What is Recombinant Expression?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
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  • Last Modified Date: 19 October 2019
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Recombinant expression is a process that allows an artificial gene, also known as a recombinant gene, to express the trait that is coded within it. This is done through DNA transcription, which converts the DNA into RNA that tells a cell to start making proteins, with the proteins themselves expressing the desired trait. In recombinant expression, the gene may be artificial, but the process of expression is based in nature.

A recombinant gene is made by artificial means. People make recombinant genes for a number of reasons. Sometimes such genes are created for genetic research, allowing scientists to learn more about specific traits. They can also be used to improve a plant or animal by creating desired traits or eliminating unwanted ones. An example of a recombinant gene might be a gene that confers herbicide resistance onto a crop so that herbicides can be used around that crop in order to kill weeds.


In the gene expression process, the body reads its genetic code, using it like a manual for building proteins. This occurs while an organism develops, as seen when a developing fetus uses the DNA from a single fused cell to build an entire body. It also happens on a daily basis as new cells develop and older cells die off. In humans, for example, skin cells are constantly growing while the older skin cells slough off, and this occurs as a result of gene expression, with proteins acting like a construction crew to build a new cell to the specifications in the DNA.

In the case of recombinant expression, the body's natural process for reading DNA and converting it into proteins is used on a recombinant gene that has been inserted into an organism's genetic code. If the gene was developed and inserted properly, the body will be able to read it and make the directed protein. If the gene has an error or problem, natural mechanisms to prevent rogue gene expression will kick in, preventing the recombinant expression from occurring.

Recombinant technology is used in agriculture, the development of pharmaceuticals, and genetic research. Once researchers create a successful recombinant gene, they can insert that gene into organisms they are studying or developing so that the gene will be expressed. With the use of DNA cloning, they can make multiple copies of the gene that can be inserted into numerous organisms. One area in which recombinant expression is widely used is in the production of new pharmaceutical products, with organisms like bacteria being genetically altered to produce needed chemical compounds.


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