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Biotech Class Does Gene Transplant

Photo of Seattle Academy Biotech Class Does A Gene Transplant

Last month, seniors in Melinda Mueller's Biotech elective learned about Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and related bio-engineering. Students then carried out a lab that resulted in the transplant of a gene for producing beta-carotene into yeast cells that normally do not produce it.

Beta-carotene is the molecule that makes carrots orange (hence the name), and the human body converts beta-carotene into Vitamin A (also called retinol, because it is essential for the health of the retina).  

Lack of beta-carotene is a serious issue in regions where there is little access to orange-colored vegetables (or to fish, which also provides Vitamin A). Unfortified white bread, white rice, cassava, etc., have little or no beta-carotene, and in places where diets consist of little else, early-adult blindness often occurs.

Students have been addressing the question of whether GMO is bad, good, or "depends."  There are research programs that have made "golden rice" (rice with a beta-carotene gene transplanted into the seed-stock) and "golden bread yeast" (that adds beta-carotene to bread).

In the photo above: The white spots are normal bread-making yeast. The orange dots are yeast colonies that students successfully altered with a gene transplant (a gene from a species that can make beta-carotene). 

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