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Genetic engineering: Key to miracles

A team headed by Ian Wilmut and his colleagues at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland made history when they produced a lamp named Dolly, an exact genetic copy or clone of a sheep. Dolly, unlike any other mammal that has ever lived, is an identical copy of another adult and has no father. She is a clone -a veritable wonder product of genetic engineering!!! With this discovery, genetic engineering has become globally recognized.

Genetic engineering is that wonderful science which enables the human minds to interfere in and modify the processes of life, birth death and even offers escape from certain congenital diseases.

What is Genetic Engineering?

Genetic Engineering (GE) is a highly complicated and advanced branch of science that involves a wide range of techniques used in changing the genetic material in the DNA code in a living organism. 'Genetic Engineering' means the deliberate modification of the characters of an organism by the manipulation of its genetic material. Genetic engineering comes under the broad heading of Biotechnology.

Genetic scientists study how traits and characteristics are transmitted through the generations, and how genetic disorders are caused. Their research is not just limited to researching the causes, but in discovering potential cures as well.

Genetic engineering aims to re-arrange the sequence of DNA in gene using artificial methods. The work of a genetic engineer involves extracting the DNA out of one organism, changing it using chemicals or radiation and subsequently putting it back into the same or a different organism. For e.g.: genes and segments of DNA from one species is taken and put into another species. They also study how traits and characteristics are transmitted through the generations, and how genetic disorders are caused. Their research involves researching the causes and discovering potential cures if any.

Genetic engineering have specializations related to plants, animals and human beings. Genetic engineering in plants and animals may be to improve certain natural characteristics of value, to increase resistance to disease or damage and to develop new characteristics etc. It is used to change the colour, size, texture etc of plants otherwise known as GM (Genetically Modified) foods. GE in humans can be to correct severe hereditary defects by introducing normal genes into cells in place of missing or defective ones.

Career scope

There is a great scope in this field as the demand for genetic engineers are growing in India as well as abroad. Genetic engineers are mainly absorbed in medical and pharmaceutical industries, the agricultural sector, and the research and development departments of the government and private sectors. They can also take up teaching as an option.

Aspirants have a good opportunity to work in the area of pharmacogenomics in the pharmaceutical industry, besides having good career options in genetic testing laboratories, which is a relatively new concept in India, and studies the career status of diseased genes in different genetic disorders. There is also a chance to work in genetic counselling to the couples and families suffering from genetic diseases.

There are good prospects in clinical laboratories in the field of molecular diagnostics for various genetic disorders and infectious diseases and in reproductive genetics, where help is offered to infertile couples and those afflicted with genetic problems through prenatal genetic analysis.

Forensic genetics have opened up new vistas for human geneticists, who by molecular genotyping, can provide valuable insights into genetic individualization of criminals, thus helping in solving crime.

Educational route

To become a qualified genetic engineer one must have a graduate degree (B.E / B.Tech) or at least a diploma in that particular branch of Engineering. The basic eligibility criterion for a graduate degree (BE / B.Tech) is 10+2 or equivalent examination, with Biology, Chemistry and Mathematics as well as genetics as part of the biology or a bachelor’s degree in science or molecular biology.

A qualified genetic engineer, must have a graduate / postgraduate degree in genetics or related fields such as biotechnology, molecular biology, microbiology or biochemistry or a doctorate (PhD) from a recognised university, based on 2-3 years of his own research under the guidance of a professor/lecturer.

Most institutes do not offer courses in Genetic Engineering as a special discipline but as a subsidiary in biotechnology, microbiology, and biochemistry streams. Undergraduate and postgraduate courses in biotechnology offer specialization in genetic engineering.

Personal attributes

To be a successful genetic engineer, one must have sharp analytical mind, an aptitude for research, high levels of concentration, eye for details, lively imagination, abundant physical stamina to put in long hours of work, ability to work as a team and moreover a sound moral sense.

List of institutes

Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore

Madurai Kamaraj University, Madurai

Bose Institute, Calcutta

Indian Institute of Technology (Kharagpur and Delhi)

University of Calcutta

Birla Institute of Technology (Pilani Rajasthan)

University of Lucknow

Jadavpur University




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