What are Recombinant Bacteria?

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  • Written By: Helga George
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 06 October 2019
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Recombinant bacteria are bacteria that have undergone genetic engineering. This means their DNA has been altered by the introduction of new DNA. Such bacteria have been of immense value in biological research, and for industrial and environmental uses.

New DNA is often introduced in some sort of vehicle that is known as a vector. This can be a plasmid or a virus. The plasmid has a type of selectable marker, so that the cells will keep producing it. Often, this is antibiotic resistance. It is also possible to introduce a gene directly into the bacterium’s own DNA.

Often when a new gene is cloned, it is expressed in a microorganism, and frequently in bacteria. The lab rat of the bacterial world is Escherichia coli, commonly found in our intestines. Many strains of E. coli are available for cloning experiments.

Many cloning kits are available that facilitate a high level of expression of protein produced by a cloned gene in E. coli. This is known as overexpression. In basic research, such techniques help provide enough material to study the function and properties of the product of the gene.


Overexpression techniques in recombinant bacteria have been of great utility for various industries. They have enabled the production of materials that are very difficult to isolate from natural sources. Also, isolating compounds from humans risks the spread of diseases. Many proteins of medical importance have been produced commercially in this manner. Insulin, human growth hormone, and the anti-anemia drug erythropoietin are some examples.

Many other species of bacteria are capable of being altered genetically. This includes those that can live in more extreme environmental conditions, such as polluted wastewater. Often the process of making a chemical, or degrading one, takes several different chemical steps. Scientists have been able to engineer some recombinant bacteria with the genes for whole pathways for the biosynthesis, or biodegradation, of compounds.

Genetically-altered bacteria are finding use in bioremediation. This is the practice of using organisms to treat pollution made by humans. For decades, bacteria and fungi have been used to treat wastewater and decontaminate water and soils infused with organic pollutants. With the advent of genetic engineering, however, it is possible to design recombinant bacteria to break down pollutants under conditions that unaltered microorganisms may find unfavorable.

Bacteria are particularly adept at taking up toxic metals. The treatment of contaminated soil and solid waste is generally done in a large tank known as a bioreactor. This is a way of containing the recombinant bacteria, so they do not escape into the environment. It also makes it easier to optimize environmental conditions to those that favor growth of the bacteria. Also, new strains of bacteria can be created to break down compounds that were previously very resistant to degradation.


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Post 3

@wizup - I’m with you in so many ways to just let evolution run its course. Recombinant technology has gone too far with its experiments.

Are we seriously growing new body parts like ears in these DNA labs? I totally disagree with cloning and the ability to choose an unborn child’s traits. What gives us the right to play God?

Post 2

@ellafarris - Well this may be all good as far as you’re concerned but what about all those viruses they created that have developed a resistance to our own antibiotics? What about how waste and pollution are developing a resistance to the genetic recombination in bacteria?

We’re creating our own resistance to diseases and environmental pollution. This may be one part of science we should leave alone and just let evolution run its course naturally.

Post 1

Recombinant DNA technology has been getting a bad wrap for a long time. People need to look at how useful it is to mankind and to our future.

We finally have the ability to prevent genetic diseases and find better treatments or maybe even a cure for cancer through DNA recombination. Science and technology are always changing and progressing and developing new things that improve our lives. This has been going on since the dawn of time, and look at how far we’ve come.

DNA technology not only improves our medications but it ensures healthier food production and searches for ways to improve our environment. As far as I’m concerned, these are all good things. Aren’t they?

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