How Genetic Modification Actually Works

August 14th, 2014 | Simcha Weinstein | Comments Off on How Genetic Modification Actually Works

cornHave you ever wondered how the process of genetic modification actually works? Probably not… but it sure makes good sense to understand. It’s not the most interesting topic to discuss and not necessarily the easiest to understand, but if we’re out there fighting against it, it‘s really a great idea to at least have a basic working knowledge of how the process we oppose actually works.

So, here goes:

– First, the engineers need to find an organism that contains the trait that they would like their crop to have. For our purposes, let’s imagine that we’re discussing corn, and they’ve identified a protein in Bt soil bacteria that can kill pests like rootworm. (Farmers have been spraying their fields with Bt for decades, but it can wash away easily.)

– They then extract the DNA from the soil bacteria.

– The engineers don’t want the entire bacterial genome — they just want the specific gene that controls production of the pest-killing Bt protein. So they use a process called gene cloning to isolate and make many copies of the Bt gene.

– Next, the engineers may want to modify the Bt gene. This is done in a lab machine by tearing the gene apart with enzymes and repairing certain regions. For example, the engineers might want to design the Bt gene so that only the green leaves of corn produce the pest-killing protein.

– The newly modified “transgene” is now ready to be inserted into corn DNA. There are several ways to do this. One method is to use agrobacterium, a type of bacteria that can naturally transfer the transgene to the nucleus of the plant cells. There’s also the “gene gun,” which essentially shoots very tiny gold particles coated with copies of the transgene into the plant cells. This process often has to be repeated hundreds of times before the transgene is successfully integrated into the corn’s DNA.

– Once the Bt gene has been successfully inserted into the corn cells, and a new plant with the trait is grown from those cells, the genetic engineering is done. The new “transgenic” corn is now handed over to crop breeders so that they can breed it with other corn in more traditional ways to select for other traits they deem desirable.

So there you have it. As promised, not that exciting… but still good material for us to digest – and there is definitely value in understanding how genetic modification actually occurs. The more we know, and the smarter we are on the issue, the more effective we become.