When I first learned about modifying genes in my high school biology class I found it a fascinating, yet scary concept. Learning about how DNA works allowed researchers to develop a method of inserting foreign DNA into organisms, a potential solution to many genetic problems. I remember when we inserted a gene into bacterial plasmids and created glow-in-the-dark bacteria colonies. It made me wonder, what else had we unknowingly changed in the bacterium?
Since the 1980’s, when gene modification was first invented, the insertion of foreign DNA has been a standard practice. However, because of the limitations of our knowledge, this method has carried with it a sense of public anxiety with some good reason – the inability to know exactly where the foreign DNA will insert itself or how it will modify the existing sequences has been a cause for concern.
Research at the Massachusetts General Hospital and The University of Minnesota has successfully revolutionized the concept of gene modification. They made a change in the DNA of a plant, without inserting any foreign DNA. Instead, they created ZFN (Zinc Finger Nuclease), an enzyme that helped modify a single gene in the plant cell. This modification helps plants mature with the asset of herbicide resistance.
Herbicides are used to destroy the unwanted plants that grow alongside desired crops. This helps ensure that the crop gets all the resources and space it needs to grow. However, it is difficult to create herbicides that are so specific that they wont harm the crop itself.
The ability to genetically modify an organism without adding foreign DNA is revolutionary in the field and will provide means for dissipating the current fear of GMO’s. Although this research is relatively new and all the potential effects aren’t known yet, it still provides sufficient success to create a stronghold for further research. This can be used as a gene modification tool to help the growth of other agricultural crops such as rice.
This research is crucial for the improvement of genetically modifying organisms as well as for producing more efficient agricultural methods worldwide.
Discussion Question: Can herbicide resistant plants be a cause for potential problems?
News Article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090429132233.htm
Research Article: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v459/n7245/full/nature07845.html
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