icrobial genetic engineering is quickly proving to be one of the most important fields in the world. Bacteria makes up at least half of the world’s biomass, so being able to manipulate and control what those bacteria do, for example, would prove to be a very powerful ability.
Plus, viruses and bacteria do this one minor thing: free self-replication. Make one working prototype and set the rest loose. Obviously that can prove dangerous, but that’s why we need engineers doing the work, who will think about the consequences as all good engineers do.
So what recent events have shown just how world-saving microbial genetic engineering can be? Let’s look at a few:
- A teenager who used bacteria to decompose a plastic bag in 3 months, instead of the typical estimated thousand years.
- Read a long New York Times article about Craig Venter, a biologist who was one of the first to map the human genome, and the first to make a synthetic genome like you’d see in engineered bacteria or viruses. Long, but inspirational.
- Finally, watch this video about a virus which is used to generate electricity. And then read the article.
- Insulin, a hormone which diabetics need to survive, has been produced by bacteria since 1984.
So how’s it done? Well the obvious work is modifying existing DNA by replacing it with synthesized genes, chemically altering it in a lab (mutagenesis).The real science of it, the guts of microbial genetic engineering, comes from mapping the bacteria or virus’s genome, making links to which bits of DNA are related to what behavior or effect, and learning to manipulate it. This is done experimentally, and experiments are being carried out all the time.
Read about an Oregon native who uses computer science with biology to fight HIV. Computer science is actually one of the closest-links with genetic engineering, since DNA is basically a giant chunk of data and the quickest way to work with huge amounts of data is through computers. The hybrid field of CS and biology is called bioinformantics.