QSo whats a genetic engineer always do?did they just sit inside the lab all day doing research everyday?

So whats a genetic engineer always do? did they just sit inside the lab all day doing research everyday?

AExpert Answer

I’m a genetic engineer. I’ve spent 30 years participating as a member of teams of genetic engineers, and I love your question. Most of us do indeed spend a lot of time inside the lab, but we’re not always sitting. Sometimes we dance!
 
Genetic engineering starts with an idea for a way to solve a problem, so I guess it starts with an understanding of the problems. In agriculture, for example, that means spending time to understand what’s happening on farms and what challenges farmers need solved.
 
Once we’ve identified the problems, we brainstorm solutions. This is a favorite part of my job, standing in front of a white board with a few fellow scientists and exploring possible solutions. What gene should we use? How should we engineer it? 
 
Once we’ve come up with some ideas about how to address the problem, then it’s time to get in the lab. During this phase, we spend the bulk of our time in the lab, cloning pieces of DNA, engineering genes, doing experiments with the genes in cells or in plants, getting the results, thinking about what the results mean, and adjusting our strategy accordingly… then doing it all again. Depending on the project, this can last weeks, months, or years. This almost always is done as part of a team of other genetic engineers, each one working on a part of the project, always communicating with each other, always coordinating their work. This means that we have to spend time in meetings, reviewing progress and planning the next steps.
 
So, genetic engineering does indeed involve a lot of time in the lab doing experiments, but a major shift in the last couple of decades involves the growth of big data and the emergence of data science. In fact, we’re increasingly doing our experiments “in silico,” on the computer, i.e. testing hypotheses by analyzing existing data, without setting foot in the lab. Large genetic engineering projects typically have several data scientists who are an important part of the team.
 
We’re constantly learning. The science of biotechnology advances quickly, so we have to spend time keeping up with the latest advances, reading the scientific journals, attending conferences, etc. I just came back, for example, from a conference on gene editing where I learned about the latest advances in that technology, so that I can think about how to use them to solve problems.
 
Finally, communicating about our genetic engineering, with colleagues and with the wider world, is just as important as doing it. Good genetic engineers realize that the best science in the world doesn’t matter if people don’t find it beneficial, and that means communicating our science in a way others can understand. So, we spend a lot of time talking with others, writing about what we do, engaging on social media, and occasionally answering questions on GMO Answers.
 
The best way to learn what a genetic engineer does is to meet one in-person and ask them to show you. Genetic engineers are just like everyone else. Some of us are outgoing. Some are more reserved. Most of us, however, are excited about our work and would be happy to show you what we do. Find your nearest genetic engineer, at a university or a company, and ask them to show you around. Many cities have community or DIY labs where anyone can learn and do the basics of genetic engineering. Another great website to get to know a scientist and have a conversation is Skype a Scientist; this is especially helpful if you’re able to host a classroom Q&A session. 
 
Thanks for your question. If you ever get a chance to visit a genetic engineering lab, I hope they show you some dance moves there.

AExpert Answer

Other than research, our work starts at the design of a plasmid vector that contains a gene cassette that we want to introduce in a plant genome. Once the plasmid vector design is completed, it is synthesized by bringing together several DNA components together thru a bio-chemical reaction. When the plasmid vector is made, the several components are verified by restriction endonuclease digestion reactions and/or thru DNA sequencing. After this verification is completed, the plasmid vector is transformed into an Agrobacterium strain that we use as a tool to move the gene cassette(s) in the plasmid vector into the plant nucleus. Alternatively the plasmid DNA could be made and purified in large quantities for transformation experiments using gene gun bombardment. Next step is plant cell transformation for which we prepare large amounts of plant cells thru tissue culture and either inoculate them with the Agrobacterium containing the new gene cassette or bombard the cells using a gene gun to deliver the gene cassette. Several rounds of tissue cultures are then completed to raise transgenic plants that will contain the new gene cassette that we introduced. After raising the transgenic plants, tests such as PCR, ELISA, Southern blot etc. are performed to further confirm the presence and functionality of the newly introduced gene cassette in the transgenic plants. These transgenic plants are then transferred to a green house and cared for until they set seeds. The seeds of the transgenic plants are then handed over to plant breeders for further analysis in greenhouse/field. That’s in a nutshell what a genetic engineer would do typically at work.          

 

Besides, genetic engineers like myself have other activities like a normal office going employee. We have hobbies like others do. My hobbies are photography, gardening and cooking. In spring and summer after work, I tend to my garden and cater the needs of birds in my backyard. I grew zucchini, okra, tomato, string beans, bitter melon, cucumber, radish and sunflower in my yard this season. I try new recipes with these veggies. While cooking, I setup my camera in the porch and shoot some birds in action. Please visit my Facebook page for some of these recipes and pictures. Of course while I do these activities, my mind always hovers around biotechnology and learning about what’s new in the field, and how I could utilize such novel ideas in my research.

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For more information on plant breeding techniques we invite you to check out the below similar questions that have been answered before. Kevin Folta, Professor and Chairman, Horticultural Sciences Department, University of Florida, discusses the cross-pollination and reproduction of plants in this response. A snippet is included below. “A species is defined by the ability to reproduce viable offspring, so any two plants within a species generally have the potential to cross pollinate.... Read More