Genetic engineering is the ability to be able to change part of an organism's genome to create some desired or beneficial trait. Of course humans have been doing that for thousands of years with the selective breeding of cattle and crops, but the advantage of genetic engineering is that we can now go directly into a genome and insert or remove a chunk of DNA to create something beneficial.
Five Major Advances in Genetic Engineering
- Genetic engineering came of age in 1973 when Herb Boyer and Stanley Cohen created the world's first genetically engineered organism. They were able to cut a bacterial plasmid with and insert DNA into the gap that was created. The ultra- revolutionary part of their work was demonstrating how traits from totally different organisms could be mixed together. They successfully spliced toad DNA into the E.coli genome.
- The biotech company, Genentech (founded by Herb Boyer and Robert Swanson) announced in 1977 that it had cloned and manufactured the human hormone somatostatin using genetic engineering. In 1978 they made another major advance in genetic engineering with the production of genetically engineered human insulin by a strain of E. coli.
- In 1981 scientists at Ohio University made a major advance in genetic engineering by creating the world's first transgenic animals. They were able to splice rabbit genes into the mouse genome, which were passed on to two subsequent mouse generations.
- The Flavr Savr tomato became the first genetically modified plant to be licensed for human consumption. It went on the market in 1994 and was only available for a few years. The fruit had been genetically engineered to be more resistant to rotting. The aim was to produce a crop that could ripen on the vine, but still have a long shelf-life, and of course be very tasty.
- Human genetic engineering - in 1990, a four year old girl named Ashanti DeSilva was given genetically engineered white blood cells to boost her weak immune system. It was the first gene therapy trial, and though the technology is not yet commonplace, continued research does make the prospect more likely.