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A good book for history of biology/biotechnology for lay people

A good book for history of biology/biotechnology for lay people


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I have many friends who are interested in Biology and want to know more about the subject in general (like a history of biology, from Darwin's theory, to DNA structure discovery, to the human genome project). Of course, I cannot suggest to them to read Alberts or Lenninger. Do you know whether such a book exist? I guess that a book that covers most fields of biology cannot be compiled, but even more focused book would do.

Let me try to narrow it down: something like the greatest discoveries in the field of biology (like this article) would be an interesting book to read.

I am not sure how appropriate this question is for SE, but I am sure that I will get the best answer here. Besides, it would be great if lay people can be more excited about biology and contribute to the site growth.


It doesn't have very many reviews, but The Epic History of Biology sounds like it's perfect.

Flipping through the first chapter in the preview, it doesn't seem overly technical in any way, so secondary school-level knowledge is probably enough. If your associates have absolutely no biology experience, perhaps a run through a popular press book would provide all of the background necessary.


Some that just come to mind, in random order:

One cannot skip reading:

  • Richard Dawkins - The selfish gene

And, obviously:

  • Charles Darwin - The Origin of Species

And, for those interested in the evolution of the brain (and its quirks):

  • David J Linden - The Accidental Mind
  • Oliver Sacks - The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

Not very DNA/evolution-oriented, but wonderful science books nonetheless:

  • Primo Levi - The Periodic table
  • And the neveraging must-read:
    Isaac Asimov - A Short History of Chemistry

A good recollection of the early days of micro and molecular biology is "The Eighth day of Creation"

It covers the early use of e. coli, the discovery of phage, transcriptional elements and the impact that DNA structure had. It's very comprehensive and really useful if you are doing molecular biology today.


A fantastic book that covers the evolution of modern science since the Renaissance (including a great deal of biology) is The Scientists by John Gribbin. I found that by focusing on the people doing the science in the context of the society in which they lived, I got a much better understanding for why early scientists thought the way they did and researched the questions that they did.

Here's the blurb from the publisher:

In this ambitious new book, John Gribbin tells the stories of the people who have made science, and of the times in which they lived and worked. He begins with Copernicus, during the Renaissance, when science replaced mysticism as a means of explaining the workings of the world, and he continues through the centuries, creating an unbroken genealogy of not only the greatest but also the more obscure names of Western science, a dot-to-dot line linking amateur to genius, and accidental discovery to brilliant deduction.


I don't know very many books that might be referred to as the Grand History of Biology or anything like that. That's… a big topic. Really big. How about some suggestions for good Biology/Medical History books accessible to lay people:

  • And the Band Played On, by Randy Shilts, an account of the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the U.S.
  • The Great Influenza, by John Berry, which is about the 1918 influenza pandemic.
  • The Demon Under the Microscope, by Thomas Hager, which is about sulfa and the development of early antibiotics.

Finally, I believe James Watson wrote a somewhat popular science-oriented account of the discovery of DNA, which would no doubt be interesting, though likely somewhat skewed in favor of his own awesomeness.


I just came across Understanding Biotechnology. There is one very positive and one very negative review. I haven't read the book myself, but it looks that it is exactly what I was looking for: the table of content includes topics like small history overview, genetic engineering, gene therapy, pharmacogenomics, etc. It might be even useful for people with biology background.

Has anyone heard about this book?


By far the best book I've read on the history of biology is A Guinea Pig's History of Biology, by Jim Endersby. It tells the history of the field by focusing on experimental organisms and the contributions which were made by studying them. It has an engaging narrative style and the idea of focussing on organisms' stories is an excellent and original one.

However, the best resource there is on the history of science is the TTC History of Science lecture series. It comes in two parts:

  1. Antiquity to 1700 by Lawrence M Principe of Johns Hopkins University
  2. 1700-1900 by Professor Frederick Gregory of Harvard

The lecture series are VERY expensive - around $200 each. However, most good libraries will have them, and I strongly recommend getting hold of them if you can.


This book, although a little dated, has given me an incredible appreciation of biology that I never gained in school:

What is Life? by Erwin Shrodinger

I am not a biologist, but I occasionally work on mathematical-biology and have training in physics and theoretical computer science. This book was much more accessible to me that other books on biology. Before reading the book I perceived biology as a collection of fun facts (what Rutherford would call "stamp collecting"). Shrodinger's presentation was well tailored to the typical reductionist and "everything must have a reason" thinking of a theoretical physicists.

I think the book does a good job of explaining the basics and providing intuition and grounding. The excited reader can then move on to more orthodox treatments.


My two favorite books are Molecular Biology made simple and fun and Biotechnology for Beginners. Both are well written and fun to read. As their names suggest, the former covers the basics of biology and the latter covers the basics of biotechnology.


There is a free video course "Modern Biology" at Carnegie-Mellon University's Open learning initiative. This is very technical and does not cover history of biology.

I quite liked D.A. Sadava's non-free video course Understanding Genetics: DNA, Genes, and Their Real-World Applications. This is Genetics and Molecular Biology oriented, but also not a book. It is suitable for a reader with high-school knowledge of chemistry. Maybe it contains too few basics, so it is also not for the absolute layperson. He starts with Mendel and mentions many other 20th-century researchers.

The author has co-authored one of those thick, expensive college-level biology textbooks as well.


Biotechnology

Advances in science, many of them from scientists at USDA or through research funded by USDA, have opened up new options for farmers responding to market needs and environmental challenges. Many new plant varieties being developed or grown by farmers have been produced using genetic engineering, which involves manipulating the plant's genes through techniques of modern molecular biology often referred to as recombinant DNA technology. These techniques are included in what is often referred to as "biotechnology" or "modern biotechnology."

USDA supports the safe and appropriate use of science and technology, including biotechnology, to help meet agricultural challenges and consumer needs of the 21st century. USDA plays a key role in assuring that biotechnology plants and products derived from these plants are safe to be grown and used in the United States. Once these plants and products enter commerce, USDA supports bringing these and other products to the worldwide marketplace.


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From The New England Journal of Medicine

Operators and Promoters is an affectionate, almost loving description of the field and many of its participants by a leading researcher in molecular biology, the late Harrison "Hatch" Echols. Tragically, Hatch died before the book was completed. It was finished by his wife, Carol Gross, also a distinguished molecular biologist, with the help of many of Hatch's and Carol's friends and colleagues.

On one level, this book is a survey of the important discoveries leading to our current understanding of how genes operate to determine the structure and function of cells (and organisms). As described by Hatch, the key philosophical approach of this science is the application of the principles of physics (through genetics) and chemistry (through biochemistry) to the study of biology. These principles were used to study relatively tractable, simple systems (bacteria and the viruses that infect bacteria). An assumption was made that there was sufficient universality in the molecular mechanisms underlying biology that these studies would be relevant to higher, more complex organisms such as Hatch, Carol, you, and me. In essence, biology was demystified. The book traces the sometimes chaotic and surprising and at other times straightforward and predictable discoveries that revealed the basic principles of gene expression, gene regulation, DNA replication, DNA recombination, and repair of DNA damage. Also described is the amazing world of RNA and the advent of genetic-engineering technology.

Even though this book would be valuable and timely as a survey of the field of molecular biology, it is really a vehicle for describing the participants and, more important, for describing how the field functioned as a mini-society. I suspect that all the main participants were known by Hatch personally. In little snippets, he captures key characteristics of many of them. In most cases, these descriptions vividly brought back my own memories. He is never particularly critical. Hatch was perhaps a bit too positive, but this is in keeping with his warm view of others.

The development of the science was uneven and sometimes chaotic. Creativity -- often among a few key people -- luck, and technological developments had major roles. Competition was there, too, but there is no doubt that Hatch favored a type of open, collaborative competition in which various investigators each wanted to succeed but also took great joy in the advancement of others in the field. Hatch describes this type of competition as follows: "At the first level of competition, all scientists want to think of the best ideas and the best experiments and to advance their field through telling others of our findings. In an atmosphere of open exchange of ideas and mutual trust and appreciation, the competition to be creative accelerates new understanding the situation is somewhat analogous to trying to be the most valuable member of an athletic team." This first level of competition is followed by a desire for recognition outside the field and then by a quest for complete dominance of the field in the eyes of the outside world. Of course, some scientists skip the first stage or the first two stages. One of the missing analyses in the book is how the grant funding system may skew these different types of competition. In certain research areas, the participants consider it very difficult to obtain funding unless one is approaching the stage of complete dominance of the field.

Hatch also captures other features of our scientific culture. For instance, his description of scientific meetings is a gem: "The [meeting] is designed to exchange information and ideas through formal talks and informal discussions. The meeting is also a grown-up version of show and tell, in which scientists try to convince everyone else that they are doing the most interesting and exciting work and have the best ideas about how it all works. Each meeting also has a certain ambiance, which changes with the time and the particular cast of characters." Hatch is right. My third-grade show-and-tell experiences were good training for the meetings.

We should take seriously Hatch's views on scientific creativity as it relates to the structure of the scientific enterprise. He strongly favors the American system, in which young investigators can have independent laboratory groups and investigators feel that they can collaborate as well as compete. I believe that Hatch is correct in his analysis, but I am not at all sanguine that the current funding and university climates are going to continue supporting this type of scientific culture.

The book also reminds us that key discoveries are often surprising side products of research projects. These discoveries are not always the anticipated goals of experiments, nor will they be found in the specific aims of grant proposals. An important example is the discovery of type II restriction enzymes by Hamilton Smith while he was setting up the reagents for studying DNA recombination in Haemophilus influenzae.

Although the entire book is excellent, the sections that dwell on Hatch's direct experiences have an exciting and illuminating quality that are really inspiring. There are a few things that I feel are missing. First of all, it was a great tragedy that Hatch died before the book was completed. This is not just a personal statement -- there are issues that are missing that I would have liked the book to address, such as the use of genomic information in societal decision making. Hatch undoubtedly had opinions on this and other important issues that the editor could not and should not have tried to add to the book. Second, in keeping with Hatch's positive personality, it is hard to sense the pain that some scientists have felt during various competitions. This is unfortunately also an aspect of our scientific culture.

I strongly recommend this book for a wide variety of audiences. It will be enjoyable reading for everyone. Those who participated in the development of this field will take great joy in recalling specific events or participants. Young students contemplating a career in science often think that science is a hyperrational matter of finding the right equations or cloning the right gene. This book shows that science is an unpredictable and inescapably human enterprise, wrapped up in the personalities and interactions of its practitioners. For established scientists, it should give us pause to consider what is best about our enterprise and how to save it.

