Genetically Engineered Insulin

  • Millions of people worldwide suffer from diabetes. Diabetes occurs when the pancreas doesn't produce enough of a hormone called insulin. Insulin is necessary for using the energy we get from food.
  • Most of our food is changed into glucose (a type of sugar). The insulin helps the glucose get into the cells of our bodies so it can be used as energy. Because diabetics don't have enough insulin, the glucose builds up in their bloodstream, which can lead to serious health complications like heart disease, blindness, and kidney failure.
  • Diabetics have to take daily doses of insulin to manage their glucose levels. The insulin can come from several sources, including the pancreas of a pig or cow. Because pig insulin is nearly identical to human insulin, pigs are the most common source. But some diabetics react badly to pig insulin. It is also difficult to get the large quantity of insulin needed when pigs are relied on as the main source.
  • Pharmaceutical companies now use genetic engineering to produce large quantities of insulin for diabetics around the world. The common Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria is used to produce insulin. Using recombinant DNA (glossary id 27) technology, the gene for producing insulin is inserted into the E. coli's genetic material. These genetically engineered bacteria are turned into tiny insulin producing factories.
  • The resulting insulin is so close to human insulin that it is virtually impossible to distinguish one from the other.

Explore More: Genetic Engineering
Copyright 2004, Iowa Public Television
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