Transgenic Organisms: Definition & Uses

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  • 0:04 What Are Transgenic Organisms?
  • 0:53 How Organisms Are Modified
  • 3:18 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.

Transgenic or genetically modified organisms are all around us. In this lesson, we'll discuss what they are, the different ways they are produced, and the variety of purposes they serve.

What Are Transgenic Organisms?

GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are a hot topic these days. You may have also heard them referred to as transgenic organisms. Both terms mean that the genome or genetic make-up of the organism has been modified to create a new organism. This is easy to remember because 'trans' means across or through and 'genic' means to produce or generate something. So, in transgenic organisms, we are producing or creating something new across or through its genome.

And by new we mean a new genome, not necessarily a new look or feel. For example, a lot of the produce you'll find in the grocery store has been genetically modified, but you wouldn't know it by looking at it. Likewise, many flower varieties that we put in our gardens are also genetically modified to produce interesting colors or patterns.

How Organisms Are Modified

Now that you know what a transgenic organism is, let's talk about how we create these new organisms. There are different ways to do this, but in general the process involves taking genes from one organism and putting them into another in ways that would not occur naturally.

Bacteria are often used to grow and reproduce desired genes. Bacteria are great for this because they grow and reproduce quickly and can be controlled quite well in the laboratory. An example of this is insulin production. Insulin is a hormone that's normally produced in the human pancreas. Those who are diabetic can't make it, and another source is needed to treat these patients. The gene for insulin is isolated, inserted into bacteria, produced at a rapid rate, and then extracted to be given to diabetics.

Another way that genes can be transferred from one organism to another is through embryonic stem cell transfer. Stem cells are very special because they can differentiate into many different kinds of cells. Through embryonic stem cell transfer, embryonic stem cells from an organism are isolated and grown in the lab. The desirable gene is inserted into the cells and the cells are then reinserted back into the organism, which is then inserted into a surrogate mother where it will develop.

Microinjection is yet another way that genes can be transferred from one organism to another. Here, the desired gene is injected into the nucleus of an egg, which is where we find an organism's DNA. The egg is then implanted into a surrogate mother to develop and we find ourselves with a transgenic organism.

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