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What Is Gene Cloning?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 13 November 2016
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Gene cloning allows researchers to generate copies of a gene of interest for further study, use in medical testing, or therapy. It involves a series of stages to separate out the gene and propagate it. Scientific labs can perform this service by request for customers and researchers can also do it in their own facilities, if they have the necessary equipment. One advantage to using a third party lab can be increased reliability of study results.

The first step in gene cloning involves treating deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) with what are known as restriction enzymes. These chemical compounds snip DNA at specific points, looking for particular strings of individual amino acids that indicate breaks between different parts of the genome. The fragmented DNA can be blended with plasmids, specialized proteins, after the plasmids are treated with their own restriction enzymes. Fragments on the end of the DNA latch onto openings in the plasmid and they fuse together with the assistance of another enzyme.

The treated plasmids can be inserted into bacteria to create a genetic library. Bacteria are already designed to use plasmids to exchange and share genetic information. Once they have been treated, researchers can culture them and single out organisms producing specific genes. They encourage the colonies producing the gene to keep growing so they can extract and purify it. Gene cloning produces numerous identical copies of the same genetic sequence.

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Researchers can use gene cloning for a variety of activities. These may range from pure scientific research to learn more about the construction of DNA to active studies to treat specific medical conditions. For example, they can compare and contrast genes to find out what happens when errors in the genome propagate. This information can help researchers develop genetic testing to identify disease, and work on treatments to address specific genetic conditions. Gene libraries can also be stored for future reference and additional projects.

Tight controls are needed with gene cloning. Researchers use specially designed plasmids and bacteria to increase accuracy and reliability. They carefully monitor conditions in the lab to avoid introducing contamination or damage to the DNA, as this could result in errors. If not caught, the errors might contaminate current and future research, and could cause substantial problems. Periodic tests, including third party evaluations of genetic material, can help identify problems with cloned genes and specimens to allow researchers to catch these issues early.

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