Molecular Biology & Biotech Notes


Written by MicroDok

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are living organisms including plants and microorganisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated through genetic engineering or recombinant DNA technology in a laboratory. The term GMO also encompasses any living organism that possesses a novel combination of genetic materials obtained from various sources through the use of modern biotechnology. The genetic modification of living organisms to obtain a desired phenotype usually involves the mutation, insertion, or deletion of certain genes in the target organism. When a gene from one organism is purposely moved to improve or change another organism in a laboratory under controlled environmental conditions, the resulting organism is known as a genetically modified organism (GMO); and GMOs have genetic makeup different from their parent organisms. Genetically modified organisms exemplify one of the many ways of genetically manipulating the genetic makeup of organisms in order to get a desired phenotype. GMOs are organism’s whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques such as molecular cloning and mutagenesis. When genes are transferred from one organism to another, the resulting organism is known as a transgenic organism.

Thus the phrase GMO can sometimes be synonymously used with transgenic organism since both organisms emanate from the genetic manipulation of their parent cells. Nevertheless, GMOs should not be confused with transgenic organisms since the former (i.e. GMO) has to do with organisms whose genetic makeup has been altered without the addition of genetic material from an unrelated organism while the latter (i.e. transgenic organisms) mainly deals with organisms whose genetic makeup has been altered by the addition of genetic material from another, unrelated organism. A transgenic organism is therefore an organism whose genetic makeup has been altered by the addition of genetic material from another, unrelated organism. Most transgenic animals or plants are used in biomedical research as experimental models to perform research. Nowadays, we have genetically modified foods or (GM foods) that are genetically engineered foods or food products produced from organisms whose genetic materials have undergone genetic manipulation in the laboratory. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have applications in medicine, food industry, pharmaceutical industry, environmental management, agriculture and in medical research and biotechnological research. GMOs were developed to benefit mankind in the aforementioned areas including but not limited to medicine, agriculture, the environment and the industry. The advent of recombinant DNA technology and other modern biotechnological advances have allowed molecular biologists to better understand the physiology and metabolic potentials of microbes, and this has given us the opportunity to harness the several beneficial potentials of these organisms to better our lives. The applications of GMOs are succinctly addressed in this section.


The field of medicine has in the past decades seen the production of many biotherapeutics and/or drugs from GMOs. Many safer and cheaper vaccines and other drugs have been produced from GMOs. For example, injectable insulin (which is used to treat and manage diabetes mellitus disease in diabetic patients) was traditionally produced from the purification of proteins obtained from the cells, tissues or organs of humans and animals like pig and cow. But this traditional method of obtaining this important therapeutic agent was associated with several demerits including the immunological challenges it posed to humans receiving proteins from non-human animals and the limited supply of the animal insulin. But today, human insulin can now be produced in sufficient amounts from GMOs.  In 1982, the first recombinant therapeutic protein molecule (human insulin) for human use was produced from a genetically modified or engineered Escherichia coli that contained the human insulin genes. This human insulin is currently used to treat diabetes patients worldwide. And since then, several therapeutic protein molecules including recombinant vaccines, tissue plasminogen activator (for stroke or heart attack patients), interleukins and interferons (IFNs) have been produced from genetically modified microorganisms (GMMs). Microbes are currently been studied for the production of edible vaccines that can be produced in the consumable parts of plants such as the fruits, and which can be directly absorbed into the bloodstream to provide protective function when such plant part(s) is consumed. GMOs and/or GMMs are also being considered to provide possible therapeutic effect for the treatment of molecular diseases such as cancer and other genetic disorders in humans.


New varieties of plants or crops can now be produced through recombinant DNA technology; and such crops have improved properties such as resistance to pest, improved taste and quality, resistance to environmental stress, resistance to pesticides/herbicides and resistance to disease. Transgenic plants have been engineered for scientific research, to create new colours in plants, and to create different crops with improved yield. These crops whose DNA have been genetically engineered to produce different varieties of qualities are generally known as genetically modified crops or plants. In the production of genetically modified crops, plant species lacking certain good qualities are genetically engineered by introducing in them those traits that they naturally lack so that they can go on to express these features as aforementioned. Some countries like the United States of America have some genetically modified foods including corn, rice and soybeans that have been approved for human consumption. Genetically modified crops possess several benefits to agriculturists and farmers. For example, crops can be genetically engineered to be resistant to pests and diseases. And if this can be achieved, it will go a long way in saving cost because the money expended in controlling pests and diseases in the farmland can be channeled for other useful ventures. Bacillus thuringiensis is a Gram positive bacterium that possesses a gene responsible for producing BT toxin – a naturally occurring insecticide found in Bacillus thuringiensis. This gene can be genetically introduced into certain crops so that they will naturally produce BT toxin that will help to control pest infestation in the farm even without using any form of chemical insecticide. It is also noteworthy that golden rice (genetically engineered rice) now exists in the market worldwide; and this species of rice has been endowed with genes that help to produce important vitamins and minerals in the consumers.


Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are being considered as possible clean up agents to control environmental pollution especially through the process of bioremediation. Some microbes including Pseudomonas fluorescens are naturally endowed with genes that degrade oil and other metals in the environment. The genetic engineering of such gene could lead to the production of strains of the organism that can carry out commercial clean up exercise in the face of heavy environmental pollution. Genetically modified organisms or microorganisms (GMOs/GMMs) including plants, animals and microbes are currently being developed to solve several challenges of mankind especially in the areas of medicine, industry, environment and biomedical research. GMOs/GMMs are developed to research human diseases and to improve animal health. They are also being developed to produce consumer products and pharmaceutical therapeutic products including vaccines and drugs. GMMs/GMOs are also being developed to enhance the quality of food sourced from animals and plants as well as to produce animals and plants with improved varieties and high yields. Irrespective of their many advantages, GMOs/GMMs still possess some safety concerns that still restrict their wider acceptance in some parts of the world. Nevertheless, proper regulation and improvement of the gains of GM foods and products should be encouraged with the view to producing products that are sustainable and can be widely acceptable.


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