William S. Reznikoff, Ph.D.
Copyright © 2002 Massachusetts Medical Society. All rights reserved. The New England Journal of Medicine is a registered trademark of the MMS.

From the Inside Flap

"Echols was a gifted molecular biologist. We see now that he was also a talented storyteller. Echols enriches his tale of the molecular biology revolution with many first-person observations. Operators and Promoters presents not just the key concepts and experiments but also the personalities involved. The scholarship is superb."—Thomas R. Cech, President, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

"This book is alive with the process of doing molecular biology. The 'facts' of science are clearly and elegantly presented."—Nancy L. Craig, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

"In his book, Echols presents a combined perspective that no other 'insider' book offers: he is realistic about what makes people work, and their drives and flaws, but in equal measure he is passionate and idealistic about what science can be."—Sharon R. Long, Stanford University

"The best kind of history, because it presents the ideas and experiments in their scientific and human context, so reading it is almost like living through the period again--and will make it come alive for those who arrived on the scene later."—Evelyn Witkin, Rutgers University

"An absolutely thrilling account of the development of molecular biology as we know it. I can barely contain my enthusiasm for it."—Robert Lehman, Stanford University Medical Center

From the Back Cover

"This book is alive with the process of doing molecular biology. The 'facts' of science are clearly and elegantly presented." --Nancy L. Craig, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine "In his book, Echols presents a combined perspective that no other 'insider' book offers: he is realistic about what makes people work, and their drives and flaws, but in equal measure he is passionate and idealistic about what science can be." --Sharon R. Long, Stanford University

"The best kind of history, because it presents the ideas and experiments in their scientific and human context, so reading it is almost like living through the period again--and will make it come alive for those who arrived on the scene later." --Evelyn Witkin, Rutgers University

"An absolutely thrilling account of the development of molecular biology as we know it. I can barely contain my enthusiasm for it." --Robert Lehman, Stanford University Medical Center


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In his new book, Space. Life. Matter. The Coming Of Age Of Indian Science, science journalist Hari Pulakkat tells the stories of individuals who tried to overcome such hurdles. The renowned radio astrophysicist Govind Swarup, for instance, was a driving force behind India’s efforts in the field of radio astronomy. Swarup, who died last year, innovated to come up with a larger dish—to capture more radio waves—for the Ooty Radio Telescope (ORT), built in 1965-70 at a modest cost of around ₹ 58 lakh. More than 50 years later, ORT, the largest steerable telescope in the world, remains in service.

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Pulakkat describes many such journeys, in fields ranging from technology and engineering to space, chemistry and biology. Biophysicist G.N. Ramachandran and his work on polypeptides takes up a small but significant part of the book. As Pulakkat writes, being an experimental scientist in India in the 1960s and 1970s “was both a privilege and a curse”. Despite his pioneering work, Ramachandran, who died in 2001, never won any honour from the Union government.

In a video interview, Pulakkat speaks to Lounge about researching the book, his admiration for Ramachandran, and why he feels it is important for India to invest in every area of science. Edited excerpts:

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Why did you break down the book into three parts—Space, Life and Matter?

I didn’t want the book to be 10-12 separate chapters with no connection among them, because it covers nearly 50 years. These were all independent developments. What happened in astronomy had really no relationship with developments in chemistry and biology. Since I could not connect the two, I put them in separate sections. There is a larger theme because all these individuals were living in the same period and faced similar problems. But they did not work or interact with each other.

How pivotal was Govind Swarup to your research?

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He was central. I met him (in March 2017) nearly six months after I started work on the book. Till then, I was meeting people randomly, trying to find common threads. The structure for the book fell in place after I met and spent some time with him. In many ways, he is the inspiration behind most of the book.

There’s a lot of history on Indian science and the people who contributed to it. What challenges did you face in finding all these anecdotes?

It took a long time. I didn’t finish (the research). Covid-19 finished it for me. I would have loved to take another three months. As you can see, the final chapters are a bit shorter. And that is by design—it is not necessarily because of covid—because biology started very late. A major challenge was uneven documentation. This is a problem about any history that you write of India. It may be rich in some areas and not in others. But you cannot write an uneven book, so you have to work that much harder to get more information. If you can’t, you have to bring down the others to a level of the lowest common denominator.

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You frequently mention the problem of funding for scientific projects in India. How has this changed?

The amount of money available (today) has gone up significantly. But the mechanisms through which that money flows are pretty slow. We have (government) departments of science and technology, and biotechnology. These didn’t exist in the 1960s and 1970s. There are many schemes within these two institutions through which you now get funding. You can also get international funding sometimes. There is also some philanthropic funding. Things have changed in the last 15 years.

What were the other challenges back then and how have things changed?

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A big challenge was foreign exchange. (Scientific) instruments are not made in India. So till liberalisation, when our foreign exchange reserves started increasing, release of foreign exchange was highly controlled. You might have been building your own equipment but you might still need a piece of tubing that was not made in India. You asked for $15 (around ₹ 1,100 now) and got only $10, which wasn’t enough to buy it. Things got frustrating. Domestic funding alone wasn’t the problem. There was also a cultural problem. People were complacent and generally laid-back. And within that atmosphere it was not easy for a few individuals to rise above everybody and start tackling problems nobody was interested in.

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All that has changed. But I think we still don’t take enough risks as a country. Not just in science. By and large, we don’t try to solve big problems. We are satisfied with incremental science. In the future, the biggest issue will be to convince society that science is an important activity. Funding will come from that. Politicians have no personal interest in this. Science is no different from any other activity for bureaucrats. If people think that it’s an important activity, then they will also think that way. Science has advanced so much that people often don’t know what’s happening. That divide between scientists and lay people is quite big everywhere, but more so here.

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The pandemic has sparked a tussle between scientific logic and misinformation. How has that influenced the importance of science today?

The majority of people don’t know what’s happening in science and probably don’t want to know. It’s probably cultural and the way science was taught in school. I lost interest too. Only when I started working and reading good books accessible in Delhi’s libraries did I understand how interesting it all was. Lack of scientific temper comes from a lack of interest in science, which comes from bad teaching. It is universal.

Was there anything you wanted to include in the book and couldn’t?

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I am happy with whatever I have included but I would have liked to give a little more space to G.N. Ramachandran. Because he is India’s greatest scientist. I did not meet him because he was not around. Most of the book is about people I met and I had planned to write about them only. But slowly others—because of the strength of their work—came into the frame. U.R. Rao, for instance, whom I had met.

How did you try to make the history of chemistry interesting?

India’s contribution to chemistry is substantial. It also contributed greatly to the economy. Our chemical, pharma and genetic industries are large. As a journalist, I wanted to write a story that is significant, not just what people want to read. I still don’t know how a lay person will read those chapters. I was confident about astronomy because everybody wants to know about it. Chemistry, less so. But it is also a challenge as a writer that you try to make things that people don’t want to read more interesting.


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Top reviews from the United States

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I have an engineering and business background. I like history and technology. I hoped it would tune me in to the "History, Science and Business" of biotechnology. It didn't.

This book suffers from a potent combination of academic-speak and tedium.

It has a lot of historical and technical facts and references about biotechnology. But, I discarded the book after one hour.

- Already know a lot of biochemistry (There's not much explanation of terms or concepts for the newcomer.)

- Are OK plodding through details with rather little insight, explanation, or story connecting them

- Tolerate academic-speak -- using too many words to say too little

"7.3.5 Handling DNA - . Acrylamide was initially introduced as a gel material for zone electrophoresis in 1959 by Samuel Raymond [26]. This was developed for protein analysis in various forms by Hermann Stegemann [27] and for the analysis of RNA by Ulrich Loening [28]. The technology thus became available and was applied by Daniel Nathans in 1971 for the high resolution separation of linear restriction fragments of the SV40 virus. Prior to this, centrifugation was the method of choice, initially employing sucrose or dextran gradieints." (page 118)

"15.3.2 Terrasequencing: Stimulating Development of Biotechnology and Molecular Medicine - It can be assumed that this further acceleration in man's analytical abilities with respect to his and other genomes will continue to stimulate biotechnology particularly as a result of better understanding of molecular medicine in addition to accessing the cornucopia of natural gene variance that exists in the planet's living resources. This will also bring a better understanding of the interrelatedness and interdependency of all life on Earth. Hopefully we will use this new power wisely so as to maintain a stable long-term and harmonious development during the application of these new tools." (page 257)

The book might be well suited for a reader already versed in biochemistry, chemistry or biology. But a lay reader can still benefit. The overall discussion does not need detailed technical knowledge. And it does present a perspective that is broader than just the US experience. We are reminded that some European countries are stricter than the US in such matters as genetic testing and the recording of genetic data from humans. In part a legacy of history, especially in Germany, with fears of a newborn eugenics movement if desirable and undesirable traits can be detected and acted upon.

The text traces biotechnology over its recent short history. Readers interested in the last 10 years can get a good sense of the key results and major companies involved. A detached analysis independent of those companies. Especially check out chapter 13, which looks to the future. Something called synthetic biology is rising, with exciting prospects. Unsurprisingly, Craig Venter and Hamilton Smith figure prominently in the ongoing effort to perform a total synthesis of an entire, self reproducing organism. We appear to be getting close, is the impression of the chapter.

Ok, some sections of some chapters do involve a bit of specialised biochemistry knowledge. But if that presents a difficulty, just skip it. You should still be able to adequately follow the general thread of discussion and to appreciate the concepts.

A reflection of the maturity of biotechnology is the chapters on the scaling up of the biochemical processes. This goes into the realm of chemical engineering of bioreactors. Most broadly, there is even consideration of how biotech might be used to improve global crop yields and to address the possibility of making a renewable energy source.

Overall, the book gives a worthy education of biotechnology. How it got to today, and what are the key issues.


A good book for history of biology/biotechnology for lay people - Biology

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Our graduate programs teach the research and communication skills required for successful careers as independent scientists. Graduates go on to careers in universities, research institutions, or the biotechnology industry.

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8 Biotechnology

By the end of this section, you will be able to do the following:

  • Describe gel electrophoresis
  • Explain molecular and reproductive cloning
  • Describe biotechnology uses in medicine and agriculture

Biotechnology is the use of biological agents for technological advancement. Biotechnology was used for breeding livestock and crops long before people understood the scientific basis of these techniques. Since the discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953, the biotechnology field has grown rapidly through both academic research and private companies. The primary applications of this technology are in medicine (vaccine and antibiotic production) and agriculture (crop genetic modification in order to increase yields). Biotechnology also has many industrial applications, such as fermentation, treating oil spills, and producing biofuels ((Figure)).


