Science Corner: Genetic engineering and glow in the dark bunnies!

Greetings everybody! 

Summer holidays are officially over and whether you are devastated by this news or super psyched I will be lending a helping hand come this academic term by launching a brand new blog series - Science Corner. Each post will have content satisfactory for KS3, GCSE and A-level biology students so keep a watchful eye out (may even feature the occasional topic on Chemistry and Physics). Lets get into it! 

What is genetic engineering?

This may sound like a very modern day application for genetics but this amazing process dates far back in our evolutionary history. Mankind has carried out genetic engineering for centuries in our endless pursuit for perfection, ever heard of 'selective breeding'? Selective breeding is the process of enhancing the traits in plants and animals that we see as desirable. This process is responsible for the variety of domestic dogs we have today (see picture below). Dachshunds (picture below) were engineered to hunt burrow dwelling animals and this is largely reflected in their size and shape to today. In fact many of the body plans seen in our lovely companions relate to a historical function!...  however the function behind a chihuahua escapes me...

Selective breeding based solely on physical desirable characteristics is so outdated! The newest fashion is going straight to the source of physical traits and variation - the animals DNA. With modern day techniques and DNA engineering methods becoming cheaper and quicker it is definitely a fashion catching on! With this technology scientists are now capable of inserting genes from one organism into another thereby altering the genetic makeup of that host organism. 

A brief history of Genetic Engineering: 

How does this process work and how could I make a glow in the dark bunny? 

There you have it! This is a key example that every Biology student on the planet needs to feel totally confident in explaining. As for the glow in the dark bunny question lets have a quick run through...

  1. Firstly find an animal that naturally 'glows in the dark' such as a jellyfish. 
  2. Next isolate the gene in the jellyfish responsible for its glowing properties. 
  3. Finally insert this gene (with the help of ligase) into a rabbit embryo cell and as the bunny develops the glow in the dark genes will be expressed allowing your bunny to finally be glow in the dark. YAY! science is so awesome only we get to make glow in the dark animals. 

Its not just all glow in the dark bunnies though. Genetic engineering has opened the doors to solutions for many  21st Century problems:

A lot of the credit for Genetic engineerings boost in popularity is down to a brand new technique known as CRISPR (soon to have its own blog post on here). The revolutionary CRISPR technique  has opened doorways to ending diseases, designer babies and even the chance of achieving eternal youth. For now lets focus on the role it has in ending the disease! 

Cure for HIV:  

In 2015, CRISPR was put forward as a way of cutting out HIV from our bodies cells. However it wasn't until 2016 that CRISPR was used to treat rats with HIV present in over 90% of their body cells. CRISPR therapy was injected into the bodies of these rats and the results were spectacular. When tested again over 50% of the rats cells were HIV free. This is a big win in the fight against HIV as well as other Retroviruses. 

Cancer treatment: 

One of the biggest challenges when treating cancer is that cancerous cells are our own body cells gone haywire! As such treatment must be targeted towards the cancer cells and not damage our bodies healthy cells in the process. Cancer has taken advantage of our immune system that has been trained to never attack and destroy our bodies cells. 
What role does CRISPR play in the future of cancer treatment? Simply put, CRISPR is editing our immune cells to become kick ass cancer hunters. Scientists are able to edit our bodies immune cells to make them super efficient at locating and destroying cancerous cells thereby reducing the use of more invasive treatments such as chemotherapy. 
In 2016 America and China bought the future to our present by genetically engineering immune cells for cancer treatment. Very promising! 

Genetic diseases: 

These cover a wide range of disorders from colour blindness straight through to Huntingtons disorder.  More than 3000 genetic diseases are caused by a single incorrect letter in our DNA strand. Our lovely CRISPR innovation through the use of another protein correcting molecule called Cas9 then get up and close with our DNA strand and correct that single incorrect letter! 

Alright Ladies and Gentlemen that marks the end of this weeks post! I hope you all enjoyed it and feel as though you got a lot of interesting information from it! I will see you here next week Friday. 

Over and Out

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