Biogenetics: History, What It Studies, Basic Concepts

The biogenetic is the combined field of study of biology and genetics. It involves the study of any phenomenon that affects living beings, analyzed from both perspectives, and the way to approach said phenomenon.

The term biogenetics has also been used to define the modification of living beings from some “target” organisms. The branch of knowledge that focuses, encompasses or allows to achieve the ends associated with the two previous definitions is also known as genetic engineering.

However, in the world of science, the use of the word biogenetic (a) as an adjective is more widespread than biogenetics as the name of a separate science. Most likely, by wanting to use such a noun (biogenetics), mention is actually made of genetic engineering.

On the contrary, the adjective biogenetic (a) refers, rather, to everything related to the biogenesis (biological origin) of some molecule, structure, tissue, organ or biological entity.

Genetic engineering brings together the set of methods, strategies, techniques and practical applications necessary to modify a living being in an intentional and planned way.

It obeys, therefore, the biological knowledge of the individual who is the target of the modification (the one to be modified) and the perceived need for such a change. That is, it is the science dedicated to the study of how to change the genes and genomes of individuals.

History

The domestication of species, research crosses (as Mendel began) and plant improvement by conventional crossing are not biogenetic, that is, they are not cases of genetic engineering. One uses artificial selection and controlled fertilization to get something without knowing how or why.

Biogenetics, on the other hand, was born when we were able to take a specific DNA from one organism, clone it, and propagate it and / or express it in another. In other words, biogenetics was born thanks to recombinant DNA technology in the early seventies (1970).

The activity that defines this branch of knowledge is that of “molecular cloning”. Once we had restriction enzymes (molecular scissors) and DNA ligases (glue) we were able to cut and paste at our convenience.

This is how we were able to reconstruct de novo an autonomous DNA molecule (which can be replicated only in one cell), like a plasmid. Then, we were able to cut out a human-specific gene of known function and paste it into an expression plasmid.

By introducing it into a bacterium, we were later able to produce human proteins in bacteria for our use and consumption. This is how, for example, we produced recombinant human insulin.

Currently we can do genetic engineering (biogenetics) not only of bacteria, but also of fungi, plants and animals: these are the so-called “Genetically Modified Organisms” (GMO).

Within this group of organisms we have the so-called transgenics, which are none other than GMOs that have been modified by the integration of genes from other species.

What does biogenetics study? Applications

Gene modification

Biogenetics studies how to change the gene or genomes of organisms targeted by genetic manipulation. On the other hand, biogenetics can approach any biological process and determine how the modification of an organism can lead to the resolution of the problem.

For example, through the techniques used in biogenetics, the researcher can specify the function of a gene or group of genes. It can also produce a certain biomolecule in another organism, or even a complex particular biochemical pathway.

Organism improvement

Through biogenetics, organisms can be improved to be able to resist attack by pathogens and the diseases they cause.

Living organisms can also be modified so that they can cope with environmental stress caused by water deficiency, soil contamination, etc. Some plants have been biogenetically enhanced to make them resistant to pests, and some animals as well, to make them grow faster.

Recombinant bacteria can produce a wide variety of different compounds useful in the food and beverage, pharmaceutical, animal and plant health industries, among others.

Mutation correction

Finally, with current genome editing techniques, we have the ability to correct mutations and thus prevent the development of genetically based diseases, increase the expression of a gene and modify the genotypes (and therefore phenotypes) of virtually any organism.

Basic concepts in biogenetics

Molecular cloning

Molecular cloning is the massive spread of a distinctive region of DNA isolated from its genomic environment. This fragment is cloned (pasted) into a cloning and / or expression vector.

To achieve this, we resort to restriction enzymes that precisely cut nucleotides, and ligases that bind the DNAs that one wants to paste.

In almost all cases, the basic steps of molecular cloning are carried out in bacteria. In these, the cloned DNA is propagated and the recombinant DNA molecule is produced, which can then be transferred to other more complex organisms. In biogenetics, viruses can also be used as vehicles for different purposes.

PCR amplification

An important advance in the massive production of specific DNA molecules was the implementation of amplification by the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR ).

This is a massive in vitro DNA synthesis technique . Here, by using a thermocycler, a small DNA molecule, say like a 1,500 nucleotide gene, makes it possible to produce 235 copies of it in a very few hours.

A thermal cycler enables automated loops of the three crucial temperatures in any PCR DNA amplification protocol. These are those of:

  • denaturation (opening of DNA)
  • ringing (meeting of the target gene) and
  • synthesis (polymerization)

DNA amplification by PCR is an indispensable biogenetic technique in all fields of modern biology and medicine.

Sequencing and editing

DNA sequencing brings together a wide set of techniques that allow us to know with some accuracy the order in which the nucleotides are found in a particular DNA molecule. This allows us to “read” the information as it is encoded in our genome.

Finally, very recently DNA editing methods have been put into practice that allow altering the “biological text” of the inheritance molecule.

In this way, we are not only capable of “reading” the DNA through the sequencing of genes and genomes, but we can also correct the text, or alter it to tell another story.

That is, by means of biogenetics (more appropriately genetic engineering) we can clone genes, increase them by amplification by PCR, read them by sequencing and change their text by editing.

References

  1. Alberts B et al. (2017) Molecular Biology of the Cell, 6th Edition. Garland Science, New York City. 1464 pp.
  2. Green MR, Sambrook J (2012) Molecular Cloning: Laboratory Manual , Fourth Edition. Three volume set. Cold Spring Harbor, USA. 2028 pp.
  3. Pepper MS (2019) Special edition of the SAMJ devoted to cell and gene therapy. S Afr Med J. 109 (8b): 12719.
  4. Salsman J, Dellaire G (2017) Precision genome editing in the CRISPR era. Biochem Cell Biol. 95 (2): 187-201.
  5. Singh RR (2020) Next-Generation Sequencing in high-sensitive detection of mutations in tumors: challenges, advances and applications. J Mol Diagn. S1525-1578 (20) 30330-5.

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