Discovery of Recombinant DNA: The Single Greatest Breakthrough in Medical Biotechnology in the Past 50 Years
In the past 50 years, the field of medicine has experienced tremendous advancements ranging from the discovery of new diagnostic techniques, treatment therapies and life-saving medical devices. In practice, advances in the medical technology have influenced mankind in the universe by providing solutions to health conditions, cure for diseases and production of food products. Despite the achievement of many breakthroughs in the medical biotechnology in the past 50 years, it is apparent that the discovery of Recombinant DNA in 1973 by Herbert Boyer and his colleague Stanley N. Cohen at Stanford University Medical School is the single greatest breakthrough in medical biotechnology.a Justification for recombinant DNA technology being regarded as the single greatest breakthrough in medical biotechnology is provided by its impact in the field of medicine, industrial process and agricultural production. Foremost, the use of the recombinant technology has led to the development of new vaccines, therapeutic remedies to various conditions including gene therapy for genetic disorders, development of modern diagnostic procedures, and advances in food production through the use of genetically modified organisms.
Herbert Boyer and his colleague used molecular cloning to create recombinant DNA from the bacterial genomes; DNA and plasmid (Russell & Sambrook, 2001). They transformed E. Coli by inserting foreign DNA segments into the bacterial DNA strand to create a new genome that could express the bacterial genes contained in its original DNA, as well as genes in the foreign DNA insert from the donor organism. As a result, the transformed bacteria commonly referred to as the recombinant cell was able to express replicate the foreign DNA insert through bacterial division to produce more transformants. In addition, the recombinant bacteria produced respective proteins encoded by the genes in the foreign DNA insert.
In the experiment which led to the creation of the recombinant DNA, inventors of the technology molecular cloning techniques, especially DNA digestion by restriction enzymes. It involved E. Coli as the host, plasmid as the vector and the foreign DNA segment from the desired organism. The procedure involved obtaining the plasmid from bacteria, the DNA from the donor organism, the host cells, and restriction enzymes. Restriction enzymes were used to create DNA fragments from the donor DNA molecule. This DNA fragment (insert) was inserted into the plasmid strand using restriction enzymes to slice the plasmid for the insertion of the foreign DNA insert. After the insertion of the insert, ligase enzymes were used to seal the breaks in the plasmid strand; thus, producing a recombinant plasmid (Russell & Sambrook, 2001). This recombinant plasmid was then injected into a bacterial cell in which genes in the insert were expressed. To date, standard cloning protocols have been developed to ensure the efficiency and precision of this technique.
Currently, recombinant DNA technology has gained popularity in biomedical and biological sciences where it serves as a principle research tool. For instance, recombinant DNA technology has enabled scientists to identify an array of genes through gene mapping, as well as determining the roles of these genes in different organisms. An outstanding example is the application of recombinant DNA technology in studying the expression of genes in various organisms.
In the field of medicine, recombinant DNA technology has become the mainstay in the development of vaccines, therapeutic agents and diagnostic tools. For instance, this technology has been applied to develop the so-called recombinant DNA vaccines. One of these vaccines is the hepatitis B vaccine which protects humans against Hepatitis B virus infection. This vaccine is developed from yeast cells using a specific surface antigen from hepatitis B virus. The second example of therapeutic remedies developed with recombinant DNA technology is human insulin. Humulin was a recombinant human insulin produced from E. Coli, and it was the first therapeutic agent to be approved for medical use in 1982. Currently, this insulin is produced in yeast or E. Coli through introducing human insulin genes into their DNA for the production of insulin which is used for treatment of type 1 diabetes (Gualandi-Signorini, & Giorgi, 2001). Thirdly, recombinant DNA technology has been applied in the production of human growth hormone from bacteria, which is used for treatment of growth hormone insufficiency in humans (Von Fange, T., et al., 2008). It has also been used in the production of blood clotting factor VIII protein. This agent is used to treat haemophilia in humans (Manco-Johnson, 2010). On the other hand, recombinant DNA technology has been used to develop diagnostic methods for disease determination. For instance, the tests for HIV disease have been developed using recombinant technology to detect HIV antibodies or its genome. The ELISA test determines HIV infection by detecting antibodies which bind with a recombinant HIV viral protein, whereas HIV DNA test utilize TR-PCR technique to detect the presence of the viral genome. This is the same principle applied in developing herbicide-resistant crops such as glyphosate-based crops to control weeds. In addition, recombinant DNA technology is used in food fortification to increase the nutritive value of food products. For instance, Golden rice is produced by inserting genes that code for enzymes involved in β –carotene biosynthesis in order to address vitamin A deficiency among the global population (Paine et al., 2005).
Moreover, recombinant DNA technology has also gained popularity in food production. The current genetically modified crops and animals have been developed using this technology. Some of the GM crops used in for food production are Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) corn, canola and soy. Bt corn is an pesticide-producing recombinant corn. This corn is produced by inserting Bacillus thuringiensis bacteria genes responsible for producing to pesticides into the corn genome (Paine et al., 2005).
Despite the benefits associated with recombinant DNA technology, there has been immense controversy over the ethics of this technology, especially concerning human cloning. For instance, religion has been opposing human cloning because it challenges religious beliefs. It has also raised ethical questions on decisions related to somatic cell nuclear transfer (stemcell technology).
On the other hand, recombinant DNA technology has been found to pose health risks to humans. For instance, genetically modified soy and corn products have been identified to cause allergies (Finamore et al., 2008). It has also been linked to reproductive toxicity and antibiotic resistance.
In a brief conclusion, it is apparent that recombinant DNA technology has the greatest impact on life in the universe. Its application in developing therapeutic agents, diagnostic procedures, industrial processes, and agricultural food crops and animals demonstrate the relevance of recombinant DNA discovery. Currently, treatment, prevention and control of diseases have been promoted by the application of this technology. On the other hand, biomedical and biological studies have gained a significant advancement due to the usefulness of recombinant DNA technology as a research tool. Moreover, recombinant DNA technology is experienced in everyday life through the use of genetically modified foods which have dominated global food supply chains. Therefore, the widespread applications of recombinant DNA technology justify it as the single greatest breakthrough in Medical Biotechnology in the last 50 years.
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Von Fange, T., et al., (2008). Clinical Inquiries: Can Recombinant Growth Hormone Effectively Treat Idiopathic Short Stature? The Journal of family practice, 57 (9), 611–612.
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- Patrick Kimuyu (Author), 2018, Discovery of Recombinant DNA. The Single Greatest Breakthrough in Medical Biotechnology in the Past 50 Years, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/431372