Genetic Engineering (GE) is a highly complicated and advanced branch of science which involves a wide range of techniques used in changing the genetic material in the DNA code in a living organism. 'Genetic Engineering' means the deliberate modification of the characters of an organism by the manipulation of its genetic material. Genetic engineering comes under the broad heading of Biotechnology. There is a great scope in this field as the demand for genetic engineers are growing in India as well as abroad.
A cell is the smallest living unit, the basic structural and functional unit of all living matter, whether a plant, an animal, humans or a fungus. While some organisms are single celled, others like plants, animals, humans etc are made up of a lot more cells. For eg humans have approximately 3 million cells. A cell is composed of a 'cell membrane' enclosing the whole cell, many 'organelles' equivalent to the organs in the body and a 'nucleus' which is the command centre of the cell. Inside the nucleus are the chromosomes which is the storage place for all genetic (hereditary) information which determines the nature and characteristics of an organism. This information is written along the thin thread, called DNA, a nucleic acid which constitutes the genes (units of heredity). The DNA governs cell growth and is responsible for the transmission of genetic information from one generation to the next.
Genetic engineering aims to re-arrange the sequence of DNA in gene using artificial methods. The work of a genetic engineer involves extracting the DNA out of one organism, changing it using chemicals or radiation and subsequently putting it back into the same or a different organism. For eg: genes and segments of DNA from one species is taken and put into another species. They also study how traits and characteristics are transmitted through the generations, and how genetic disorders are caused. Their research involves researching the causes and discovering potential cures if any.
Genetic engineering have specialisations related to plants, animals and human beings. Genetic engineering in plants and animals may be to improve certain natural characteristics of value, to increase resistance to disease or damage and to develop new characteristics etc. It is used to change the colour, size, texture etc of plants otherwise known as GM (Genetically Modified) foods. GE in humans can be to correct severe hereditary defects by introducing normal genes into cells in place of missing or defective ones.
Educational: A qualified genetic engineer, must have a graduate / postgraduate degree in genetics or related fields such as biotechnology, molecular biology, microbiology or biochemistry OR a doctorate (PhD) from a recognised university, based on 2-3 years of his own research under the guidance of a professor/lecturer.
The basic eligibility criteria for a graduate degree (BE / B.Tech) is 10+2 or equivalent examination, with Biology, Chemistry and Mathematics as well as genetics as part of the biology OR a bachelors degree in science or molecular biology.
Most institutes do not offer courses in Genetic Engineering as a special discipline but as a subsidiary in biotechnology, microbiology, biochemistry streams. Undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Biotechnology offer specialisation in genetic engineering.
Selection to the graduate courses ( BE / B.Tech ) is based on merit i.e the marks secured in the final exams of 10+2 and through entrance exams. Entrance to the IIT's is through JEE (Joint Entrance Exam) and for other institutions through their own separate entrance exams and other state level and national level exams. Apart from the IIT's, some other famous institutes also recognize JEE scores for selection. Selection to the postgraduate courses ( M.Sc / M.Tech) in different universities is through an All India Combined Entrance exam conducted by JNU, New Delhi and to IIT's through GATE in Two year/ 4 semester M.Tech courses and through JEE in five year integrated M.Tech courses in Biochemical engineering and Biotechnology.
Personal Attributes: To be a successful genetic engineer, one must have sharp analytical mind, an aptitude for research, high levels of concentration, eye for details, lively imagination, abundant physical stamina to put in long hours of work, ability to work as a team, moreover he should have a sound moral sense.
There is an increasing demand for genetic engineers in India as well as abroad. Genetic engineers are mainly absorbed in medical and pharmaceutical industries, the agricultural sector, and the research and development departments of the government and private sectors. They can also take up teaching as an option.
Genetic engineering involves developing hybrid varieties of plants, making a plant disease resistant by transferring genes from a plant that already has the characteristic, introducing Genetically Modified foods by changing the colour, size, texture of the produce of plants such as fruits and vegetables. GE in humans can be to correct severe hereditary defects by introducing normal genes into cells in place of missing or defective ones.
A team headed by Ian Wilmut and his colleagues at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland made history when they produced a lamp named Dolly, an exact genetic copy or clone of a sheep. This landmark discovery of the regeneration of an exact replica of a whole animal by transferring nuclei from the cells of that animal to unfertilized eggs of another animal, without the help of a male counterpart, has given researches a wide area open to be discovered. With this discovery, genetic engineering has become globally recognized.
Genetic Engineers with a postgraduate degree can earn between 5000 Rs to 8000Rs / month whereas those with doctoral degrees can earn up to 10,000Rs/ month as a starting salary.