Basic Techniques to Manipulate Genetic Material (DNA and RNA)

To understand the basic techniques used to work with nucleic acids, remember that nucleic acids are macromolecules made of nucleotides (a sugar, a phosphate, and a nitrogenous base) linked by phosphodiester bonds. The phosphate groups on these molecules each have a net negative charge. An entire set of DNA molecules in the nucleus is called the genome. DNA has two complementary strands linked by hydrogen bonds between the paired bases. Exposure to high temperatures (DNA denaturation) can separate the two strands and cooling can reanneal them. The DNA polymerase enzyme can replicate the DNA. Unlike DNA, which is located in the eukaryotic cells’ nucleus, RNA molecules leave the nucleus. The most common type of RNA that researchers analyze is the messenger RNA (mRNA) because it represents the protein-coding genes that are actively expressed. However, RNA molecules present some other challenges to analysis, as they are often less stable than DNA.

DNA and RNA Extraction

To study or manipulate nucleic acids, one must first isolate or extract the DNA or RNA from the cells. Researchers use various techniques to extract different types of DNA ((Figure)). Most nucleic acid extraction techniques involve steps to break open the cell and use enzymatic reactions to destroy all macromolecules that are not desired (such as unwanted molecule degradation and separation from the DNA sample). A lysis buffer (a solution which is mostly a detergent) breaks cells. Note that lysis means “to split”. These enzymes break apart lipid molecules in the cell membranes and nuclear membranes. Enzymes such as proteases that break down proteins inactivate macromolecules, and ribonucleases (RNAses) that break down RNA. Using alcohol precipitates the DNA. Human genomic DNA is usually visible as a gelatinous, white mass. One can store the DNA samples frozen at –80°C for several years.


Scientists perform RNA analysis to study gene expression patterns in cells. RNA is naturally very unstable because RNAses are commonly present in nature and very difficult to inactivate. Similar to DNA, RNA extraction involves using various buffers and enzymes to inactivate macromolecules and preserve the RNA.

Gel Electrophoresis

Because nucleic acids are negatively charged ions at neutral or basic pH in an aqueous environment, an electric field can mobilize them. Gel electrophoresis is a technique that scientists use to separate molecules on the basis of size, using this charge. One can separate the nucleic acids as whole chromosomes or fragments. The nucleic acids load into a slot near the semisolid, porous gel matrix’s negative electrode, and pulled toward the positive electrode at the gel’s opposite end. Smaller molecules move through the gel’s pores faster than larger molecules. This difference in the migration rate separates the fragments on the basis of size. There are molecular weight standard samples that researchers can run alongside the molecules to provide a size comparison. We can observe nucleic acids in a gel matrix using various fluorescent or colored dyes. Distinct nucleic acid fragments appear as bands at specific distances from the gel’s top (the negative electrode end) on the basis of their size ((Figure)). A mixture of genomic DNA fragments of varying sizes appear as a long smear whereas, uncut genomic DNA is usually too large to run through the gel and forms a single large band at the gel’s top.


Nucleic Acid Fragment Amplification by Polymerase Chain Reaction

Although genomic DNA is visible to the naked eye when it is extracted in bulk, DNA analysis often requires focusing on one or more specific genome regions. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is a technique that scientists use to amplify specific DNA regions for further analysis ((Figure)). Researchers use PCR for many purposes in laboratories, such as cloning gene fragments to analyze genetic diseases, identifying contaminant foreign DNA in a sample, and amplifying DNA for sequencing. More practical applications include determining paternity and detecting genetic diseases.


DNA fragments can also be amplified from an RNA template in a process called reverse transcriptase PCR (RT-PCR) . The first step is to recreate the original DNA template strand (called cDNA) by applying DNA nucleotides to the mRNA. This process is called reverse transcription. This requires the presence of an enzyme called reverse transcriptase. After the cDNA is made, regular PCR can be used to amplify it.

Deepen your understanding of the polymerase chain reaction by clicking through this interactive exercise.

Hybridization, Southern Blotting, and Northern Blotting

Scientists can probe nucleic acid samples, such as fragmented genomic DNA and RNA extracts, for the presence of certain sequences. Scientists design and label short DNA fragments, or probes with radioactive or fluorescent dyes to aid detection. Gel electrophoresis separates the nucleic acid fragments according to their size. Scientists then transfer the fragments in the gel onto a nylon membrane in a procedure we call blotting ((Figure)). Scientists can then probe the nucleic acid fragments that are bound to the membrane’s surface with specific radioactively or fluorescently labeled probe sequences. When scientists transfer DNA to a nylon membrane, they refer to the technique as Southern blotting . When they transfer the RNA to a nylon membrane, they call it Northern blotting . Scientists use Southern blots to detect the presence of certain DNA sequences in a given genome, and Northern blots to detect gene expression.


Molecular Cloning

In general, the word “cloning” means the creation of a perfect replica however, in biology, the re-creation of a whole organism is referred to as “reproductive cloning.” Long before attempts were made to clone an entire organism, researchers learned how to reproduce desired regions or fragments of the genome, a process that is referred to as molecular cloning.

Cloning small genome fragments allows researchers to manipulate and study specific genes (and their protein products), or noncoding regions in isolation. A plasmid, or vector, is a small circular DNA molecule that replicates independently of the chromosomal DNA. In cloning, scientists can use the plasmid molecules to provide a “folder” in which to insert a desired DNA fragment. Plasmids are usually introduced into a bacterial host for proliferation. In the bacterial context, scientists call the DNA fragment from the human genome (or the genome of another studied organism) foreign DNA , or a transgene, to differentiate it from the bacterium’s DNA, or the host DNA .

Plasmids occur naturally in bacterial populations (such as Escherichia coli) and have genes that can contribute favorable traits to the organism, such as antibiotic resistance (the ability to be unaffected by antibiotics). Scientists have repurposed and engineered plasmids as vectors for molecular cloning and the large-scale production of important reagents, such as insulin and human growth hormone. An important feature of plasmid vectors is the ease with which scientists can introduce a foreign DNA fragment via the multiple cloning site (MCS) . The MCS is a short DNA sequence containing multiple sites that different commonly available restriction endonucleases can cut. Restriction endonucleases recognize specific DNA sequences and cut them in a predictable manner. They are naturally produced by bacteria as a defense mechanism against foreign DNA. Many restriction endonucleases make staggered cuts in the two DNA strands, such that the cut ends have a 2- or 4-base single-stranded overhang. Because these overhangs are capable of annealing with complementary overhangs, we call them “sticky ends.” Adding the enzyme DNA ligase permanently joins the DNA fragments via phosphodiester bonds. In this way, scientists can splice any DNA fragment generated by restriction endonuclease cleavage between the plasmid DNA’s two ends that has been cut with the same restriction endonuclease ((Figure)).

Recombinant DNA Molecules

Plasmids with foreign DNA inserted into them are called recombinant DNA molecules because they are created artificially and do not occur in nature. They are also called chimeric molecules because the origin of different molecule parts of the molecules can be traced back to different species of biological organisms or even to chemical synthesis. We call proteins that are expressed from recombinant DNA molecules recombinant proteins . Not all recombinant plasmids are capable of expressing genes. The recombinant DNA may need to move into a different vector (or host) that is better designed for gene expression. Scientists may also engineer plasmids to express proteins only when certain environmental factors stimulate them, so they can control the recombinant proteins’ expression.


You are working in a molecular biology lab and, unbeknownst to you, your lab partner left the foreign genomic DNA that you are planning to clone on the lab bench overnight instead of storing it in the freezer. As a result, it was degraded by nucleases, but still used in the experiment. The plasmid, on the other hand, is fine. What results would you expect from your molecular cloning experiment?

  1. There will be no colonies on the bacterial plate.
  2. There will be blue colonies only.
  3. There will be blue and white colonies.
  4. The will be white colonies only.

View an animation of recombination in cloning from the DNA Learning Center.

Cellular Cloning

Unicellular organisms, such as bacteria and yeast, naturally produce clones of themselves when they replicate asexually by binary fission this is known as cellular cloning . The nuclear DNA duplicates by the process of mitosis, which creates an exact replica of the genetic material.

Reproductive Cloning

Reproductive cloning is a method scientists use to clone or identically copy an entire multicellular organism. Most multicellular organisms undergo reproduction by sexual means, which involves genetic hybridization of two individuals (parents), making it impossible to generate an identical copy or a clone of either parent. Recent advances in biotechnology have made it possible to artificially induce mammal asexual reproduction in the laboratory.

Parthenogenesis, or “virgin birth,” occurs when an embryo grows and develops without egg fertilization. This is a form of asexual reproduction. An example of parthenogenesis occurs in species in which the female lays an egg and if the egg is fertilized, it is a diploid egg and the individual develops into a female. If the egg is not fertilized, it remains a haploid egg and develops into a male. The unfertilized egg is a parthenogenic, or virgin egg. Some insects and reptiles lay parthenogenic eggs that can develop into adults.

Sexual reproduction requires two cells. When the haploid egg and sperm cells fuse, a diploid zygote results. The zygote nucleus contains the genetic information to produce a new individual. However, early embryonic development requires the cytoplasmic material contained in the egg cell. This idea forms the basis for reproductive cloning. Therefore, if we replace the egg cell’s haploid nucleus with a diploid nucleus from the cell of any individual of the same species (a donor), it will become a zygote that is genetically identical to the donor. Somatic cell nuclear transfer is the technique of transferring a diploid nucleus into an enucleated egg. Scientists can use it for either therapeutic cloning or reproductive cloning.

The first cloned animal was Dolly, a sheep born in 1996. The reproductive cloning success rate at the time was very low. Dolly lived for seven years and died of respiratory complications ((Figure)). There is speculation that because the cell DNA belongs to an older individual, DNA’s age may affect a cloned individual’s life expectancy. Since Dolly, scientists have cloned successfully several animals such as horses, bulls, and goats, although these animals often exhibit facial, limb, and cardiac abnormalities. There have been attempts at producing cloned human embryos as sources of embryonic stem cells for therapeutic purposes. Therapeutic cloning produces stem cells in the attempt to remedy detrimental diseases or defects (unlike reproductive cloning, which aims to reproduce an organism). Still, some have met therapeutic cloning efforts with resistance because of bioethical considerations.


Do you think Dolly was a Finn-Dorset or a Scottish Blackface sheep?

