Facts Relating To A Genetically Engineered Organelle

By Paul Jackson


The advent of genetically modified organisms, GMOs, continues to generate a heated debate in many quarters all over the world. This has particularly been fuelled by the adoption of genetic engineering techniques in food production. Transgenic organisms, which are created through exchange of genetic materials between different species of organisms are likely to cause even greater divisions. The use of a genetically engineered organelle is also possible.

The nucleus has been the main target for genetic modification for many years. With advancing research, it has become evident that a number of processes can be undertaken on other organelles to achieve the same results. The organelles that have emerged as the most ideal are chloroplasts and mitochondria. Chloroplasts are only present in plants but mitochondria can be found in both plants and animals cells.

Mitochondria are one of the most important organelles in a cell. Without them, cells can only survive for a limited duration of time. This is because they are the powerhouse of cells and provide energy required for various biochemical reactions that are needed by the cell. Just like the nucleus, mitochondria possess their own genome. This genome is smaller that what is found in the nucleus.

One of the theories that attempts to explain the presence of the genetic material within this organelle claims that mitochondria were initially independent, unicellular organisms. Proponents of this theory believe that mitochondria were initially parasitic organisms but would eventually evolve over thousands of years to be incorporated into cells to become symbiotic. The ovulation led to loss of part of their genome that made it difficult for them to exist independently. The same theory can be used for chloroplasts.

Chloroplasts are organelles found in green plants. They are mostly involved in a process known as photosynthesis which entails food production in the presence of energy derived from sunlight. Other important functions include synthesis of amino and fatty acids and mediation of cellular immune responses. Chloroplasts have a DNA that is often arranged in circular pattern. This DNA is usually inherited by daughter cells after cell division and thus modifications made on it are similarly inherited.

There are a number of processes involved in modifying the genome of an organism. The first step is to isolate the gene that his to be inserted into the organism. Options at this point include synthesis of the desired gene in a laboratory or obtaining it from a living cell. A number of genes which have been identified in the past have been stored in the genetic library and can be obtained from there. To make the gene of interest active, it is combined by other elements such as the promoter and terminator regions.

Once the gene has been isolated, the next step is to have it inserted into the organelle. This may either be the mitochondria or the chloroplast depending on the organism. For bacterial organisms, this process may be aided by either electric shocking or thermal stimulation. Animal cells are modified through microinjection while plant cells may be subjected to agrobacteria mediated recombination, biolistics or electroporation.

When genetic material is introduced into a cell, it is only this cell that is effected. There is a need to propagate this cell so as to make sure the effects are evident at the level of the organism. This is usually achieved by taking plant cells through a process known as tissue culture. In animals, stem cells are provided with favourable conditions for cell division. The cells are studied to ensure that the transfer process has taken place.




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