Living Systems

Recombinant DNA Technologies

Technical Applications


Recombinant DNA techniques involve the transfer of genetic material between differing organisms, a process popularly referred to as genetic engineering. This transplanted genetic material contains encoded instructions for characteristics of the original cell, namely the production of specific proteins. This is done to enable recipient organisms to synthesize increased yields of compounds, to form entirely new compounds or to adapt to different environments.


Research in gene therapy has grown dramatically since 1990, with more than 40 therapeutic gene transfer protocols approved since that time. Pending positive results in animal models, many researchers believe that gene transfer could be potentially used to remedy serious human diseases caused by genetic mutations including sickle-cell anemia, emphysema, hemophilia, and even extremely high levels of cholesterol. Work is in progress on developing therapies for hepatitis and other liver diseases, AIDS, and diseases of the cardiovascular and central nervous systems, as well as inserting genes that stimulate the production of immune cells that fight cancer.


Progress in recombinant DNA technology will contribute first and foremost to the health of the U.S. population. In addition, by facilitating care of chronic diseases and more productive agriculture, it contributes to a more productive economy. Agriculture-related biotechnology applications are potentially extremely important. As in human-health-care related biotechnology, there are currently only a handful of products on the market. However, researchers are developing a variety of transgenic animals and crops that will probably have significant market impacts after the turn of the century.


The U.S. is a world leader in DNA technology, although the extent of the U.S. lead varies from area to area. Europe is only slightly behind the United States in the development of transgenic animals, with research taking place primarily in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. European firms have developed significant capabilities in transgenic plant technology, and, although they lag the United States slightly, they are likely to improve over the next five years.