Genetic Engineering

Genetic engineering is the alteration of an organism’s genotype using recombinant DNA technology to modify an organism’s DNA to achieve desirable traits. The addition of foreign DNA in the form of recombinant DNA vectors generated by molecular cloning is the most common method of genetic engineering. The organism that receives the recombinant DNA is a genetically modified organism (GMO). If the foreign DNA comes from a different species, the host organism is transgenic . Scientists have genetically modified bacteria, plants, and animals since the early 1970s for academic, medical, agricultural, and industrial purposes. In the US, GMOs such as Roundup-ready soybeans and borer-resistant corn are part of many common processed foods.

Gene Targeting

Although classical methods of studying gene function began with a given phenotype and determined the genetic basis of that phenotype, modern techniques allow researchers to start at the DNA sequence level and ask: “What does this gene or DNA element do?” This technique, reverse genetics, has resulted in reversing the classic genetic methodology. This method would be similar to damaging a body part to determine its function. An insect that loses a wing cannot fly, which means that the wing’s function is flight. The classical genetic method would compare insects that cannot fly with insects that can fly, and observe that the non-flying insects have lost wings. Similarly, mutating or deleting genes provides researchers with clues about gene function. We collectively call the methods they use to disable gene function gene targeting. Gene targeting is the use of recombinant DNA vectors to alter a particular gene’s expression, either by introducing mutations in a gene, or by eliminating a certain gene’s expression by deleting a part or all of the gene sequence from the organism’s genome.

Biotechnology in Medicine and Agriculture

It is easy to see how biotechnology can be used for medicinal purposes. Knowledge of the genetic makeup of our species, the genetic basis of heritable diseases, and the invention of technology to manipulate and fix mutant genes provides methods to treat the disease. Biotechnology in agriculture can enhance resistance to disease, pest, and environmental stress, and improve both crop yield and quality.

Genetic Diagnosis and Gene Therapy

Scientists call the process of testing for suspected genetic defects before administering treatment genetic diagnosis by genetic testing . Depending on the inheritance patterns of a disease-causing gene, family members are advised to undergo genetic testing. For example, doctors usually advise women diagnosed with breast cancer to have a biopsy so that the medical team can determine the genetic basis of cancer development. Doctors base treatment plans on genetic test findings that determine the type of cancer. If inherited gene mutations cause the cancer, doctors also advise other female relatives to undergo genetic testing and periodic screening for breast cancer. Doctors also offer genetic testing for fetuses (or embryos with in vitro fertilization) to determine the presence or absence of disease-causing genes in families with specific debilitating diseases.

Gene therapy is a genetic engineering technique used to cure disease. In its simplest form, it involves the introduction of a good gene at a random location in the genome to aid the cure of a disease that is caused by a mutated gene. The good gene is usually introduced into diseased cells as part of a vector transmitted by a virus that can infect the host cell and deliver the foreign DNA ((Figure)). More advanced forms of gene therapy try to correct the mutation at the original site in the genome, such as is the case with treatment of severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID).


Production of Vaccines, Antibiotics, and Hormones

Traditional vaccination strategies use weakened or inactive forms of microorganisms to mount the initial immune response. Modern techniques use the genes of microorganisms cloned into vectors to mass produce the desired antigen. Doctors then introduce the antigen into the body to stimulate the primary immune response and trigger immune memory. The medical field has used genes cloned from the influenza virus to combat the constantly changing strains of this virus.

Antibiotics are a biotechnological product. Microorganisms, such as fungi, naturally produce them to attain an advantage over bacterial populations. Cultivating and manipulating fungal cells produces antibodies.

Scientists used recombinant DNA technology to produce large-scale quantities of human insulin in E. coli as early as 1978. Previously, it was only possible to treat diabetes with pig insulin, which caused allergic reactions in humans because of differences in the gene product. In addition, doctors use human growth hormone (HGH) to treat growth disorders in children. Researchers cloned the HGH gene from a cDNA library and inserted it into E. coli cells by cloning it into a bacterial vector.

Transgenic Animals

Although several recombinant proteins in medicine are successfully produced in bacteria, some proteins require a eukaryotic animal host for proper processing. For this reason, the desired genes are cloned and expressed in animals, such as sheep, goats, chickens, and mice. We call animals that have been modified to express recombinant DNA transgenic animals. Several human proteins are expressed in transgenic sheep and goat milk, and some are expressed in chicken eggs. Scientists have used mice extensively for expressing and studying recombinant gene and mutation effects.

Transgenic Plants

Manipulating the DNA of plants (i.e., creating GMOs) has helped to create desirable traits, such as disease resistance, herbicide and pesticide resistance, better nutritional value, and better shelf-life ((Figure)). Plants are the most important source of food for the human population. Farmers developed ways to select for plant varieties with desirable traits long before modern-day biotechnology practices were established.


We call plants that have received recombinant DNA from other species transgenic plants. Because they are not natural, government agencies closely monitor transgenic plants and other GMOs to ensure that they are fit for human consumption and do not endanger other plant and animal life. Because foreign genes can spread to other species in the environment, extensive testing is required to ensure ecological stability. Staples like corn, potatoes, and tomatoes were the first crop plants that scientists genetically engineered.

Transformation of Plants Using Agrobacterium tumefaciens

Gene transfer occurs naturally between species in microbial populations. Many viruses that cause human diseases, such as cancer, act by incorporating their DNA into the human genome. In plants, tumors caused by the bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens occur by DNA transfer from the bacterium to the plant. Although the tumors do not kill the plants, they stunt the plants and they become more susceptible to harsh environmental conditions. A. tumefaciens affects many plants such as walnuts, grapes, nut trees, and beets. Artificially introducing DNA into plant cells is more challenging than in animal cells because of the thick plant cell wall.

Researchers used the natural transfer of DNA from Agrobacterium to a plant host to introduce DNA fragments of their choice into plant hosts. In nature, the disease-causing A. tumefaciens have a set of plasmids, Ti plasmids (tumor-inducing plasmids), that contain genes to produce tumors in plants. DNA from the Ti plasmid integrates into the infected plant cell’s genome. Researchers manipulate the Ti plasmids to remove the tumor-causing genes and insert the desired DNA fragment for transfer into the plant genome. The Ti plasmids carry antibiotic resistance genes to aid selection and researchers can propagate them in E. coli cells as well.

The Organic Insecticide Bacillus thuringiensis

Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a bacterium that produces protein crystals during sporulation that are toxic to many insect species that affect plants. Insects need to ingest Bt toxin in order to activate the toxin. Insects that have eaten Bt toxin stop feeding on the plants within a few hours. After the toxin activates in the insects’ intestines, they die within a couple of days. Modern biotechnology has allowed plants to encode their own crystal Bt toxin that acts against insects. Scientists have cloned the crystal toxin genes from Bt and introduced them into plants. Bt toxin is safe for the environment, nontoxic to humans and other mammals, and organic farmers have approved it as a natural insecticide.

Flavr Savr Tomato

The first GM crop on the market was the Flavr Savr Tomato in 1994. Scientists used antisense RNA technology to slow the softening and rotting process caused by fungal infections, which led to increased shelf life of the GM tomatoes. Additional genetic modification improved the tomato’s flavor. The Flavr Savr tomato did not successfully stay in the market because of problems maintaining and shipping the crop.

Section Summary

Nucleic acids can be isolated from cells for the purposes of further analysis by breaking open the cells and enzymatically destroying all other major macromolecules. Fragmented or whole chromosomes can separate on the basis of size by gel electrophoresis. PCR can amplify short DNA or RNA stretches. Researchers can use Southern and Northern blotting to detect the presence of specific short sequences in a DNA or RNA sample. The term “cloning” may refer to cloning small DNA fragments (molecular cloning), cloning cell populations (cellular cloning), or cloning entire organisms (reproductive cloning). Medical professionals perform genetic testing to identify disease-causing genes, and use gene therapy to cure an inheritable disease.

Transgenic organisms possess DNA from a different species, usually generated by molecular cloning techniques. Vaccines, antibiotics, and hormones are examples of products obtained by recombinant DNA technology. Scientists usually create transgenic plants to improve crop plant characteristics.

Visual Connection Questions

(Figure) You are working in a molecular biology lab and, unbeknownst to you, your lab partner left the foreign genomic DNA that you are planning to clone on the lab bench overnight instead of storing it in the freezer. As a result, it was degraded by nucleases, but still used in the experiment. The plasmid, on the other hand, is fine. What results would you expect from your molecular cloning experiment?

  1. There will be no colonies on the bacterial plate.
  2. There will be blue colonies only.
  3. There will be blue and white colonies.
  4. The will be white colonies only.

(Figure) B. The experiment would result in blue colonies only.

(Figure) Do you think Dolly was a Finn-Dorset or a Scottish Blackface sheep?

(Figure) Dolly was a Finn-Dorset sheep because even though the original cell came from a Scottish blackface sheep and the surrogate mother was a Scottish blackface, the DNA came from a Finn-Dorset.

Review Questions

GMOs are created by ________.

  1. generating genomic DNA fragments with restriction endonucleases
  2. introducing recombinant DNA into an organism by any means
  3. overexpressing proteins in E. coli
  4. all of the above

Gene therapy can be used to introduce foreign DNA into cells ________.

  1. for molecular cloning
  2. by PCR
  3. of tissues to cure inheritable disease
  4. all of the above

Insulin produced by molecular cloning:

  1. is of pig origin
  2. is a recombinant protein
  3. is made by the human pancreas
  4. is recombinant DNA

Bt toxin is considered to be ________.

  1. a gene for modifying insect DNA
  2. an organic insecticide produced by bacteria
  3. useful for humans to fight against insects
  4. a recombinant protein
  1. is a variety of vine-ripened tomato in the supermarket
  2. was created to have better flavor and shelf-life
  3. does not undergo soft rot
  4. all of the above

Critical Thinking Questions

Describe the process of Southern blotting.

Southern blotting is the transfer of DNA that has been enzymatically cut into fragments and run on an agarose gel onto a nylon membrane. The DNA fragments that are on the nylon membrane can be denatured to make them single-stranded, and then probed with small DNA fragments that are radioactively or fluorescently labeled, to detect the presence of specific sequences. An example of the use of Southern blotting would be in analyzing the presence, absence, or variation of a disease gene in genomic DNA from a group of patients.

A researcher wants to study cancer cells from a patient with breast cancer. Is cloning the cancer cells an option?

