Gene technology provides the opportunity to improve human and animal health, create a safer and more sustainable food supply, and generate prosperity for Australia. Discover how gene technology impacts our lives and the research CSIRO is undertaking in this field.
24 June 2010 | Updated 24 February 2012
What is gene technology?
Gene technology is the term given to a range of activities concerned with understanding the expression of genes, taking advantage of natural genetic variation, modifying genes and transferring genes to new hosts.
Gene technology sits within the broader area of biotechnology – the use of living things to make or change products. Humans have been using biotechnology for centuries in activities ranging from plant and animal breeding through to brewing and baking.
As our understanding of how living things function, grow and reproduce increases, modern biotechnology creates new opportunities for food and fibre production.
Modern biotechnology includes the discovery of genes (genomics), understanding how genes function and interact (functional genomics), discovery of natural DNA markers to select more efficient plants and animals and genetic modification or genetic engineering.
Genes are coded instructions that determine what an organism will look like and how it will function.
What are genes?
All living things have genes. Genes are coded instructions that determine what an organism will look like and how it will function. A gene is made up of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), a long, thread-like molecule that contains the blueprint for an organism.
DNA is found in nearly all cells. In plants and animals it is bundled up into chromosomes. Each cell contains the entire DNA blueprint for that organism.
The complete set of genes for an organism is called the genome. The genome for plants and animals is estimated to contain 25 000 to 50 000 genes.
Using gene technology, scientists can introduce new characteristics into an organism such as a plant, or enhance existing characteristics or delete characteristics depending on whether they are considered desirable or undesirable.
What do genes do?
Genes carry the instructions for making proteins. All living things are made up of proteins and the things proteins make. Proteins may be structural parts of the organism such as keratin in hair and nails, or they may make other sorts of molecules - like starch, oil, fibre, or fat - which are used by the organism.
How do genes work?
A gene works as a coded template to make proteins. When it is activated the gene is transcribed into messenger ribonucleic acid or mRNA, which moves from the nucleus of a cell into the body of the cell where many copies of a specific protein are then manufactured. These proteins are then involved in all aspects of the life of a cell.