Genetic engineering is the deliberate modification of the characteristics of an organism by manipulating its genetic material. It makes an excellent topic for the plot of a science fiction novel or movie, but it is also becoming an increasingly serious issue in the real world.
People began taking notice of genetic engineering when issues were raised about genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Genetically modified crops are plants with DNA that have been modified using genetic engineering methods for agriculture. Often, the reason for modifying the DNA is to introduce a new trait to the plant which does not occur naturally in the species.
Valuable traits are added to genetically modified crops, including improved production, better nutritional value, longer shelf life, and resistance to drought, frost, or insect pests. Examples of genetically modified crops are squash, cotton, soya bean, corn, papaya, alfalfa, sugar beet, canola, and potato.
Next came genetically modified animals. In 1996, British scientists cloned a sheep. The process involved the transfer of the nucleus from an adult cell into an unfertilized premature egg whose nucleus had been removed. This process is known as nuclear transfer. They named the sheep Dolly.
Then, researchers at the University of Alberta, Canada found the bacterium that produces methane, and in 2009, they created a line of cattle that produces 25% less methane than the average cow. This is important because methane from cows is a major source of the greenhouse gases causing global warming.
In 2012, a company owned by the New Zealand government, known as AgResearch, engineered a cow to produce milk without β-lactoglobulin, which is one of the proteins that many people are allergic to. The milk also contained more casein, a nutritious protein found in milk.
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