What are the differences in genetically engineering crops and drugs?

When you google GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) the results that come up speak to GM crops, but GMOs are more than just plants. In medicine, genetic engineering (GE) is used to make biopharmaceutical drugs. Various organisms are engineered for use as factories to produce the drug product. Bacteria are the preferred option, as they are the easiest to grow and scale-up for production, but depending on the complexity of the drug’s molecular structure, other organisms such as yeasts, mammalian cells, etc., can also be used to express the drug product. The first GE drug approved for use was insulin. By the year 2000, there were over 100 GE drugs on the market. Currently, people’s lives are changed every day by drugs likeRemicadeEpoAvastin, and Neulasta.

While the techniques used to modify the organisms are similar, the intent couldn’t be more different.  Pharmaceutical companies are looking to manufacture drugs that are intended to have deliberate effects on the biochemistry of their targets. Agricultural companies are adding traits that will help farmers or benefit consumers (e.g. non-browning apple), without affecting the safety of the crop.

GE drugs and crops do have some commonalities. Both are the result of very long and careful screening processes to find the right molecules/proteins and the genes that code for them.  For a drug product, the candidates are molecules with the potential to treat or cure a disease or condition.  The intent in agriculture is to find proteins/molecules that will provide a useful trait to a plant and does not cause harm to people or the environment. The next step is to take the candidate genes and insert them in the appropriate host organism/crop species, and after 40 years of refinement this is now the most routine part of the process. Then begins the painstaking operation of selecting the organism or plant that is expressing exactly what you want the way you want it. Which leads to the lastbit GE crops and drugs have in common; both go through a multi-year approval process.

Read full original article here: GMOs in Food and Medicine: An Overview

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