The Wonder of Recombinant DNA Technology
The process of recombining genetic material from various sources to form a new DNA sequence that
would not otherwise be found in the original genetic material (or genome) is known as recombinant
DNA technology. Also known by its more popular name: genetic engineering, this technology, which has
been around since the early Seventies, is seen to have both advantages and disadvantages. Here are
some interesting things to know about recombinant DNA technology.
The Origins of Recombinant DNA
Since all organisms have DNA as their molecule of heredity, and since DNA is chemically identical, no
matter which organism it is taken from, it follows that DNA from different organisms can be spliced
together, resulting in recombinant DNA. The first to try this idea out was Stanford researcher Paul Berg.
Berg used isolated restriction enzymes as a kind of molecular scissors, to cut DNA fragments from two
different viruses, which he then pasted together using another enzyme, ligase. The result was a
continuous, genetically recombined DNA strand. The first organism to contain recombinant DNA was
produced by the efforts of two other scientists, Herb Boyer and Stanley Cohen. Boyer was working on
restriction enzymes that could be isolated from the bacteria E. coli, while Cohen was working on
plasmids, which were rings of extra chromosomal DNA. A chance meeting led to a collaboration where
the two worked to produce the first custom-made organism containing recombined, or recombinant
DNA. This was the birth of recombinant DNA technology.
The Uses of Recombinant DNA Technology
Today, rDNA can be found in almost every testing laboratory and western medical pharmacy available.
These are the results of the immense growth of the biotechnology industry, thanks to Herb Boyer.
Boyer was responsible for starting the first biotechnology company, Genentech in 1976. The first-ever
commercial product that Genentech came up with was genetically produced human insulin. This and
other mass-produced human proteins led to the explosive success of biotechnology as an industry.
Today we find recombinant DNA technology extensively used in almost all laboratory research being
conducted on gene structure and function, which are instrumental in understanding how an organism
develops. Another area where this technology has been successful is in the generation of genetically
engineered plants that produce an insect toxin, resulting in the selective killing of the crop pests, thus
bringing down expenditure on pesticides and improving the longevity of crops.
The Pros and Cons of Recombinant DNA Technology
While improvements in health and quality of food are the obvious advantages of recombinant DNA
technology, concerns have also been raised regarding the ethical side of recombinant DNA. People
question the wisdom of people tampering with the basic building blocks of life, worrying that the
manipulation of DNA might lead to selective breeding of human beings.
These concerns notwithstanding, rDNA is an area that will continue to be researched extensively in the
days to come. For all that they have discovered about recombinant DNA technology, scientists are
realizing that what they have learnt might only be the tip of the iceberg.