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What Is the Function of Recombinant DNA?

By C.B. Fox
Updated May 17, 2024
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Recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is a segment of DNA that is artificially inserted into the native DNA of an organism. There are a variety of uses for recombinant DNA in the biological sciences. In botany, genes from other plants and animals are often inserted into the DNA of existing crops to make hardier plants. In medicine, some vaccines use recombinant DNA along with viral administration. It is also possible to use this technology to replace faulty genes with healthy ones.

One of the first uses for recombinant DNA was in botany. Many plants have quite adaptable genomes, making it possible for them to readily incorporate the DNA of distantly related species. By splicing in new genes, scientists have been able to develop plants that are resistant to extreme environmental conditions, including drought and heat. It is also possible, using this DNA, to take the genes from certain animals and splice them in the genomes of some plants to create plants that contain chemicals that make them unappetizing to various pests and parasites.

The administration of vaccines through recombinant DNA is also possible. In order to create these vaccines, a host virus, such as the herpes virus, has its DNA removed and is filled with recombinant DNA that contains the coding to create antibodies to certain diseases. Though this technology is relatively new, it has proved quite successful, and scientists are hopeful that it can be further developed to create vaccines for a variety of disease that do not currently have them.

It is also possible to use this technology to cure patients of some diseases. There are many conditions caused by faulty DNA sequences which can be replaced by healthy sections of DNA that are administered to the patient, usually through a viral delivery. Research suggests that diseases such as cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia may both one day be treated and prevented through structural changes to a person's DNA. The technology to cure these diseases is still in development, but initial results are quite promising.

Patients that lack the DNA sequences that create or recognize the need for certain enzymes can also benefit from this type of DNA treatment. In this case, a strand of DNA that creates specific proteins needed to perform certain tasks can be inserted into a person's DNA. For many of these types of conditions, the faulty section of DNA does not need to be replaced by the recombinant DNA, as the new DNA can simply be tacked onto the normal strand. Diabetics who take insulin make use of recombinant DNA technology such as this because the insulin is manufactured using this type of technology.

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