What is Genome Engineering?
What is Genome Engineering?
What is genome engineering?

Genome engineering is the act of modifying or manipulating an organism’s genome or genetic makeup through biotechnology. Genome writers create genetically modified organisms for research, medicine, agriculture, or the pet industry.

The explanation is from Erin Nolan, an early career scientist, and researcher in Dr. Troy Lund’s metabolic lab at the University of Minnesota. When I asked Erin to elaborate, she said:

I think genetic engineering is amazing. First of all, I love DNA — there are four basic building blocks to every living thing on the planet.

What if the DNA of an octopus or a salamander holds the key to regeneration? DNA makes every organism somewhat applicable to every other organism on earth. It connects us all. Without fail, every time I learn about a new method or tool in genetic engineering, I get excited.

I remember the exact moment I heard about the synthetic base pairs X and Y; I felt suddenly energized and had an intense desire to know more. Less than five minutes after that conversation, I was looking for articles. The sheer potential of genetics is awe-inspiring. I’m convinced that I can spend my whole life learning about genetics and genome engineering. And be just as engaged years from now as I was in my first genetics class.
— Erin Nolan, scientist

Read more about gene-editing in Erin’s article, “What is Genome Engineering?” on the Genome Writers Guild (GWG) website. Erin is a member of the GWG, a genome engineering society building a better future for humanity through genome engineering and public education.

I’m a member of the GWG and had the chance to talk to our invited speaker, Dr. Arjun KhaKhar, for the “Scripting Life for a Healthy Planet” conference. Arjun is a synthetic biologist and genome engineer. When I asked him about the potential of genome engineering, he said:

A big part of How we understand biology is because a lot of biological mechanisms emanate from the base-pairing code of life. Being able to change lets us learn how the code translates into all the beautiful diversity that surrounds us.
— Dr. Arjun KhaKhar, synthetic biologist and genome engineer

One of the gene-editing tools Arjun uses is CRISPR. What is it, and how does it work? Find out and meet the two scientists (who happen to be women) who won the Noble Prize for discovering CRISPR. 

Watch the 2-minute video (below) of my conversation with Arjun. Kit Leffler at the Center for Genome Engineering, University of Minnesota, produced the video. You can find interviews with the other keynote speakers on the GWG website.

The illustration at the top of the page depicts genome engineering fundamentals — cut and paste, read and write. It shows double-stranded DNA unraveled from a chromosome in the nucleus is ready to be modified. A scissor cuts one strand and inserts a short piece of a new sequence. The pen is rewriting the order of the base pairs on the other strand, an example of editing or scripting the genome.