• Question: How did we discover gentic modification?

    Asked by p5avictoria to Judith, Gemma on 15 Jan 2019.
    • Photo: Judith Sleeman

      Judith Sleeman answered on 15 Jan 2019:

      Humans have been modifying the genetics of other species since they first domesticated plants and animals: selective breeding is used to increase characteristics that we think are valuable. Directly modifying the genes of mice was first done in the early 1970’s: a gene of interest can be added or deleted from an early embryo. The genome editing techniques that are becoming so popular now are based on a mechanism that bacteria use to defend themselves against viruses. This was first noticed in the 1980’s but has really only been understood since about 2000 and exploited experimentally in the last few years. The bacteria pick up pieces of DNA from viruses and incorporate them into their chromosome. Then if they get infected by the same virus again, they can defend themselves against it. Not very Darwinian!!!