What are the areas of genetic engineering

Green genetic engineering

The color theory of genetic engineering

Green, red, white - with these colors you can orientate yourself in the genetic engineering world. The Red genetic engineering takes its name from the color of the blood. Its field of application is medicine. With their help, biotechnologists develop new diagnostic methods to detect diseases and genetic defects at an early stage.

One would also like to heal with the help of gene therapy: cells are removed from the patient, these are multiplied, genetically modified and then used again. This is intended to cure severe immune defects, for example.

In regeneration medicine, cartilage, bones, skin or entire organs are to be grown anew with the aid of genetic engineering in order to heal diseased tissue.

Another area of ​​red genetic engineering is the manufacture of pharmaceuticals. This began in 1982 with the production of genetically modified human insulin.

In the White genetic engineering the focus is on enzymes, cells and microorganisms. These are genetically optimized so that they are highly specialized and can produce high yields of the desired products. Examples are the production of bioethanol, hormones or detergents.

The Green genetic engineering is used in agriculture and in the food sector. Biochemists breed new types of plants that are particularly resistant to pests or pesticides.

This is the most controversial area in genetic engineering. In a Forsa survey commissioned by the Federation of German Consumer Organizations in 2015, 70 percent of Germans are against genetically modified food, 84 percent also reject the feeding of genetically modified plants to livestock.

Taxi bacteria, blown cell walls, gene guns and antibiotics

How do foreign genes actually get into plants? How does genetic modification work? There are three variants. With the standard solution you take a kind of "taxi", usually a virus or a bacterium.

You equip this with the new gene and infect the plant with it. When it penetrates the plant, it has the new gene with it. If parts of the plant take up the new gene, they are used again in the test tube to form complete plants.

In the second variant, the thick cell walls that protect against the transfer of foreign genes are first broken down. It remains a component of the cells, the protoplast.

Now you give the new gene in a liquid to the protoplasts so that it can be taken up by them. The difficulty with this option is to grow whole plants with solid cells from the dissolved cells.

The third option is a so-called "gene cannon". The gene to be introduced is attached to microscopic gold spheres. These are then shot directly into the plant cells at a speed of more than 1,300 meters per second.

The particles are so small that the cell and cell wall are not damaged. This procedure is always a game of chance, because the introduced genes are often not active or only parts of the targeted tissue are hit.

Not every cell takes up the genes. Scientists therefore not only infect the cells with the gene that is to be introduced, but also with antibiotic-resistant genes, so-called marker genes. They add antibiotics to the cluster of cells so that only the new cells with the desired properties continue to grow.

In the meantime, these antibiotic resistance genes have come under fire because too many bacteria are resistant to antibiotics and it is feared that the marker genes will support this.

The corn is hot

The best known and frequently discussed example of a genetically modified plant (GMP) in Germany is "Bt maize MON 810". Thanks to the introduced Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), this maize variety produces a poison against the European corn borer.

This butterfly is the most important corn pest. But the poison not only kills the European corn borer, it also damages so-called non-target insects, such as the swallowtail, also a butterfly.

In addition, the maize pollen flies more than two kilometers and spread the modified maize genes to neighboring fields of farmers who do not want to use genetic engineering. "Bt maize MON 810" was the only genetically modified maize variety that was allowed to be grown commercially in Germany. In April 2009 this was also banned.

World market for green genetic engineering

A look outside the box shows that a lot of money can be made with altered genes. The US group Monsanto, which belongs to Bayer, is at the forefront of this market. This company supplies 90 percent of the genetically modified seeds sold worldwide.

The strategy is simple: Monsanto has genetically modified its seeds for corn, wheat, rice, soy and many other plants so that they survive a shower of poison with the glyphosate pesticide "Roundup".

This is of course also manufactured by Monsanto. Perfect advertising convinces many farmers that they will have to use less pesticides overall if they buy the Monsanto "seeds plus pesticide" package. Once they have given their consent, farmers are contractually prohibited from using their own harvest as seeds.

And since Roundup is so aggressive that no other plants will grow on the fields treated with it for years, they have to buy more seeds from Monsanto over and over again.

But the weeds also become resistant to Roundup after a certain period of time. Therefore, after initially good years, additional pesticides are necessary again - there are hardly any savings or even higher yields for farmers. But the dependency remains.

Alternative Nobel Prize winner Vandana Shiva said of Monsanto's economy: "The corporation knows that if it controls the seeds, it controls the diet; that's its strategy. This strategy is more effective than bombs, more effective than weapons - it is the best way to control the peoples of the world. "