a concise description of biotechnology

Biotechnology is the manipulation of biological processes. In the context of agriculture, biotechnology is often synonymous with genetic engineering used to produce Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). GMOs are organisms that have a set of genes altered by said engineering. There are three components required in order to make a genetically modified organism:

  1. The desired gene for transfer
  2. A target species in which to transfer the gene
  3. A means to transfer the gene.

The gene from the original specimen is first isolated and removed. This is often done by restriction enzymes because they recognize specific DNA sequences to cut. This gene is then transferred to another organism’s DNA using something called an ‘expression cassette’. Expression cassettes include a promoter which enables the cell to make a protein, the gene and a terminator which acts as a stop signal. These combinations are often linked together and then inserted into a plasmid which is a ‘parasitic’ piece of bacteria or virus. These combinations are allowed to multiply freely and then are forcibly injected into the host using DNA-coated particles of gold or tungsten (called a “gene gun”) or by opening holes in the cell with strong electrical fields.

Such a process, while sounding very direct and relatively simple, can result in unpredictable outcomes. This is because the bioengineer cannot necessarily preserve the structure of the insert or target a specific location in the genome for entrance, which can result in the insert entering the host in an incorrect manner and disrupt the entire function of the cell. Furthermore, as the insert is often laced with antibiotic, only the modified cells have the potential to survive. These artificial DNA links can be weak and unstable. The fabrication of GMOs can often be confused with traditional selective breeding but the two are quite different in nature.

sources:

  1. http://www.i-sis.org.uk/FAQ.php
  2. Karp, D. S., Rominger, A. J., Zook, J., Ranganathan, J., Ehrlich, P. R., Daily, G. C., & Cornell, H. (2012, September). Intensive agriculture erodes ß-diversity at large scales. Ecology Letters, pp. 693-970.
  3. KERSHEN, D. L. (2013, August). The contested vision for agriculture’s future: sustainable intensive agriculture and agroecology. Creighton Law Review, pp. 591-618.