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Overview

Genetic engineering, also called genetic modification, is the direct manipulation of an organism’s genome using biotechnology. New DNA may be inserted in the host genome by first isolating and copying the genetic material of interest using molecular cloning methods to generate a DNA sequence, or by synthesizing the DNA, and then inserting this construct into the host organism. An organism that is generated through genetic engineering is considered to be a genetically modified organism (GMO). The first GMOs were bacteria in 1973 and GM mice were generated in 1974. Insulin-producing bacteria were commercialized in 1982 and genetically modified food has been sold since 1994.

Genetic engineering has applications in medicine, research, industry and agriculture and can be used on a wide range of plants, animals and micro organisms.

Medicine:  Genetic engineering has been used to mass-produce insulin, human growth hormones, follistism (for treating infertility), human albumin, monoclonal antibodies, antihemophilic factors, vaccines and many other drugs.

Research:  Genetic engineering is an important tool for natural scientists. Genes and other genetic information from a wide range of organisms are transformed into bacteria for storage and modification, creating genetically modified bacteria in the process.

Industrial:   Genetic engineering techniques one can transform microorganisms such as bacteria or yeast.  Bacteria perform tasks outside their natural cycle, such as making biofuels, cleaning up oil spills, carbon and other toxic waste and detecting arsenic in drinking water.

Agricultural:  One of the best-known and controversial applications of genetic engineering is the creation and use of genetically modified crops or genetically modified organisms, such as fish, which are used to produce genetically modified food and materials with diverse uses.

Education

Genetic Engineering as a major may be referred to as molecular genetics, biotechnology, molecular biology, and bioengineering depending on the learning institution. Regardless of the name, the field is changing the future of health, medicine, industry, nutrition, and even crime scene analysis.

Most undergraduate programs will have a concentration of:

  • Biology: Diversity, Ecology and Behavior
  • Biotechnology Lab
  • Principles of Physiology
  • Macromolecules
  • Viruses and Viral Diseases
  • Neurobiology
  • Human Genetics
  • Plant Genetics
  • Organic Chemistry
  • General Physics

For example, Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, offers a diverse undergraduate program in biology with eight majors: Biochemistry; Biology Teaching; Cell, Molecular, and Developmental Biology; Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology; Genetics; Health and Disease; Microbiology; and Neurobiology and Physiology. At the Purdue Department of Biological Sciences, laboratory techniques explore genetic engineering from the “inside.” This degree prepares the student for advanced study in biological sciences, law, genetic counseling, and many health-related professions.

To enhance one’s job prospects and research opportunities, it behooves the student to pursue a Master’s or Doctorate degree. Since genetic engineering is such a diverse field, there are specialties such as (partial list):

  • Human Nutrition
  • Biotechnology
  • Epidemiology and Human Genetics
  • Biomedical Sciences
  • Genetics Research
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular, Cellular, Developmental Biology and Genetics

According to gradschools.com, there are 159 campus accredited graduate degree programs in the field of biological, genetic sciences, and life sciences throughout the United States.

Employment

Employment is available in a variety of categories: human health, animal science, agriculture, waste management, energy, education, pharmaceuticals, research labs,  and forensic labs. For maximum career choice, genetic engineers should earn an advanced degree. More than half of practitioners had a master’s degree or a Ph.D. as of 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  While genetic engineers can earn anywhere from $44,320 to $139,440 a year, the median wage was closer to $82,840, reports the National Human Genome Research Institute.

Through 2020, biomedical engineers can expect an employment growth of 62 percent, reports the BLS. This is much faster than the job growth of all U.S. occupations — a projected 14 percent. While the job growth is well above average, biomedical engineering is a relatively small industry, so the growth rate should only create about 9,700 new jobs.