Nucleic acids can be isolated from cells for the purposes of further analysis by breaking open the cells and enzymatically destroying all other major macromolecules. Fragmented or whole chromosomes can be separated on the basis of size by gel electrophoresis. Short stretches of DNA can be amplified by PCR. DNA can be cut (and subsequently re-spliced together) using restriction enzymes. The molecular and cellular techniques of biotechnology allow researchers to genetically engineer organisms, modifying them to achieve desirable traits.
Cloning may involve cloning small DNA fragments (molecular cloning), or cloning entire organisms (reproductive cloning). In molecular cloning with bacteria, a desired DNA fragment is inserted into a bacterial plasmid using restriction enzymes and the plasmid is taken up by a bacterium, which will then express the foreign DNA. Using other techniques, foreign genes can be inserted into eukaryotic organisms. In each case, the organisms are called transgenic organisms. In reproductive cloning, a donor nucleus is put into an enucleated egg cell, which is then stimulated to divide and develop into an organism.
In reverse genetics methods, a gene is mutated or removed in some way to identify its effect on the phenotype of the whole organism as a way to determine its function.
Genetic testing is performed to identify disease-causing genes, and can be used to benefit affected individuals and their relatives who have not developed disease symptoms yet. Gene therapy—by which functioning genes are incorporated into the genomes of individuals with a non-functioning mutant gene—has the potential to cure heritable diseases. Transgenic organisms possess DNA from a different species, usually generated by molecular cloning techniques. Vaccines, antibiotics, and hormones are examples of products obtained by recombinant DNA technology. Transgenic animals have been created for experimental purposes and some are used to produce some human proteins.
Genes are inserted into plants, using plasmids in the bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens, which infects plants. Transgenic plants have been created to improve the characteristics of crop plants—for example, by giving them insect resistance by inserting a gene for a bacterial toxin.
Genome mapping is similar to solving a big, complicated puzzle with pieces of information coming from laboratories all over the world. Genetic maps provide an outline for the location of genes within a genome, and they estimate the distance between genes and genetic markers on the basis of the recombination frequency during meiosis. Physical maps provide detailed information about the physical distance between the genes. The most detailed information is available through sequence mapping. Information from all mapping and sequencing sources is combined to study an entire genome.
Whole genome sequencing is the latest available resource to treat genetic diseases. Some doctors are using whole genome sequencing to save lives. Genomics has many industrial applications, including biofuel development, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, and pollution control.
Imagination is the only barrier to the applicability of genomics. Genomics is being applied to most fields of biology; it can be used for personalized medicine, prediction of disease risks at an individual level, the study of drug interactions before the conduction of clinical trials, and the study of microorganisms in the environment as opposed to the laboratory. It is also being applied to the generation of new biofuels, genealogical assessment using mitochondria, advances in forensic science, and improvements in agriculture.
Proteomics is the study of the entire set of proteins expressed by a given type of cell under certain environmental conditions. In a multicellular organism, different cell types will have different proteomes, and these will vary with changes in the environment. Unlike a genome, a proteome is dynamic and under constant flux, which makes it more complicated and more useful than the knowledge of genomes alone.