Global Engineering

What Is Genome Engineering?

When we think of ‘engineering’, what first comes to mind is the mechanical and electrical side of engineering – such as construction, electrical plants and the like. However, what people’s minds often don’t think of – when it comes to engineering – is that this practice happens as well in the medical field.

What Is Biomedical Engineering?

The term ‘biomedical engineering’ refers to the intersection between the medical field and engineering. This field explores how engineering principles can be applied to the health-care profession in order to increase the number of lives that can be saved.

Biomedical engineering concepts have been used, very successfully, in some of the following areas of medicine:

  • Human organs – think 3D printing
  • Robotic aids to assist in surgery
  • Prosthetics – biomedical engineers have been involved in developing prosthetics that become more and more like human limbs
  • New pharmaceutical drugs
  • Kidney dialysis.

People who are accepted into biomedical engineering courses need to have an exceptional ability with maths and physical science as, during their degree, they will be studying subjects ranging from chemistry, applied physics and physiology to maths, engineering maths as well as biomedical signals.

A good example of biomedical engineering is genome engineering.

Genome Engineering And Genome Editing – Two Sides Of The Same Coin

Another name for genome engineering is genetic editing. Falling into the wider field of genetic engineering, genome engineering involves the process of inserting, modifying, deleting or replacing DNA in the genome of a living organism. How this is done, says the National Human Genome Research Institute, is that gene-editing technologies literally cut the DNA at a particular point.

When Did It All Start?

The first genome engineering techniques were seen in the late 1900s. In 2009,  a new tool called CRISPR (which stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) makes the process of gene editing a lot simpler. According to Live Science, CRISPR is short for CRISPR-Cas9. The Cas9 is a protein which acts almost like a pair of scissors to cut the DNA strand where you want it to be separated.

How Is Genome Engineering Used?

One of the remarkable ways that genome engineering is used is to study diseases. As animals have many of the same genes as humans do (for example, mice and humans share 85% of their genes), scientists are able to see how certain diseases affect animals and are then able to make predictions about how this same disease will affect humans. Research into cystic fibrosis, haemophilia and sickle cell disease makes use of genome engineering.

As diseases become more advanced and deadly, there will possibly be more genome engineering that takes place to help scientists discover more about these diseases so that cures and vaccines can be offered to sufferers.

Genome engineering is a very powerful practice as these types of engineers literally have human life in their hands and they can do with it what they want – and create what they want. This means that an ethical approach always needs to be adopted during the process.