Genetic engineering, also called gene editing or genetic modification, is the process of altering an organism's DNA in order to change a trait. This can mean changing a single base pair, adding or deleting a single gene, or changing an even larger strand of DNA. Using genetic engineering, genes from one organism can be added to the genome of a completely different species. It is even possible to experiment with synthesizing and inserting novel genes in the hopes of creating new traits.

Many products and therapies have already been developed using genetic engineering. For example, crops with higher nutritional value, improved taste, or resistance to pests have been engineered by adding genes from one plant species into another. Similarly, expression of a human gene in yeast and bacteria allows pharmaceutical companies to produce insulin to treat diabetic patients. In 2020, scientists had their first successful human trial with CRISPR (a genetic engineering technique), to correct a mutant gene that causes sickle cell anemia, a painful and sometimes deadly blood disease.

There are many different genetic engineering techniques, including molecular cloning and CRISPR, and new techniques are being developed rapidly. Despite this variety, all genetic engineering projects involve carrying out four main steps:

  1. Identifying the trait to be introduced, eliminated, or otherwise modified.
  2. Determining what piece of DNA needs to be added or removed in order to get the desired trait modification.
  3. Making the physical modifications to the organism's DNA.
  4. Verifying that the trait has been modified as desired.

Learn more about genetic engineering, and even try your hand at it, with these resources.

Lesson Plan Grade: 6th-12th
In this lesson plan, students will take a closer look at the most recent developments in gene editing. Specifically, they will learn about the CRISPR technology using various interactive simulations and other resources. Based on their gained knowledge, students will create a model of the CRISPR-Cas9 components and create a stop-motion animation video of the molecular mechanism of CRISPR-Cas9. Remote learning adaptation: This lesson plan can be conducted remotely. Students can work… Read more
NGSS Performance Expectations:
  • MS-LS4-5. Gather and synthesize information about technologies that have changed the way humans influence the inheritance of desired traits in organisms.
  • HS-LS1-1. Construct an explanation, based on evidence, for how the structure of DNA determines the structure of proteins, which carry out the essential functions of life through systems of specialized cells.
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