Cellular cloning of the breast cancer cells will establish a cell line, which can be used for further analysis

How would a scientist introduce a gene for herbicide resistance into a plant?

By identifying an herbicide resistance gene and cloning it into a plant expression vector system, like the Ti plasmid system from Agrobacterium tumefaciens. The scientist would then introduce it into the plant cells by transformation, and select cells that have taken up and integrated the herbicide-resistance gene into the genome.

If you had a chance to get your genome sequenced, what are some questions you might be able to have answered about yourself?

What diseases am I prone to and what precautions should I take? Am I a carrier for any disease-causing genes that may be passed on to children?


87 Biotechnology

By the end of this section, you will be able to do the following:

  • Describe gel electrophoresis
  • Explain molecular and reproductive cloning
  • Describe biotechnology uses in medicine and agriculture

Biotechnology is the use of biological agents for technological advancement. Biotechnology was used for breeding livestock and crops long before people understood the scientific basis of these techniques. Since the discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953, the biotechnology field has grown rapidly through both academic research and private companies. The primary applications of this technology are in medicine (vaccine and antibiotic production) and agriculture (crop genetic modification in order to increase yields). Biotechnology also has many industrial applications, such as fermentation, treating oil spills, and producing biofuels ((Figure)).


Basic Techniques to Manipulate Genetic Material (DNA and RNA)

To understand the basic techniques used to work with nucleic acids, remember that nucleic acids are macromolecules made of nucleotides (a sugar, a phosphate, and a nitrogenous base) linked by phosphodiester bonds. The phosphate groups on these molecules each have a net negative charge. An entire set of DNA molecules in the nucleus is called the genome. DNA has two complementary strands linked by hydrogen bonds between the paired bases. Exposure to high temperatures (DNA denaturation) can separate the two strands and cooling can reanneal them. The DNA polymerase enzyme can replicate the DNA. Unlike DNA, which is located in the eukaryotic cells’ nucleus, RNA molecules leave the nucleus. The most common type of RNA that researchers analyze is the messenger RNA (mRNA) because it represents the protein-coding genes that are actively expressed. However, RNA molecules present some other challenges to analysis, as they are often less stable than DNA.

DNA and RNA Extraction

To study or manipulate nucleic acids, one must first isolate or extract the DNA or RNA from the cells. Researchers use various techniques to extract different types of DNA ((Figure)). Most nucleic acid extraction techniques involve steps to break open the cell and use enzymatic reactions to destroy all macromolecules that are not desired (such as unwanted molecule degradation and separation from the DNA sample). A lysis buffer (a solution which is mostly a detergent) breaks cells. Note that lysis means “to split”. These enzymes break apart lipid molecules in the cell membranes and nuclear membranes. Enzymes such as proteases that break down proteins inactivate macromolecules, and ribonucleases (RNAses) that break down RNA. Using alcohol precipitates the DNA. Human genomic DNA is usually visible as a gelatinous, white mass. One can store the DNA samples frozen at –80°C for several years.


Scientists perform RNA analysis to study gene expression patterns in cells. RNA is naturally very unstable because RNAses are commonly present in nature and very difficult to inactivate. Similar to DNA, RNA extraction involves using various buffers and enzymes to inactivate macromolecules and preserve the RNA.

Gel Electrophoresis

Because nucleic acids are negatively charged ions at neutral or basic pH in an aqueous environment, an electric field can mobilize them. Gel electrophoresis is a technique that scientists use to separate molecules on the basis of size, using this charge. One can separate the nucleic acids as whole chromosomes or fragments. The nucleic acids load into a slot near the semisolid, porous gel matrix’s negative electrode, and pulled toward the positive electrode at the gel’s opposite end. Smaller molecules move through the gel’s pores faster than larger molecules. This difference in the migration rate separates the fragments on the basis of size. There are molecular weight standard samples that researchers can run alongside the molecules to provide a size comparison. We can observe nucleic acids in a gel matrix using various fluorescent or colored dyes. Distinct nucleic acid fragments appear as bands at specific distances from the gel’s top (the negative electrode end) on the basis of their size ((Figure)). A mixture of genomic DNA fragments of varying sizes appear as a long smear whereas, uncut genomic DNA is usually too large to run through the gel and forms a single large band at the gel’s top.


Nucleic Acid Fragment Amplification by Polymerase Chain Reaction

Although genomic DNA is visible to the naked eye when it is extracted in bulk, DNA analysis often requires focusing on one or more specific genome regions. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is a technique that scientists use to amplify specific DNA regions for further analysis ((Figure)). Researchers use PCR for many purposes in laboratories, such as cloning gene fragments to analyze genetic diseases, identifying contaminant foreign DNA in a sample, and amplifying DNA for sequencing. More practical applications include determining paternity and detecting genetic diseases.


DNA fragments can also be amplified from an RNA template in a process called reverse transcriptase PCR (RT-PCR) . The first step is to recreate the original DNA template strand (called cDNA) by applying DNA nucleotides to the mRNA. This process is called reverse transcription. This requires the presence of an enzyme called reverse transcriptase. After the cDNA is made, regular PCR can be used to amplify it.

Deepen your understanding of the polymerase chain reaction by clicking through this interactive exercise.

Hybridization, Southern Blotting, and Northern Blotting

Scientists can probe nucleic acid samples, such as fragmented genomic DNA and RNA extracts, for the presence of certain sequences. Scientists design and label short DNA fragments, or probes with radioactive or fluorescent dyes to aid detection. Gel electrophoresis separates the nucleic acid fragments according to their size. Scientists then transfer the fragments in the gel onto a nylon membrane in a procedure we call blotting ((Figure)). Scientists can then probe the nucleic acid fragments that are bound to the membrane’s surface with specific radioactively or fluorescently labeled probe sequences. When scientists transfer DNA to a nylon membrane, they refer to the technique as Southern blotting . When they transfer the RNA to a nylon membrane, they call it Northern blotting . Scientists use Southern blots to detect the presence of certain DNA sequences in a given genome, and Northern blots to detect gene expression.


Molecular Cloning

In general, the word “cloning” means the creation of a perfect replica however, in biology, the re-creation of a whole organism is referred to as “reproductive cloning.” Long before attempts were made to clone an entire organism, researchers learned how to reproduce desired regions or fragments of the genome, a process that is referred to as molecular cloning.

Cloning small genome fragments allows researchers to manipulate and study specific genes (and their protein products), or noncoding regions in isolation. A plasmid, or vector, is a small circular DNA molecule that replicates independently of the chromosomal DNA. In cloning, scientists can use the plasmid molecules to provide a “folder” in which to insert a desired DNA fragment. Plasmids are usually introduced into a bacterial host for proliferation. In the bacterial context, scientists call the DNA fragment from the human genome (or the genome of another studied organism) foreign DNA , or a transgene, to differentiate it from the bacterium’s DNA, or the host DNA .

Plasmids occur naturally in bacterial populations (such as Escherichia coli) and have genes that can contribute favorable traits to the organism, such as antibiotic resistance (the ability to be unaffected by antibiotics). Scientists have repurposed and engineered plasmids as vectors for molecular cloning and the large-scale production of important reagents, such as insulin and human growth hormone. An important feature of plasmid vectors is the ease with which scientists can introduce a foreign DNA fragment via the multiple cloning site (MCS) . The MCS is a short DNA sequence containing multiple sites that different commonly available restriction endonucleases can cut. Restriction endonucleases recognize specific DNA sequences and cut them in a predictable manner. They are naturally produced by bacteria as a defense mechanism against foreign DNA. Many restriction endonucleases make staggered cuts in the two DNA strands, such that the cut ends have a 2- or 4-base single-stranded overhang. Because these overhangs are capable of annealing with complementary overhangs, we call them “sticky ends.” Adding the enzyme DNA ligase permanently joins the DNA fragments via phosphodiester bonds. In this way, scientists can splice any DNA fragment generated by restriction endonuclease cleavage between the plasmid DNA’s two ends that has been cut with the same restriction endonuclease ((Figure)).

Recombinant DNA Molecules

Plasmids with foreign DNA inserted into them are called recombinant DNA molecules because they are created artificially and do not occur in nature. They are also called chimeric molecules because the origin of different molecule parts of the molecules can be traced back to different species of biological organisms or even to chemical synthesis. We call proteins that are expressed from recombinant DNA molecules recombinant proteins . Not all recombinant plasmids are capable of expressing genes. The recombinant DNA may need to move into a different vector (or host) that is better designed for gene expression. Scientists may also engineer plasmids to express proteins only when certain environmental factors stimulate them, so they can control the recombinant proteins’ expression.


You are working in a molecular biology lab and, unbeknownst to you, your lab partner left the foreign genomic DNA that you are planning to clone on the lab bench overnight instead of storing it in the freezer. As a result, it was degraded by nucleases, but still used in the experiment. The plasmid, on the other hand, is fine. What results would you expect from your molecular cloning experiment?

  1. There will be no colonies on the bacterial plate.
  2. There will be blue colonies only.
  3. There will be blue and white colonies.
  4. The will be white colonies only.

View an animation of recombination in cloning from the DNA Learning Center.

Cellular Cloning

Unicellular organisms, such as bacteria and yeast, naturally produce clones of themselves when they replicate asexually by binary fission this is known as cellular cloning . The nuclear DNA duplicates by the process of mitosis, which creates an exact replica of the genetic material.

Reproductive Cloning

Reproductive cloning is a method scientists use to clone or identically copy an entire multicellular organism. Most multicellular organisms undergo reproduction by sexual means, which involves genetic hybridization of two individuals (parents), making it impossible to generate an identical copy or a clone of either parent. Recent advances in biotechnology have made it possible to artificially induce mammal asexual reproduction in the laboratory.

Parthenogenesis, or “virgin birth,” occurs when an embryo grows and develops without egg fertilization. This is a form of asexual reproduction. An example of parthenogenesis occurs in species in which the female lays an egg and if the egg is fertilized, it is a diploid egg and the individual develops into a female. If the egg is not fertilized, it remains a haploid egg and develops into a male. The unfertilized egg is a parthenogenic, or virgin egg. Some insects and reptiles lay parthenogenic eggs that can develop into adults.

Sexual reproduction requires two cells. When the haploid egg and sperm cells fuse, a diploid zygote results. The zygote nucleus contains the genetic information to produce a new individual. However, early embryonic development requires the cytoplasmic material contained in the egg cell. This idea forms the basis for reproductive cloning. Therefore, if we replace the egg cell’s haploid nucleus with a diploid nucleus from the cell of any individual of the same species (a donor), it will become a zygote that is genetically identical to the donor. Somatic cell nuclear transfer is the technique of transferring a diploid nucleus into an enucleated egg. Scientists can use it for either therapeutic cloning or reproductive cloning.

