DOE Microbial Genome Program
can now identify genes that influence desirable physical features in one
organism and transfer them into others. Such genetic engineering results
in altered (or recombinant) organisms having a combination of desired traits.
Using genetically modified living organisms or their products for commercial
purposes is an emerging area in biotechnology.
In the Microbial Genome Program, scientists are altering the genome of the
bacterium Deinococcus radiodurans to
increase its potential usefulness in cleaning up toxic-waste sites around
the globe. Studies have revealed that the microbe's extraordinary DNA-repair
processes enable it to thrive in high-radiation environments. Through
the use of biotechnological processes, scientists hope to add genes from
other organisms that will confer the ability to degrade toxic chemicals
such as toluene, commonly found in mixed, chemical, and radiation waste
Other examples of current and potential applications of genetic engineering
- Production of pharmaceuticals by bacteria that produce human insulin
for diabetics or human growth hormone for individuals with dwarfism. Scientists
are perfecting ways to transfer human genes for important proteins into
cows, sheep, and goats to obtain medically significant products from the
milk of these animals.
- Development of diagnostics to detect disease-causing organisms and monitor
the safety of food and water supplies. Investigators also are developing
systems for identifying pathogens that may someday be used as biological
weapons by rogue nations or even terrorist groups.
- Use of bacteria as living sensors (biosensors) of particular chemicals
in soil, air, and water. In some studies, bacteria have been genetically
altered to emit a green fluorescent protein visible in ultraviolet light
when they metabolize the explosive TNT leaking from land mines. Researchers
envision a day when bacteria can be applied to a tract of land with a crop
duster and then analyzed from a helicopter.