Advances in Gene-Splicing
Recombinant DNA's Commercial Potential
It has been less than a decade since the controversial gene-splicing technique known as recombinant DNA emerged from the scientist's laboratory into the public limelight. In that time recombinant DNA research has advanced even more rapidly than many scientists predicted it would. The significance of genetic research has been widely recognized in the scientific community; the 1980 Nobel Prize for chemistry was awarded to scientists working in this field. But it is the commercial potential of recombinant DNA that recently has gotten the most attention. Dozens of corporations have poured millions of dollars into genetic research. They claim that the products of this research could revolutionize agriculture, greatly simplify control of pollution and lead to cures for diseases like cancer.
Just a few years ago some scientists were warning that such experiments might create new pathogens that would unleash uncontrollable diseases. Others warned of possible alteration of the normal evolutionary process, and other health and genetic dangers. Although recombinant DNA still has its critics, much of the controversy seems to have died down.
The scientific technique involved is relatively simple to understand. By using a substance called a restriction enzyme, researchers can separate molecules of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) at specific points and then combine them with DNA segments separated from another source. The resulting hybrids are inserted into bacteria in which they reproduce. In this way, genes wanted for study can be produced in large quantities. Sometimes researchers use viruses (tiny life forms consisting largely of DNA) to carry genes into bacteria or other host cells. Another way to get foreign DNA into bacteria is to use something called a plasmid. This is a piece of DNA found naturally in bacteria; it can move easily from one cell to another.