DNA - From Nature to Technology
DNA: From Nature to Technology
In the late 1970s, engineers learned how to chop DNA strands into pieces, reassemble them into combinations never found in nature, and then use the DNA to create new types of proteins. They could even “splice” a little bit of DNA into the existing DNA of an organism like a bacterium, turning the bacterium into a custom protein factory. The benefit of doing that was that the modified bacteria would reproduce, resulting in greater and greater output of the desired protein product. This “recombinant” DNA inside bacteria is used to do things like produce insulin, a substance produced in normal human bodies that is lacking in people with diabetes.
In more recent years, scientists and engineers have looked to DNA for ideas about the next generation of molecule-size chemical “factories,” not only for natural products but for all sorts of new materials. Because DNA so readily makes and breaks chemical bonds, reconnecting and modifying materials at the atomic level, engineers believe that studying it may reveal ways to make molecule size machines called “assemblers,” or even molecule size computers. DNA, in other words, is likely to be modified to suit entirely new purposes, becoming the first in what engineers imagine will be a flood of new, tiny “nanotechnologies” that will become much more important in coming years.