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Who owns life?Tiki looking at DNA molecule

Welcome to gene tinkering

Genes are long bits of DNA which code the instructions to build bodies in certain ways. Scientists know a lot about how genes work. They know how to 'snip' genes out of one place and 'stick' them into another. This is the hi-tech world of genetic engineering. We'll look at this in a moment. But first, let's ask a question or two. Why do it? What's the point of tinkering with genes - genetic engineering?

Evolution on fast forward

People are impatient. They want to move fast, not just in cars, planes and spaceships. They want to make new types of life which will do new things. The best example is plants for food. About 10,000 years ago, people found a new way to make sure they got enough food: they invented agriculture – farming. The first farmers simply collected seeds of food plants people liked to eat and sowed them in the ground. Each harvest, they gathered in their seed crops and selected the best and fattest seeds to sow in the ground next year. All organisms — plants, penguins or people – have in their genes a certain amount of variation, so gradually this year-by-year selection of the best quality seeds meant that the crops gave better yields of more food which tasted nicer.

This is called breeding. And believe it or not, all dogs from huge St Bernards to tiny Chihuahuas have been selectively bred by humans from one type of wild dog - probably a wolf. Big dog, little dogA St Bernard and a Chihuahua are the same species even though a St Bernard could gobble up a Chihuahua in one gulp. Being the same species means you can breed with any other member of your species. So you, a human, can breed — or mate — with any other human of the opposite sex to make a baby.

But breeding is rather slow. Scientists have discovered that they can speed things up greatly by using the new science of genetic engineering,
part of what is called biotechnology — using life to make things.

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