The first cloned animal was Dolly, a sheep born in 1996. The reproductive cloning success rate at the time was very low. Dolly lived for seven years and died of respiratory complications ((Figure)). There is speculation that because the cell DNA belongs to an older individual, DNA’s age may affect a cloned individual’s life expectancy. Since Dolly, scientists have cloned successfully several animals such as horses, bulls, and goats, although these animals often exhibit facial, limb, and cardiac abnormalities. There have been attempts at producing cloned human embryos as sources of embryonic stem cells for therapeutic purposes. Therapeutic cloning produces stem cells in the attempt to remedy detrimental diseases or defects (unlike reproductive cloning, which aims to reproduce an organism). Still, some have met therapeutic cloning efforts with resistance because of bioethical considerations.


Do you think Dolly was a Finn-Dorset or a Scottish Blackface sheep?

Genetic Engineering

Genetic engineering is the alteration of an organism’s genotype using recombinant DNA technology to modify an organism’s DNA to achieve desirable traits. The addition of foreign DNA in the form of recombinant DNA vectors generated by molecular cloning is the most common method of genetic engineering. The organism that receives the recombinant DNA is a genetically modified organism (GMO). If the foreign DNA comes from a different species, the host organism is transgenic . Scientists have genetically modified bacteria, plants, and animals since the early 1970s for academic, medical, agricultural, and industrial purposes. In the US, GMOs such as Roundup-ready soybeans and borer-resistant corn are part of many common processed foods.

Gene Targeting

Although classical methods of studying gene function began with a given phenotype and determined the genetic basis of that phenotype, modern techniques allow researchers to start at the DNA sequence level and ask: “What does this gene or DNA element do?” This technique, reverse genetics, has resulted in reversing the classic genetic methodology. This method would be similar to damaging a body part to determine its function. An insect that loses a wing cannot fly, which means that the wing’s function is flight. The classical genetic method would compare insects that cannot fly with insects that can fly, and observe that the non-flying insects have lost wings. Similarly, mutating or deleting genes provides researchers with clues about gene function. We collectively call the methods they use to disable gene function gene targeting. Gene targeting is the use of recombinant DNA vectors to alter a particular gene’s expression, either by introducing mutations in a gene, or by eliminating a certain gene’s expression by deleting a part or all of the gene sequence from the organism’s genome.

Biotechnology in Medicine and Agriculture

It is easy to see how biotechnology can be used for medicinal purposes. Knowledge of the genetic makeup of our species, the genetic basis of heritable diseases, and the invention of technology to manipulate and fix mutant genes provides methods to treat the disease. Biotechnology in agriculture can enhance resistance to disease, pest, and environmental stress, and improve both crop yield and quality.

Genetic Diagnosis and Gene Therapy

Scientists call the process of testing for suspected genetic defects before administering treatment genetic diagnosis by genetic testing . Depending on the inheritance patterns of a disease-causing gene, family members are advised to undergo genetic testing. For example, doctors usually advise women diagnosed with breast cancer to have a biopsy so that the medical team can determine the genetic basis of cancer development. Doctors base treatment plans on genetic test findings that determine the type of cancer. If inherited gene mutations cause the cancer, doctors also advise other female relatives to undergo genetic testing and periodic screening for breast cancer. Doctors also offer genetic testing for fetuses (or embryos with in vitro fertilization) to determine the presence or absence of disease-causing genes in families with specific debilitating diseases.

Gene therapy is a genetic engineering technique used to cure disease. In its simplest form, it involves the introduction of a good gene at a random location in the genome to aid the cure of a disease that is caused by a mutated gene. The good gene is usually introduced into diseased cells as part of a vector transmitted by a virus that can infect the host cell and deliver the foreign DNA ((Figure)). More advanced forms of gene therapy try to correct the mutation at the original site in the genome, such as is the case with treatment of severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID).


Production of Vaccines, Antibiotics, and Hormones

Traditional vaccination strategies use weakened or inactive forms of microorganisms to mount the initial immune response. Modern techniques use the genes of microorganisms cloned into vectors to mass produce the desired antigen. Doctors then introduce the antigen into the body to stimulate the primary immune response and trigger immune memory. The medical field has used genes cloned from the influenza virus to combat the constantly changing strains of this virus.

Antibiotics are a biotechnological product. Microorganisms, such as fungi, naturally produce them to attain an advantage over bacterial populations. Cultivating and manipulating fungal cells produces antibodies.

Scientists used recombinant DNA technology to produce large-scale quantities of human insulin in E. coli as early as 1978. Previously, it was only possible to treat diabetes with pig insulin, which caused allergic reactions in humans because of differences in the gene product. In addition, doctors use human growth hormone (HGH) to treat growth disorders in children. Researchers cloned the HGH gene from a cDNA library and inserted it into E. coli cells by cloning it into a bacterial vector.

Transgenic Animals

Although several recombinant proteins in medicine are successfully produced in bacteria, some proteins require a eukaryotic animal host for proper processing. For this reason, the desired genes are cloned and expressed in animals, such as sheep, goats, chickens, and mice. We call animals that have been modified to express recombinant DNA transgenic animals. Several human proteins are expressed in transgenic sheep and goat milk, and some are expressed in chicken eggs. Scientists have used mice extensively for expressing and studying recombinant gene and mutation effects.

Transgenic Plants

Manipulating the DNA of plants (i.e., creating GMOs) has helped to create desirable traits, such as disease resistance, herbicide and pesticide resistance, better nutritional value, and better shelf-life ((Figure)). Plants are the most important source of food for the human population. Farmers developed ways to select for plant varieties with desirable traits long before modern-day biotechnology practices were established.


We call plants that have received recombinant DNA from other species transgenic plants. Because they are not natural, government agencies closely monitor transgenic plants and other GMOs to ensure that they are fit for human consumption and do not endanger other plant and animal life. Because foreign genes can spread to other species in the environment, extensive testing is required to ensure ecological stability. Staples like corn, potatoes, and tomatoes were the first crop plants that scientists genetically engineered.

Transformation of Plants Using Agrobacterium tumefaciens

Gene transfer occurs naturally between species in microbial populations. Many viruses that cause human diseases, such as cancer, act by incorporating their DNA into the human genome. In plants, tumors caused by the bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens occur by DNA transfer from the bacterium to the plant. Although the tumors do not kill the plants, they stunt the plants and they become more susceptible to harsh environmental conditions. A. tumefaciens affects many plants such as walnuts, grapes, nut trees, and beets. Artificially introducing DNA into plant cells is more challenging than in animal cells because of the thick plant cell wall.

Researchers used the natural transfer of DNA from Agrobacterium to a plant host to introduce DNA fragments of their choice into plant hosts. In nature, the disease-causing A. tumefaciens have a set of plasmids, Ti plasmids (tumor-inducing plasmids), that contain genes to produce tumors in plants. DNA from the Ti plasmid integrates into the infected plant cell’s genome. Researchers manipulate the Ti plasmids to remove the tumor-causing genes and insert the desired DNA fragment for transfer into the plant genome. The Ti plasmids carry antibiotic resistance genes to aid selection and researchers can propagate them in E. coli cells as well.

The Organic Insecticide Bacillus thuringiensis

Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a bacterium that produces protein crystals during sporulation that are toxic to many insect species that affect plants. Insects need to ingest Bt toxin in order to activate the toxin. Insects that have eaten Bt toxin stop feeding on the plants within a few hours. After the toxin activates in the insects’ intestines, they die within a couple of days. Modern biotechnology has allowed plants to encode their own crystal Bt toxin that acts against insects. Scientists have cloned the crystal toxin genes from Bt and introduced them into plants. Bt toxin is safe for the environment, nontoxic to humans and other mammals, and organic farmers have approved it as a natural insecticide.

Flavr Savr Tomato

The first GM crop on the market was the Flavr Savr Tomato in 1994. Scientists used antisense RNA technology to slow the softening and rotting process caused by fungal infections, which led to increased shelf life of the GM tomatoes. Additional genetic modification improved the tomato’s flavor. The Flavr Savr tomato did not successfully stay in the market because of problems maintaining and shipping the crop.

Section Summary

Nucleic acids can be isolated from cells for the purposes of further analysis by breaking open the cells and enzymatically destroying all other major macromolecules. Fragmented or whole chromosomes can separate on the basis of size by gel electrophoresis. PCR can amplify short DNA or RNA stretches. Researchers can use Southern and Northern blotting to detect the presence of specific short sequences in a DNA or RNA sample. The term “cloning” may refer to cloning small DNA fragments (molecular cloning), cloning cell populations (cellular cloning), or cloning entire organisms (reproductive cloning). Medical professionals perform genetic testing to identify disease-causing genes, and use gene therapy to cure an inheritable disease.

Transgenic organisms possess DNA from a different species, usually generated by molecular cloning techniques. Vaccines, antibiotics, and hormones are examples of products obtained by recombinant DNA technology. Scientists usually create transgenic plants to improve crop plant characteristics.

Visual Connection Questions

(Figure) You are working in a molecular biology lab and, unbeknownst to you, your lab partner left the foreign genomic DNA that you are planning to clone on the lab bench overnight instead of storing it in the freezer. As a result, it was degraded by nucleases, but still used in the experiment. The plasmid, on the other hand, is fine. What results would you expect from your molecular cloning experiment?

  1. There will be no colonies on the bacterial plate.
  2. There will be blue colonies only.
  3. There will be blue and white colonies.
  4. The will be white colonies only.

(Figure) B. The experiment would result in blue colonies only.

(Figure) Do you think Dolly was a Finn-Dorset or a Scottish Blackface sheep?

(Figure) Dolly was a Finn-Dorset sheep because even though the original cell came from a Scottish blackface sheep and the surrogate mother was a Scottish blackface, the DNA came from a Finn-Dorset.

Review Questions

GMOs are created by ________.

  1. generating genomic DNA fragments with restriction endonucleases
  2. introducing recombinant DNA into an organism by any means
  3. overexpressing proteins in E. coli
  4. all of the above

Gene therapy can be used to introduce foreign DNA into cells ________.

  1. for molecular cloning
  2. by PCR
  3. of tissues to cure inheritable disease
  4. all of the above

Insulin produced by molecular cloning:

  1. is of pig origin
  2. is a recombinant protein
  3. is made by the human pancreas
  4. is recombinant DNA

Bt toxin is considered to be ________.

