Progress in any scientific discipline is dependent on the availability of techniques and methods that extend the range and sophistication of experiments which may be performed. Over the last 30 years or so this has been demonstrated in a spectacular way by the emergence of genetic engineering. This field has grown rapidly to the point where, in many laboratories around the world, it is now routine practice to isolate a specific DNA fragment from the genome of an organism, determine its base sequence, and assess its function.
The technology is also now used in many other applications, including forensic analysis of scene-of-crime samples, paternity disputes, medical diagnosis, genome mapping and sequencing, and the biotechnology industry. What is particularly striking about the technology of gene manipulation is that it is readily accessible by individual scientists, without the need for large-scale
equipment or resources outside the scope of a reasonably well-found research laboratory.
The term genetic engineering is often thought to be rather emotive or even trivial, yet it is probably the label that most people would recognise. However, there are several other terms that can be used to describe the technology, including gene manipulation, gene cloning, recombinant DNA technology, genetic modification, and the new genetics. There are also legal definitions used in administering regulatory mechanisms in countries where genetic engineering is practised. Although there are many diverse and complex techniques involved, the basic principles of genetic manipulation arc reasonably simple. The premise Although there are many diverse and complex techniques involved, the basic principles of genetic manipulation arc reasonably simple. The premise on which the technology is based is that generic information, encoded by DNA and arranged in the form of genes, is a resource that can be manipulated in various ways to achieve certain goals in both pure and applied science and medicine. There arc many areas in which genetic manipulation is of value, including:
• Basic research on gene structure and function
• Production of useful proteins by novel methods
• Generation of transgenic plants and animals
• Medical diagnosis and treatment.