A history of genome engineering in popular culture (2023)

This post was contributed by Kartik Lakshmi Rallapalli, a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego.

The revolution in genetic engineering techniques is an old speculation that has recently materialized. Science fiction (SciFi) writers are curious about the ability to transform the genetic code of living organisms and its social implications even before the discovery of the genes themselves.

How has scientific progress in gene editing impacted the world of fiction and vice versa? We draw a parallel between the timelines of scientific discoveries and the remarkable work of fiction they inspired. WARNING: Spoiler alert!

It was before DNA

H.G. Wells, the father of science fiction, was also a biologist by training. This is evident in his work.The Island of Dr. moreau(1896) where he explores the concepts of animal experimentation and modifications. The premise of the novel involves Dr. Moreau, who creates human-animal hybrids. This book is published 30 years afterThe seminal work of Gregor Mendelon genetic inheritance (1866) and just when theMendelian genetics was being revived by botanist Hugo de Vries(1896).

In 1928, Frederick Griffith usedmouse modelsto demonstrate thatesteotococos pneumoniabacteria can mutate from one organism to another. This is now famous asGriffith's experiment.

dna age

The period between 1940 and 1960 was crucial for genetics and science fiction. Scientists around the world began searching for the magic molecule that serves as the code for life. In 1944,O experimento de Oswald Avery, Colin MacLeod e Maclyn McCartyhe disproved the myth that protein is the carrier of genetic information and led to the crowning of DNA as the molecule of life. This was further reinforced by the discoveries of the 1952Experimento Hershey-Chase🇧🇷 In the same year, Rosalind Franklin and her student Raymond Gosling made the firstX-ray diffracted image of DNA🇧🇷 Finally, in 1953, Franklin along with James Watson and Francis Cricksolved the DNA double helix🇧🇷 In the 1960s, Har Gobind Khorana, Marshall W. Nirenberg and Robert W. Holley splitthe genetic codeand explained how the four letters of DNA are translated into the twenty amino acids. Once scientists established that DNA encoded all the information needed to regulate and propagate life, there was no going back.

While the world of molecular genetics was booming, science fiction saw the rise of literary giants like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, James Blish, and John W. Campbell. This period is calledGolden Age of Science Fiction, but the common themes these authors explored were space and robots. The warping of stars in spaceships and the emergence of murderous machines that exterminate all of humanity were the two most popular themes that sparked the imagination of most authors in this period.

Age of Genetic Engineering: Pre-CRISPR

Having visualized and understood DNA, the next milestone for the molecular biologist was to develop methods for manipulating it. TheThe term genetic engineering itself is attributed to science fiction writer Jack Williamson.who used it in his 1951 noveldragon island🇧🇷 In 1976, the world's first genetic engineering company,Genentech, was founded.

(Video) CRISPR in Context: The New World of Human Genetic Engineering

This commercialization of gene editing technology led to the development of many important medical and agricultural products. But it also made sci-fi director Ridley Scott wonder what would happen if these corporations went beyond genetic engineering to exploit humans. Ridley Scott directed Blade Runner (1982). It's a dystopian film that revolves around synthetic humans called replicants who are genetically engineered by a powerful corporation to serve as slaves.


A history of genome engineering in popular culture (1)

In 1989, the first DNA editing enzymes,meganucleasas, were discovered. These proteins are characterized bylarge DNA recognition sites, which makes them highly specific.

Jurassic Parkby Michael Crichton was published in 1990, just one year after the discovery of meganucleases. The story involves the resurrection of dinosaurs by extracting DNA from fossilized amber and supplementing it with DNA from living frogs through genetic engineering. The corresponding film was released in 1993 and the sequelsJurassic Park(1997, 2001, 2015, and 2018) were huge box office successes, signaling viewers' insatiable appetite for dinosaurs wreaking havoc in a theme park.

Launched in 1997,GATOis an American science fiction film starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Jude Law. The name of the film itself is a combination of the four bases of DNA: A, T, G and C. In this film, Ethan Hawke's character rebels against the class division created by genetics.

zinc finger nucleases

zinc finger nucleases(ZFN) are artificial restriction enzymes generated by fusing a zinc finger DNA binding domain with a DNA cleavage domain (FokI). Zinc finger nucleases were first designed in 2005. The DNA binding domain can be designed to target specific DNA sequences, while FokI induces a double strand break. These breaks can then be repaired by homologous recombination with a repair template. Each zinc finger recognizes a triplet of nucleotides, and when multiple ZFNs bind, it can read many base pairs simultaneously toincrease specificity🇧🇷 This modular approach has made ZFNs very attractive to researchers.


Em 2010,transcription activator-type effector nucleases (TALEN)they were designed. TALENs follow a similar DNA binding and cleavage strategy as ZFNs, but instead of recognizing triplets of nucleotides, the components recognize single nucleotides. This confers TALENmore specificity and broader substrate preference than ZFNs.

A history of genome engineering in popular culture (2)A history of genome engineering in popular culture (3)

(Video) (CULTURE) The Dark History of Eugenics, Genetics, and Human Engineering

Age of Genetic Engineering: Post CRISPR


A history of genome engineering in popular culture (4)The strategy of using a protein to recognize DNA sequences is not ideal. For first-generation gene editors, new amino acid recognition sites had to be designed every time we wanted to target new genomic sites. TheDiscovery of Cas proteins in 2005was a breakthrough in the world of genetic engineering, as CRISPR-Cas editing soon replaced the protein-based DNA-binding domain with aunique sequence of guide RNA🇧🇷 Cas proteins, like their predecessorinduce a double strand breakat the target genomic site. This is usually followed bynon-homologous end joinwhich results in the deletion of genes.

