The Impact of Recombinant DNA Technology

Recombinant DNA technology has drastically altered the way that genes are studied. Previously, information about the structure and organization of genes was gained by examining their phenotypic effects, but the new technology makes it possible to read the nucleotide sequences themselves. Previously, geneticists had to wait for the appearance of random or induced mutations to analyze the effects of genetic differences; now they can create mutations at precisely defined spots and see how they alter the phenotype.

Recombinant DNA technology has provided new information about the structure and function of genes and has altered many fundamental concepts of genetics. For example, whereas the genetic code was once thought to be entirely universal, we now know that nonuniversal codons exist in mitochondrial DNA. Previously, we thought that the organization of eukaryotic genes was like that of prokaryotes, but we now know that many eukaryotic genes are interrupted by introns. Much of what we know today about replication, transcription, translation, RNA processing, and gene regulation has been learned through the use of recombinant DNA techniques. These techniques are also used in many other fields, including biochemistry, microbiology, developmental biology, neurobiology, evolution, and ecology.

Recombinant DNA technology is also used to create a number of commercial products, including drugs, hormones, enzymes, and crops (I Figure 18.1). An entirely new industry—biotechnology—has grown up around the use of these techniques to develop new products. In medicine, recombinant DNA techniques are used to probe the nature

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