Engineering life: The fascinating and daunting world of genetic editing

Genetic engineering is a process that uses laboratory-based technologies to alter the DNA makeup of an organism. It involves changing a single base pair, deleting a region of DNA, or adding a new segment of DNA. This technology has been applied to the production of cancer therapies, brewing yeasts, genetically modified plants and livestock, and more.

There are several techniques used in genetic engineering, including genome editing and cloning. Genome editing is mainly don e to change an organism's DNA, by adding and/or removing genetic material as well as altering specific locations in the genome.

One of the most well-known genome editing techniques is called CRISPR-Cas9. This technique was adapted from bacteria as part of its defense mechanisms against viral attacks. When infected with a virus, bacteria capture small pieces of the virus DNA and insert them into their own DNA in a particular pattern referred to as CRISPR arrays. The latter allows the bacteria to “remember” the virus and RNA segments that recognize the virus and attach themselves to specific regions of the virus’ DNA. The bacteria then use Cas9 or a similar enzyme to cut the virus DNA apart and disable the virus.

This technique is faster, cheaper, more accurate, and more efficient than other genome editing methods. Currently, genome editing is used in cells and animal models in research labs to understand diseases. Scientists are still working to determine whether this approach is safe and effective for use in people.

Cloning is another technique used in genetic engineering that involves creating an exact genetic copy of an organism. It can be done through several methods, including somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) and artificial embryo twinning. SCNT involves removing the nucleus of an egg cell and replacing it with the nucleus of a somatic cell, which is any cell in the body that is not a sperm or egg cell. The egg cell is then stimulated to divide and develop into an embryo, which is implanted into a surrogate mother. Artificial embryo twinning involves separating an early-stage embryo into individual cells and allowing each cell to develop into a separate embryo. Cloning has been used to create genetically identical animals for research purposes.

The movie “Jurassic Park” imagines a world where dinosaurs have been cloned for use in a theme park. So how far off is this possibility in real life?

The idea of cloning dinosaurs is fascinating. However, it is not currently possible due to the limitations of technology and the lack of suitable DNA and host organisms. Other limitations include:

  1. DNA degradation: DNA starts decaying the moment after an organism dies, and it is unlikely that scientists could find usable dinosaur DNA in fossils.
  2. Incomplete DNA: Even if scientists could find dinosaurs’ DNA, it would likely be incomplete and fragmented, making it difficult to reconstruct the entire genome.
  3. Lack of suitable host: There are no dinosaur cells or eggs that could host a new set of DNA. This is a serious constraint.
  4. Ethical concerns: Even if it was possible to clone a dinosaur, it would be cruel to do so, as it takes at least 5,000 animals to create a sustainable population with genetic diversity.

In summary, genetic engineering is a fascinating and quickly evolving field which will require extensive debate on its applications.