Genetic Engineering

Insulin with the help of genetic engineering

More than 300, 000 people in Germany suffer from diabetes. You need insulin, a hormone that is now produced by genetic engineering. Insulin is produced by the islets of Langerhans of the pancreas, it regulates the sugar level. If the hormone fails, this leads to the clinical picture of diabetes. Human insulin is the first drug that has been genetically engineered. For 15 years, the hormone vital for diabetics can be produced without being extracted from the pancreas of slaughtered cattle or pigs. With the help of genetic engineering, the insulin blueprint was isolated from the cells of a human and transferred into bacteria or yeasts. In large stirred tanks, so-called fermenters, the microorganisms multiply and produce human insulin. Genetically produced insulin is therefore absolutely free of pathogens from animals.

Difficult terms: gene, genome and genetic engineering

The gene is the smallest unit of genetic material (genome is also called genome, ie the totality of all genes of an organism). Our genome contains between 30, 000 and 40, 000 genes; that's only about 300 genes more than the mouse and about twice as many as the fruit fly. About 9, 000 human genes have already been detected. Genetic engineering includes all biological-technical processes that specifically alter the genome of a cell. The genetic information is stored in a gigantic molecule called deoxyribonucleic acid, but the abbreviation DNA has come to be used in the vernacular (after the English term desoxyribonucleid acid), in German otherwise DNS is used.

The principle of genetic engineering: Sections of foreign DNA are introduced into the cell in order to bring about defined changes there. The known example is the drug Human insulin thus prepared. In the genetic engineering of drugs, genes encoding therapeutically useful substances are transferred into cells that are as easily cultured as possible. Ideal for this are bacteria, more rarely also yeast and mammalian cells. Genetic engineering has created new medicines such as human insulin, vaccines such as hepatitis B and diagnostics, which are already in use worldwide.

The approval of medicines produced with the aid of genetically modified organisms is governed by the German Drug and Animal Diseases Act. In addition, there must be a permit under the Genetic Engineering Act. An essential task of human genome research is to recognize which genes are involved in the development of diseases. From this, the scientists expect new concepts for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, infectious diseases or diseases of the nervous system such as Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis or Alzheimer's disease.

The cloned sheep

In 1996, Scottish scientists succeeded in cloning a sheep after removing the udder cell from a six-year-old sheep and placing it in a previously seeded oocyte. Dolly, the copy of another sheep, a prodigy of science, the artifact made of flesh and blood, was created from the DNA of a body cell. But already in the middle of 1999 it was discovered that Dolly's genome looked unusually old - Dolly had to be euthanated recently. Cloning, however, does not alter the genome. Cloning is generally understood to mean the artificial production of genetically identical living beings. Naturally genetically identical are for example all bacteria of a colony, in humans as a special case the identical twins.

Green genetic engineering

A field of application of so-called green genetic engineering is the production of food. Experts estimate that between 50 and 70 percent of our food in Germany has come into contact with genetic engineering. Starting with the enzymes and flavorings for our bread on anti-slush tomatoes, fungus-resistant red wine up to performance-enhanced dairy cow ranges the range of genetically modified products. The use of genetic modification, for example in the case of biological pest control by means of genetically modified viruses, or to improve the quality of plant products, for example in the case of foods, the improvement of shelf life, shelf life, tolerability, nutritional value and taste, is investigated. Not only animals and plants, which serve directly as food, are genetically modified, but also microorganisms, which change and refine food. Examples are the classic biological processes of beer and wine production or the maturation of cheese.

Hope gene therapy

Gene therapy uses all procedures that are used to directly affect the genetic material for medical purposes. Genetic therapeutic measures are already being used to treat hereditary and cancer diseases. There are great hopes here, which, though carefully and over a long period of time, are based on being able to use this understanding for better therapies for certain diseases. If, for example, it is possible to identify genes that are involved in the development of diseases, it would be possible, ideally, to develop novel medicines that fight the causes, not just the symptoms.

Stem cell treatment in the womb

With stem cell treatment in the womb, California scientists have for the first time succeeded in curing a hereditary disease before birth. Immune deficiency is a disease in which newborns have no defenses against bacteria and therefore must live the first years of life in a germ-free tent. For this, the unborn child was injected with healthy stem cells from the umbilical cord blood of another baby before the 16th week of pregnancy. Stem cells are precursors of differentiated and thus specialized cells. In the bone marrow, for example, there are stem cells for the blood cells, such as lymphocytes.

Embryonic stem cells can develop into a complete organism (then called totipotency). Stem cells of a very low degree of maturity are also found, albeit in very small numbers, in tissues of adult human beings such as liver, kidney, brain or in the umbilical cord blood of the newborn as an alternative to embryonic stem cells - this is currently the subject of research. For the first time, stem cell transplantation has enabled researchers to heal immune deficiency in the womb. Therefore, the injected, healthy cells can replace the endogenous cells. When the healthy cells settle in the body of the baby, the missing enzyme is replaced and the defect is switched off.

The human genome is largely decoded. This is considered a milestone in the history of humanity. But this is precisely where new demands are placed on science, politics and ethics. Ethics is required to show if and how these findings can be used responsibly in areas as diverse as medicine and agriculture.

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