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Recombinant DNA


Recombinant DNA (rDNA) molecules are DNA molecules formed by laboratory methods of genetic recombination (such as molecular cloning) to bring together genetic material from multiple sources, creating sequences that would not otherwise be found in the genome.

The DNA sequences used in the construction of recombinant DNA molecules can originate from any species. For example, plant DNA may be joined to bacterial DNA, or human DNA may be joined with fungal DNA. In addition, DNA sequences that do not occur anywhere in nature may be created by the chemical synthesis of DNA, and incorporated into recombinant molecules. Using recombinant DNA technology and synthetic DNA, literally any DNA sequence may be created and introduced into any of a very wide range of living organisms.

Formation of recombinant DNA requires a cloning vector, a DNA molecule that replicates within a living cell. Vectors are generally derived from plasmids or viruses, and represent relatively small segments of DNA that contain necessary genetic signals for replication, as well as additional elements for convenience in inserting foreign DNA, identifying cells that contain recombinant DNA, and, where appropriate, expressing the foreign DNA. The choice of vector for molecular cloning depends on the choice of host organism, the size of the DNA to be cloned, and whether and how the foreign DNA is to be expressed. The DNA segments can be combined by using a variety of methods, such as restriction enzyme/ligase cloning or Gibson assembly.

Following transplantation into the host organism, the foreign DNA contained within the recombinant DNA construct may or may not be expressed. That is, the DNA may simply be replicated without expression, or it may be transcribed and translated and a recombinant protein is produced. Generally speaking, expression of a foreign gene requires restructuring the gene to include sequences that are required for producing an mRNA molecule that can be used by the host's translational apparatus (e.g. promoter, translational initiation signal, and transcriptional terminator). Specific changes to the host organism may be made to improve expression of the ectopic gene. In addition, changes may be needed to the coding sequences as well, to optimize translation, make the protein soluble, direct the recombinant protein to the proper cellular or extracellular location, and stabilize the protein from degradation.

If the rDNA sequences encode a gene that is expressed, then the presence of RNA and/or protein products of the recombinant gene can be detected, typically using RT-PCR or western hybridization methods. Gross phenotypic changes are not the norm, unless the recombinant gene has been chosen and modified so as to generate biological activity in the host organism. Additional phenotypes that are encountered include toxicity to the host organism induced by the recombinant gene product, especially if it is over-expressed or expressed within inappropriate cells or tissues.

Recombinant DNA is widely used in biotechnology, medicine and research. Today, recombinant proteins and other products that result from the use of DNA technology are found in essentially every western pharmacy, physician or veterinarian office, medical testing laboratory, and biological research laboratory. In addition, organisms that have been manipulated using recombinant DNA technology, as well as products derived from those organisms, have found their way into many farms, supermarkets, home medicine cabinets, and even pet shops, such as those that sell GloFish and other genetically modified animals.

The idea of recombinant DNA was first proposed by Peter Lobban, a graduate student of Prof. Dale Kaiser in the Biochemistry Department at Stanford University Medical School. The first publications describing the successful production and intracellular replication of recombinant DNA appeared in 1972 and 1973, from Stanford and UCSF. In 1980 Paul Berg, a professor in the Biochemistry Department at Stanford and an author on one of the first papers was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on nucleic acids "with particular regard to recombinant DNA". Werner Arber, Hamilton Smith, and Daniel Nathans shared the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of restriction endonucleases which enhanced the techniques of rDNA technology.