Genetic engineering involves extracting DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid, the substance that genes are made of) from one organism and combining it with that of another organism, which gives new hereditary traits to the organism receiving the donor's DNA. The point of genetic engineering is to produce better crops and healthier humans and animals. The National Institutes of Health imposes safety measures and guidelines for genetic experimentation to minimize harmful effects of genetic engineering, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has rules concerning the genetic alteration of plants. The Supreme Court ruled in 1980 that patents could be filed for genetically engineered microorganisms.
Genetic engineering involves microsurgical instruments and high-powered microscopes to perform techniques such as gene splicing or creating restriction enzymes. This combined DNA is then put into a host cell and the DNA produces clones of itself. Other methods can create recombinant DNA molecules. These recombinant DNA molecules can transform other cells into groups of genetically identical cells.
Genetically engineered, or genetically modified (GM), crops have been produced since the 1980s. Examples are tomato plants that are resistant to spoilage or caterpillars, and corn with more nutritional value. Many other plants now possess higher resistance to disease, drought, frost and pests. In 2000, genetically engineered corn that was intended for animal feed somehow was found in food products for humans, increasing public concern that GM crops should be better supervised.
There also is public concern over use of genetic engineering of animals, called transgenic animals. They can be produced by inserting a gene into a fertilized egg so that the new gene joins one of the gene strands. When the zygote divides, the embryo's cells have copies of the new gene. Another method involves using a modified virus to deliver the new gene to the host cell's nucleus. This modifies the virus so that it can't reproduce itself when it enters the host cell. The transgenic animal's offspring can inherit the alteration. Two of the first transgenic animals were a mouse that was very susceptible to cancer and a mouse that grew to be twice the size of a normal mouse because of the addition of a growth hormone gene.
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