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DNA Cloning: Definition and Process

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  • 0:07 What Is DNA Cloning?
  • 0:38 How DNA Is Cloned
  • 3:02 Other Cloning Vectors
  • 4:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

DNA cloning is used for a variety of purposes, but how does it work? In this video lesson, you will learn about the process of cloning DNA, as well as see examples of how cloning is used in science, medicine, and consumer products.

What Is DNA Cloning?

When you hear the word 'clone', you may think of a weird sci-fi movie, or perhaps something more realistic, like Dolly the sheep. But DNA cloning goes far beyond this. DNA cloning, which is the production of multiple identical copies of a DNA fragment, is responsible for all sorts of things, such as pest-resistant plants, bacteria used for toxic waste cleanup, and even 'stone-washed' jeans. That's right; no actual stones were used to create that look, just enzymes that are cloned from bacteria!

How DNA Is Cloned

So, how do we go from bacterial enzymes to 'stone-washed' jeans? Well, let's take a look at the steps involved in the cloning process. First, the scientist interested in cloning will isolate two kinds of DNA. One is the gene that has the DNA that will be cloned, and the other is a bacterial plasmid that will act as the carrier of the cloning DNA.

Bacterial plasmids are just small, circular DNA molecules that copy themselves separately from the other bacterial DNA material. Plasmids are ideal to use in cloning for two reasons: they are very versatile and can carry just about any gene, but they also get passed from one generation of bacteria to the next so they carry that gene on down the line.

After isolation, the scientist will treat both the plasmid and the gene of interest with an enzyme that cuts the DNA, called a restriction enzyme. These enzymes get their name from their role in nature - to restrict invading DNA from entering bacterial cells by cutting up the foreign DNA. This invading DNA may come from other organisms or even viruses, so it's important to keep them out. Amazingly, scientists know of hundreds of different restriction enzymes, though each one of them recognizes only specific DNA segments to cut.

The restriction enzyme cuts the plasmid in one place so that it creates an area that the target DNA can bind to. The target gene is cut out of its original DNA strand so that just the gene of interest is attached to the plasmid for cloning. After cutting both the target DNA and the plasmid, the two are linked together with an enzyme called DNA ligase. This pasting process results in a recombinant DNA plasmid, which is a single DNA molecule combined from two different sources of DNA. It is literally 'recombined,' hence the name 'recombinant.'

After the two DNA pieces have been pasted together, the plasmid is inserted into a bacterial cell, which will allow the bacteria to replicate and produce plasmid 'babies' that are identical to the 'parent' plasmid. Thus, our clones are born! The gene of interest can be used to produce products like plants that resist pests, proteins that dissolve blood clots in heart attack therapy, and of course, 'stone-washed' jeans for you!

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