Study Guide

Biotechnology Themes

  • Unity and Diversity

    The beauty of biotechnology is that the same techniques can be used whether you are studying humans, mice, fruit flies, or the ugly naked mole rat.


    A naked mole rat. Image from here.

    A human gene can even be cloned into a plasmid and expressed in insects and bacteria.

    The same DNA sequencing techniques have been used to sequence the genomes of organisms, from humans to yeast. PCR can be used to amplify DNA from any organism whose sequence is known.

    We can perform a Western blot to look for a protein from any organism. Well, as long as we have an antibody for that protein. We can do DNA microarray analysis on several different organisms, too. Gene chips have been created for many different organisms.

    Why can these techniques be used for any organism? We'll take universality of the genetic code for $200, Alex. As different as organisms are (compare a human being with a fruit fly), our DNA contains the same four building blocks or bases: A,G,C, and T. Base pairing rules are even the same across species.

    The techniques used to extract the DNA from different organisms may differ slightly, however. After all, organisms show structural variations. For example, the technique for bursting open the cells has to be a little different depending on if the cell is surrounded by a membrane (animal cells) or a tough wall (plant cells). The structural variation is part of the diversity created by the four bases.

    Wait! What? We know we told you the four bases unite all organisms. They are also responsible for making organisms different. The sequence of the four bases is what creates diversity among organisms.

    The four bases are both the yin and the yang. The unity and the diversity.

  • Structure and Function

    The relationship between structure and function is an underlying theme in biology. Determination of the structure of biomolecules has allowed scientists to develop processes that exploit their structures.

    Thanks to Watson and Crick (and Rosalind Franklin, but that's for another day), we understand the structure of DNA and base pairing. Many of the techniques described here rely on the rules of base pairing. DNA sequencing, Northern and Southern blots, PCR and RT-PCR, DNA microarrays and in situ hybridization all use the principle of base pairing to identify the molecule(s) of interest.

    Know that good feeling we get when we work out? That feeling starts when natural endorphins bind to their receptors. The endorphin receptors recognize the structure of endorphins, bind to them and start a series of events leading to a change in gene expression.

    Opiates like morphine and heroin can cause that same good feeling. Guess what? Their structures are similar to endorphins. They are recognized by endorphin receptor and cause the same feeling. 

    Knowing the structure of a protein and the individual amino acids that make up the protein, you can use in vitro mutagenesis to create new proteins with different properties.