Friday, September 27, 2013

How to Clone Yourself

Eric Sawyer explores the modern tools and techniques available to aid you in your (‘diabiological') quest to clone yourself:

Cloning is easier than you might think. If you already have a gene in mind you can look it up in a sequenced genome! Let's say you want to clone your insulin gene to see if it's any different from your friend's. In the human genome, the gene for insulin is abbreviated INS and happens to sit on chromosome 11.

The first step is to amplify the gene using a process called PCR, short for polymerase chain reaction. In PCR, short pieces of single-stranded DNA are used as primers to get the reaction going. One primer binds at the front of the gene and the other at the end. Together, they define the region of DNA your PCR reaction will copy, exponentially.

After PCR, you have a tube of DNA that is almost exclusively the INS gene. From here, you can sequence the gene directly by mailing away the INS PCR product (the routine method of DNA sequencing is very similar to PCR, requiring also one of your primers).

But say you are also interested in producing your own supply of insulin, encoded by your own personal INS gene. To do that, you need a cell that can read the instructions encoded in the INS gene to produce functional insulin protein. Luckily, all life on earth uses a shared genetic code and so a gene from one organism can be understood by any other organism. E. coli is usually the first choice, since it grows quickly and is easy to handle.

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