cloning or molecular transformation of genes, to directly alter the characteristics and features of a gene, along with its structure.
Typically, the process of genetic engineering involves five steps. First step is isolation of the genes to be modified. Artificially engineering the sequence to be replaced in the natural gene and attaching it to what is known as a vector. A vector is what takes this new sequence to the target site on the DNA to be modified. Plasmids and Liposomes are often used as vectors. They are preferred, since they function in exactly the same way as genetic engineering works, by manipulating the genetic sequences of our DNA. They then take the new sequence to the target gene. Fourth step is when the cell in which the modified DNA resides in, divides to form a cell which is different from its parent due to genetic modification. This transformed cell is the new mutant cell in which the modified gene has become expressed. The last and final step involves separating the modified cell and culturing it to produce more of its kind.
These basic techniques of genetic engineering have been found to be successful in numerous fields. Major revolution has been brought about by the use of this technique to produce GM foods or genetically modified food crops which give a higher yield than its natural counterpart. Some seeds and crops have even been made fungi resistant or pest proof. Other uses of gene technology include the recent success in using a genetically modified bacteria to synthesise insulin in human body which, if proved to be completely safe and successful, could be a breakthrough in treating and perhaps even curing Diabetes. Research continues in the field of Gene Therapy, where use of genetic modification is being explored to treat many hereditary diseases. It aims at using viral vectors like Adenovirus or Retrovirus to introduce the manipulated gene sequence to the target gene and replace the gene responsible for the given condition or disease. If it proves to be successful, the technique could prove to be useful in curing and treating diseases like Muscular Dystrophy or SCID.
Genetic Engineering, however, is a highly controversial issue. It has created a major moral dilemma among the minds of the people, of whether to alter the course of nature or not, even if it is possible. The debate still goes on, and perhaps will forever. Perhaps the answer lies in selective use of this technology, but then again, who selects, is another question.