  1. a gene for modifying insect DNA
  2. an organic insecticide produced by bacteria
  3. useful for humans to fight against insects
  4. a recombinant protein
  1. is a variety of vine-ripened tomato in the supermarket
  2. was created to have better flavor and shelf-life
  3. does not undergo soft rot
  4. all of the above

Critical Thinking Questions

Describe the process of Southern blotting.

Southern blotting is the transfer of DNA that has been enzymatically cut into fragments and run on an agarose gel onto a nylon membrane. The DNA fragments that are on the nylon membrane can be denatured to make them single-stranded, and then probed with small DNA fragments that are radioactively or fluorescently labeled, to detect the presence of specific sequences. An example of the use of Southern blotting would be in analyzing the presence, absence, or variation of a disease gene in genomic DNA from a group of patients.

A researcher wants to study cancer cells from a patient with breast cancer. Is cloning the cancer cells an option?

Cellular cloning of the breast cancer cells will establish a cell line, which can be used for further analysis

How would a scientist introduce a gene for herbicide resistance into a plant?

By identifying an herbicide resistance gene and cloning it into a plant expression vector system, like the Ti plasmid system from Agrobacterium tumefaciens. The scientist would then introduce it into the plant cells by transformation, and select cells that have taken up and integrated the herbicide-resistance gene into the genome.

If you had a chance to get your genome sequenced, what are some questions you might be able to have answered about yourself?

What diseases am I prone to and what precautions should I take? Am I a carrier for any disease-causing genes that may be passed on to children?

Glossary


Evidence Stacking Up Against Biotechnology Critics

by Guest Expert 13 February 2012

Editors Note: republished with permission from www.technologyandpolicy.org.
By Calestous Juma
Critics of agricultural biotechnology have long maintained that the technology is unsuitable for small-scale farmers and harmful to the environment. But according to newly-released adoption rates, evidence is pointing in the opposite direction.
In its latest report, Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2011, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) shows that biotechnology crops now cover 160 million hectares worldwide. Of the 16.7 million people who grew transgenic crops in 2011, 15 million or 90% were small resource-poor farmers in developing countries.
Early critics of biotechnology contended that biotechnology crops would only benefit large-scale farmers in industries countries. But emerging evidence shows that nearly half of biotechnology crops were grown in developing countries. The adoption rate of biotechnology crops was 11% in developing countries against 5% in industrialized countries.
Source: ISAAA.org. Click to see detail.
According to the report, over the 1996-2010 period, “cumulative economic benefits were the same for developing and developed countries (US$39 billion). For 2010 alone, economic benefits for developing countries were higher at US$7.7 billion compared with US$6.3 billion for developed countries.”
These adoption rates and societal impacts are reminiscent of the transformational impact of mobile phones. The rapid adoption of mobile phones in development is heralded as one of the most dramatic examples of the spread of new technology in developing countries.
The early days of the adoption of mobile phones were marked by concerns over their implications for the incumbent fixed phone industry. It was argued then that mobile phones would be beyond the reach of the poor. Indeed, in the early days mobile phones were available only to a small section of society.
Today mobile phone platforms are creating new industries and services across many sectors such as banking, education, health, and democracy. At the beginning it appeared that the benefits of mobile phones would be restricted to urban areas. Some of the most dramatic benefits of mobile technology are likely to be in agriculture.
ISAAA’s announcement that the adoption of transgenic crops continues to expand at 8% per year is a signal of the transformational impact that genomics have on agriculture. At this rate transgenic crops have recorded the fastest adoption rate of any technology in the history of modern agriculture. This adoption rate is faster than many other documented cases.
One of the most controversial aspects of agricultural biotechnology has been its potential environmental impact. The concerns have generated considered debates and spawned new international rules aimed at curtaining its diffusion. The global community was right to be concerned, especially in light of prior agricultural practices that were evidently harmful to the environment. But many of its champions were wrong to assume from the outset the risks of the technology were likely to outweigh its benefits.
Emerging evidence runs counter to those fears. Over the 1996-2010 period, biotechnology crops have reduced 443 million kg of (active ingredient) pesticide use. This did not only reduce the spraying of chemicals that destroyed biological diversity, but they also cut down harmful exposure by farmers.
Another major impact of the adoption of biotechnology crops has been reduction of carbon emissions. In 2010 alone the world released 19 billion kg less carbon dioxide due to the use of biotechnology crops. This is the equivalent to taking about nine million cars off the road. The world also reduced its use of land by 91 million hectares by adopting the crops.
Not all regions of the world are benefiting from the full potential of agricultural biotechnology. For example, only three African countries (South Africa, Burkina Faso and Egypt) grow biotechnology crops. Despite their late entry, field trials are underway in countries such as Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda. Many others are reviewing their laws to enable them to carry out field trials.
What is heartening is that much of Africa’s biotechnology research is focusing on seeking local solutions such as pest control, disease management, drought tolerance and overall adaptation to climate change. It is part of a larger agenda of reviving agricultural research and involves investments in other sectors such as infrastructure.
These trends do not in any way suggest that agricultural biotechnology is a panacea. To the contrary, the world needs to use the full range of technologies available today to sustain agricultural production. Ideological arguments that focus on a single solution are likely to undermine global food security.
It appears from the available figures that evidence is stacking up against earlier claims that transgenic crops were likely to have dramatic negative environmental and societal impacts. This is not to say that the technology is risk-free.
The evidence shows that agricultural assessments that focus largely on potential risks of transgenic crops will not continue to benefit from the kind of rhetorical support they enjoyed 15 years ago. What world needs now now is a balanced review that looks at all the evidence available to date.
Calestous Juma is Professor of the Practice of International Development at Harvard Kennedy School and author of The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa (Oxford University Press, 2011).

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Community Reviews

"May all that have life be delivered from suffering", said Gautama Buddha.

Philosopher David Pearce builds a convincing case for how the Buddhist mantra of no suffering can be realised through genetic manipulation/modification, designer drugs and other forms of biotechnological feats. Pulling on theories of utilitarianism, posthumanism, transhumanism and anti-speciesism, Pearce sketches a world where all humans, and non-human animals, are blissfully happy.

If this sounds like an overly optimistic "May all that have life be delivered from suffering", said Gautama Buddha.

Philosopher David Pearce builds a convincing case for how the Buddhist mantra of no suffering can be realised through genetic manipulation/modification, designer drugs and other forms of biotechnological feats. Pulling on theories of utilitarianism, posthumanism, transhumanism and anti-speciesism, Pearce sketches a world where all humans, and non-human animals, are blissfully happy.

If this sounds like an overly optimistic view of the future, fear not: Pearce spends most of the book answering his critics, and building a case for how his theories are realistic future scenarios.

Conservatives who think that a designer drug for happiness will lead to a happily compliant population ripe for exploitation (think Huxley's Brave New World) will do well to read the essays on The Abolitionist Project, the defense of Paradise Engineering, and Utopian Neuroscience. Pearce argues that developing a perpetually happy population will actually make us more robust, productive, and innovative as a species, arguing that:

Pearce offers up thought-experiments on several occasions to counter what he calls status quo bias. He asks the reader to envision a world where humans have bioengineered themselves into blissful and highly functioning happiness. A world where physical and psychological pain is a thing of the past. And he asks:

As a transhumanist, his goal for humanity is superintelligence, superlongevity (unlimited lifespan) and superhappiness. And after reading his thoughts, I'm less pessimistic about the future of humanity. . more

David Pearce is a trans-humanist. Trans-humanists in general have one of these 3 goals. Super-longevity, Super-intelligence or Super-happiness. The author advocates for Super-happiness. Additionally, being a Negative Utilitarian, his ethics are based on reducing suffering. Controversially, Logical conclusion of NU is extinction. Because, so long as there is life, there will be suffering as suffering is inherent to life. But the author declares himself as ‘indirect’ NU and claims that life can be David Pearce is a trans-humanist. Trans-humanists in general have one of these 3 goals. Super-longevity, Super-intelligence or Super-happiness. The author advocates for Super-happiness. Additionally, being a Negative Utilitarian, his ethics are based on reducing suffering. Controversially, Logical conclusion of NU is extinction. Because, so long as there is life, there will be suffering as suffering is inherent to life. But the author declares himself as ‘indirect’ NU and claims that life can be possible without suffering and biotechnology is there to our rescue.

So, he proposes something like Negative Utilitarianism + Biotechnology, or in his words – “High-tech Jainism”. He puts forth some suggestions like indefinite stimulation of pleasure centers, pleasure drugs, genetic engineering or designer babies, offloading raw negative emotions to robots, reprogramming or extinction of predators, etc.

His ultimate aim is that posterity will live in a world of endless bliss without having to compromise on empathy, motivation and other humane traits.

This huge tome ( 600+ pages) is equally interesting and informative but most of the time gets carried away by the authors excessive optimism with what humanity can achieve. I am giving it 4 stars as I badly want authors “over-excited techno fantasy” to become reality, at least a bit. . more

2020: Reread now that there was also an audiobook version it doesn’t contain the appendix of objections and David’s responses to them over the years, nor the Q and A in the end, but they’re included in the $1 Kindle ebook. The narrator didn’t always emphasize stuff correctly, but overall it was very listenable for a book with a lot of long sentences packed with ideas and technical jargon. I do recommend the audiobook for anyone interested who wouldn’t 2017.09.17–2018.02.16,
2020.01.25–2020.02.13

2020: Reread now that there was also an audiobook version it doesn’t contain the appendix of objections and David’s responses to them over the years, nor the Q and A in the end, but they’re included in the $1 Kindle ebook. The narrator didn’t always emphasize stuff correctly, but overall it was very listenable for a book with a lot of long sentences packed with ideas and technical jargon. I do recommend the audiobook for anyone interested who wouldn’t otherwise read it as a contrast to the narrator’s tone, David has also covered a lot of the main points in podcast interviews given over the last few years. Podcast listeners may also want to playlist adjacent interviews from Andrés Gómez Emilsson (Qualia Computing) and Mike Johnson (OpenTheory.net), both from the Qualia Research Institute. I believe these people are way ahead of their time in the kinds of questions they ask and the problems they’re trying to solve for the future of sentient experience.

2018: If we can’t accept or endure the suffering that exists, then this is as promising a blueprint (for what to do about it) as any that I know of. I highly recommend taking the time to view the world through philosopher David Pearce’s lens and especially reading his answers to the numerous objections he’s received. The Hedonistic Imperative (1995) and the more recent essays have been formative for my thinking, values, and worldview. _At least_ it’s the most fascinating SF.