Star Trek - Beyond the Darkness(2013) which is the remake of the space melodramaStar Trek II:khan's wrath(1982) combined the worlds of genetic engineering and space travel. The film sees the USS.Companythe crew fights a genetically engineered Khan superhuman.

The soap opera,Inferno(2013) and the film version (2016) stars Tom Hanks as the protagonist (Langdon). The plot involves Langdon going after an anti-villain geneticist named Zobrist, who designs a virus that could potentially kill a third of humans (much like the Black Death).

basic editors

A history of genome engineering in popular culture (5)The main disadvantage of all endonuclease-based gene editors (meganucleases, ZFN, TALEN and CRISPR-Cas) is that they induce double-strand breaks (DSBs) in the genome. These technologies are based on the cellular DNA repair machinery, which can lead tohigh frequency of indel formationin the genome and are ineffective in introducing point mutations. In 2016, researchers at the Broad Institute envisioned a new strategy for introducing point mutations into the genome. They fused a catalytically altered Cas9 protein with a DNA-editing enzyme to generate theprototypic base-editing enzymes. Loscytidine base editors (CBE)use a cytidine deaminase to introduce a C→T change at precise locations in the genome. This was soon followed byAdenine Base Publishing Enzyme (ABE)in 2017. ABEs are based on a similar strategy to CBE, but use an ssDNA adenosine deaminase (evolved from a tRNA deaminase enzyme, TadA) toinduce an A→G mutationat the target genomic loci. Together, CBE and ABE prevented the rates of indel formation normally associated with DSBs and offered unprecedented prospects for curing diseases caused by single nucleotide variations in the genome.

Due to the rise of CRISPR in genetic engineering and the open publicity of the technology on various non-science platforms, CRISPR has also transcended the world of science fiction. This is evident in the use of the word 'CRISPR' for everything related to genetic engineering in recent science fiction films.uproar(2018), starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, calls CRISPR a genetic engineering experiment gone horribly wrong. The film's plot involves The Rock and his supergiant albino gorilla fighting a monstrous wolf and an alligator, who have both been "crispr-affected".

first edition

The most recent advancement in genome editing ismain edition, What was itdesigned in 2019🇧🇷 It is based on a main editor which is a fusion between Cas9 and reverse transcriptase. Using an elongated template + guide RNA called a pegRNA (master-edit RNA), the master editor can install all possible point mutations, remove short stretches of DNA, and even insert new DNA at targeted genomic loci.

A history of genome engineering in popular culture (6)

A Final Word on Representation of Genome Engineering in Pop Culture

SciFi is one of the most imaginative and important genres of literary fiction. It has always served as a vision of the future and to make us rethink our perspective of the present. While genome-editing technologies have sparked a renaissance in the fields of health, energy, and agricultural science, their portrayal in popular fiction has been largely negative. But these negative portrayals serve as a wake-up call for the entire scientific community, reminding us to always consider the ethics and broader implications of our research.

(Video) DNA and Genetics | Scientific Discoveries of The 21st Century | Science Documentary 2019

Do you want the genome-editing exchange card to be seen in this blog post?
Download high resolution versions here.

Many thanks to our guest blogger Kartik Lakshmi Rallapalli at the University of California, San Diego.

A history of genome engineering in popular culture (7)Kartik Lakshmi Rallapalli is a third year student in Prof. Francesco Paesani at the University of California, San Diego. She is working in collaboration with Prof. Alexis Komor and together they are trying to further our understanding of base editing enzymes. Kartik's research focuses on using molecular dynamics simulations and machine learning to develop a predictive understanding of adenine base editors that can help accelerate the engineering of new base editor proteins. She is particularly interested in combining the realms of art and science. follow her@kartik_lakshmi.

Additional resources on the Addgene blog

  • find moreCRISPR blog posts
  • Learn more aboutCRISPR history
  • read about othersgenome editing methods

Resources at Addgene.org

  • visit ourCRISPR Guide
  • MeetCRISPR plasmids for your research
  • To browseplasmids for base editing


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Avery OT, MacLeod CM, McCarty M (1944) STUDIES ON THE CHEMICAL NATURE OF SUBSTANCES INDUCING TRANSFORMATION OF PNEUMOCOCCAL TYPES. Journal of Experimental Medicine 79:137–158.https://doi.org/10.1084/jem.79.2.137

(Video) Are You Ready for the Genetic Revolution? | Jamie Metzl | TEDxPaloAlto

Carroll D (2011) Genomic engineering with zinc finger nucleases. Genetics 188:773–782.https://doi.org/10.1534/genetics.111.131433

Doudna JA, Charpentier E (2014) The new frontier of genomic engineering with CRISPR-Cas9. Science 346:1258096.https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1258096

Gaudelli NM, Komor AC, Rees HA, Packer MS, Badran AH, Bryson DI, Liu DR (2018) Editor's correction: Programmable base editing from A•T to G•C in genomic DNA without DNA cleavage. Nature 559:E8–E8 .https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0070-x

Griffith F (1928) The importance of pneumococcal types. Hygiene Journal 27:113–159.https://doi.org/10.1017/s0022172400031879

Hershey AD, Chase M (1952) INDEPENDENT ROLES OF VIRAL PROTEINS AND NUCLEIC ACIDS IN BACTERIOPHAGE GROWTH. The Journal of General Physiology 36:39–56.https://doi.org/10.1085/jgp.36.1.39

Komor AC, Kim YB, Packer MS, Zuris JA, