Recombinant DNA Technology: Pharmaceuticals and Bacteria
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Recombinant DNA Technology: Pharmaceuticals and Bacteria

Recombinant DNA technology has many fields of application. In this article, pharmaceuticals and engineered bacteria will be briefly discussed.

The Practical Side

Besides providing valuable new information about the nature and function of genes, recombinant DNA technology has several practical applications. Among these are the production of pharmaceuticals and the engineering of specialized bacteria. Other useful applications of the technology are the engineering of plants (specifically food crops) and farm animals, medical testing and even treatments for diseases. It can even be used in criminal investigations and for the identification of human remains.

By now, hundreds, if not thousands, of firms are specializing in the development of products through genetic engineering, and several large multinationals have invested huge amounts of money in recombinant DNA research.


The first commercial products to be developed with the use of recombinant DNA technology were pharmaceuticals used in the treatment of human diseases and disorders. In 1979, the Eli Lilly Corporation began the sale of human insulin produced with the aid of recombinant DNA technology. Before this moment, all human insulin used in the treatment of diabetes, was isolated from the pancreases of farm animals that were slaughtered for food.

Although this source of insulin worked well for many diabetics, it was not human, resulting in allergic reactions to the product from some diabetes patients. To solve this, the human insulin gene was inserted into plasmids and transferred to bacteria that then began to produce human insulin.

Other pharmaceuticals produced through similar recombinant DNA techniques are human growth hormone (mainly developed to treat children with growth deficiencies, but sometimes used for other purposes), clotting factors (for people suffering from hemophilia) and tissue plasminogen activators (used to dissolve blood clots in heart-attack patients). And it seems very reasonable to assume that this is just the beginning.

Specialized Bacteria

In many industrial processes, minute organisms such as bacteria play an important role. Examples of such processes, based on bacterial activity, are the production of ethanol from plant material, the leaching of minerals from the ore and the treatment of sewage and other forms of waste. Through genetic engineering, the bacteria involved in these processes are being modified to reach higher levels of efficiency.

At present, several new strains of industrially useful bacteria are being developed with the help of recombinant DNA technology. These engineered micro-organisms should be able to break down toxic chemicals and pollutants, enhance the oil recovery rate, increase the nitrogen uptake by plants and inhibit the growth of their pathogenic cousins and fungi.

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