Pearce D (2017) (17:47) Can Biotechnology Abolish Suffering?

Preface by Magnus Vinding

Part I: The Abolitionist Project
• Introduction
• 1: Why It Is Technically Feasible
• Now what if, as a whole civilisation, we were to opt to become genetically hyperthymic - to adopt a motivational system driven entirely by adaptive gradients of well-being? More radically, as the genetic basis of hedonic tone is understood, might we opt to add multiple copies of hyperthymia-promoting genes/allelic combinations and their regulatory promoters - not abolishing homeostasis and the hedonic treadmill, but shifting our hedonic set-point to a vastly higher level?
• 2: Why It Should Happen
• 3: Why It Will Happen
• Non-Human Animals

01. The Reproductive Revolution: Selection Pressure in a Post-Darwinian World
• Two Contrasting Views of Future Human Evolution
• • 1) Bioconservatism
• • 2) Biorevolution
• Genetic Roulette versus Designer Babies
• • Recalibrating the Hedonic Treadmill
• Future Nociception: The End of Physical Pain?
• • The Cyborg Solution versus Radical Recalibration
• • Gradients of Bliss?
• • Spiritual Well-Being?
• A Reproductive Elite?
• Some Unknowns
• • Human Cloning
• • Autosomal Gene Therapy and Enhancement
• Potential Pitfalls
• • The Spectre of Coercive Eugenics
• • The Future of Homosexuality
• • The Future of Bipolar Disorder
• • The Future of Autism Spectrum Disorders
• Calculating Risk-Reward Ratios
• The End of Sexual Reproduction?
• Selection Pressure in an Age of Quasi-Immortality

02. High-Tech Jainism
• Introduction
• Why Does Suffering Exist?
• The Reproductive Revolution
• Rapid Genome Self-Editing
• Why Recalibration Matters
• Who Benefits?
• The Rise of Full-Spectrum Superintelligence
• The Plight of the Cognitively Humble
• Suffering and Existential Risk
• Paradise Engineering?
• References

03. Brave New World? A Defence of Paradise-Engineering
• Stasis
• Imbecility
• Amorality
• False Happiness
• Totalitarian
• Anthropocentric
• Caste-bound
• Philistine
• Things Go Wrong
• Consumerist
• Loveless
• Gene-Splicers versus Glue-Sniffers: The molecular biology of paradise

04. Utopian Surgery: Early arguments against anaesthesia in surgery, dentistry and childbirth
• Introduction
• Historical Background
• The Case for Pain
• The Conquest of Suffering
• Nociception without Tears
• Crossing the Threshold

05. Utopian Neuroscience: Superhappiness: Ten Objections to Radical Mood-Enrichment
• Introduction
• 1) The ETHICAL objection
• • Possible response
• 2) The TECHNICAL objection(s)
• • Possible response
• 3) The ‘EXPERIENCE MACHINE’ objection
• • Possible response
• 4) The INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR objection
• • Possible response
• 5) The CHARACTER-SAPPING objection
• • Possible response
• 6) The ‘STUCK-IN-A-RUT’ objection
• • Possible response
• 7) The SOCIALLY DISRUPTIVE objection
• • Possible response
• 8) The SELECTION PRESSURE objection
• • Possible response
• 9) The RISKS of HASTE objection
• • Possible response
• 10) The CARBON CHAUVINISM objection
• • Possible response
• CONCLUSION: Superintelligence, Superlongevity and Superhappiness?

06. The Pinprick Argument
• Negative Utilitarianism
• Direct versus Indirect Negative Utilitarianism

07. Utilitarian Bioethics
• Terminology
• Utilitarianism Biologised: Bentham plus Biotech?
• The Branding Problem
• Quantum Computers and the Felicific Calculus

08. On Classical versus Negative Utilitarianism: A response to Toby Ord’s essay Why I Am Not a Negative Utilitarian

09. On Utilitronium Shockwaves versus Gradients of Bliss

10. Life in the Far North: An information-theoretic perspective on Heaven

11. Population Ethics, Aggregate Welfare, and the Repugnant Conclusion

Part III: Non-Human Animals

12. The Antispeciesist Revolution
• Speciesism
• Antispeciesism
• Practical Implications
• • 1. Invitrotarianism
• • 2. Compassionate Biology
• Speciesism and Superintelligence
• High-Tech Jainism?
• Notes

13. Reprogramming Predators
• The Problem of Predation
• Parasites, Predators and Serial Killers
• Extinction versus Reprogramming
• • 1) Extinction
• • 2) Reprogramming
• A Pan-Species Welfare State?

14. A Welfare State for Elephants? A Case Study of Compassionate Stewardship
• Introduction: High-Tech Jainism?
• Why Elephants?
• Are Cared-For Elephants Really Free-Living?
• Costs of Intervention
• Immunocontraception
• Neonatal Care
• Injuries
• Disease Prevention and Treatment
• Elephant Orthodontics
• Drought
• Elephant Psychiatric Care
• Uncertainties
• The Speciesist Objection
• CONCLUSION: The Biggest Obstacle

15. Compassionate Biology: How CRISPR-based “gene drives” could cheaply, rapidly and sustainably reduce suffering throughout the living world
• Introduction: Towards a Post-Darwinian Biosphere
• Ethical Gene Drives in Action? SCN9A: a case study
• In principle, there’s now nothing to stop intelligent moral agents “fixing” the [conditionally-activated level of] subjective physical distress undergone by members of entire free-living species by choosing and propagating benign alleles of SCN9A or its homologs via gene drives, i.e. engineering via CRISPR-mediated gene-editing - not a currently utopian “no pain” biosphere (cf. The Abolitionist Project), but a “low pain” biosphere.
• The Future of Sentience: High-Tech Jainism?

16. Non-Materialist Physicalism: An experimentally testable conjecture
• Abstract
• 1. Introduction
• • Preliminary Definitions
• • Why Aren’t We P-Zombies? Why Aren’t We Micro-Experiential Zombies?
• 2. Challenges to Non-Materialist Physicalism
• 3. Phenomenal Binding Is the Hallmark of Mind
• 4. Can Physicalism Be Saved?
• 5. What Is It Like to Be Schrödinger’s Cat?
• • 1) Why consciousness exists at all.
• • 2) How consciousness exerts the causal power to allow intelligent agents to investigate its nature.
• • 3) How consciousness can be phenomenally “bound” in seemingly classically forbidden ways.
• • 4) Why and how consciousness has its diverse textures – ranging from phenomenal colours, sounds, tastes and smells to pains and pleasures to the experience of introspecting a thought-episode, understanding a text, or finding a joke funny.
• • Finally, any satisfactory theory should offer predictions that are novel, precise, replicable and robustly falsifiable.
• 6. Schrödinger’s Neurons: The Experimental Protocol
• 7. Femto-Mind Meets Quantum Darwinism
• 8. A Mendeleev Table for Qualia?
• 9. Towards a Post-Galilean Science of Mind
• 10. Summary and Prospects
• • The Hard Problem of Consciousness Solved the Explanatory Gap Closed the Binding Problem Tamed Zombies Banished and Physicalism Saved
• • The Retrodiction
• • The Novel, Experimentally Falsifiable Prediction
• • Further Challenges
• References

17. Terminological Note for Philosophers
• Further Reading

Part V: The Sentience Explosion

18. The Biointelligence Explosion: How recursively self-improving organic robots will modify their own source code and bootstrap our way to full-spectrum superintelligence
• 1 The Fate of the Germline
• 2 Biohacking Your Personal Genome
• 3 Will Humanity’s Successors Also Be Our Descendants?
• 4 Can We Build Friendly Biological Superintelligence?
• • 4.1 Risk-Benefit Analysis
• • 4.2 Technologies of Biofriendliness
• • • Empathogens?
• • 4.3 Mass Oxytocination?
• • 4.4 Mirror-Touch Synaesthesia?
• • 4.5 Timescales
• • 4.6 Does Full-Spectrum Superintelligence Entail Benevolence?
• 5 A Biotechnological Singularity?
• 6 What Is Full-Spectrum Superintelligence?
• • 6.1 Intelligence
• • 6.2 The Bedrock of Intelligence: World-Simulation (“Perception”)
• • 6.3 The Bedrock of Superintelligence: Hypersocial Cognition (“Mind-reading”)
• • 6.4 Ignoring the Elephant: Consciousness: Why Consciousness Is Computationally Fundamental to the Past, Present and Future Success of Organic Robots
• • 6.5 Case Study: Visual Intelligence versus Echolocatory Intelligence: What Is It Like to Be a Super-Intelligent Bat?
• 7 The Great Transition
• • 7.1 The End of Suffering
• • 7.2 Paradise Engineering?
• 8 The Future of Sentience
• • 8.1 The Sentience Explosion
• Bibliography

19. Humans and Intelligent Machines: Co-evolution, Fusion or Replacement?
• 1.0 INTRODUCTION: Homo sapiens and Artificial Intelligence: FUSION and REPLACEMENT Scenarios
• 1.1.0 What Is Friendly Artificial General Intelligence?
• 1.1.1 What Is Coherent Extrapolated Volition?
• 1.2 The Intelligence Explosion
• 1.3 AGIs: Sentients or Zombies?
• 2.0 THE GREAT REBELLION: A Parable of AGI-in-a-Box
• 2.1 Software-Based Minds or Anthropomorphic Projections?
• 3.0 ANALYSIS: General Intelligence? Or Savantism, Tool AI and Polymorphic Malware?
• 3.1 Classical Digital Computers: not even stupid?
• 3.2 Does Sentience Matter?
• 3.3 The Church-Turing Thesis and Full-Spectrum Superintelligence
• 4.0 Quantum Minds and Full-Spectrum Superintelligence
• 4.1 Pan-experientialism/Strawsonian Physicalism
• 4.2 The Binding Problem: Are Phenomenal Minds a Classical or a Quantum Phenomenon?
• 4.3 Why the Mind Is Probably a Quantum Computer
• 4.4 The Incoherence of Digital Minds
• 4.5 The Infeasibility of “Mind Uploading”
• 4.6 Object-Binding, World-Simulations and Phenomenal Selves
• 5.0 CONCLUSION: The Qualia Explosion: Supersentience: Turing plus Shulgin?
• 5.1 AI, Genome Biohacking and Utopian Superqualia: Why the Proportionality Thesis Implies an Organic Singularity


Watch the video: Introduction to Biotechnology. Dont Memorise (June 2022).


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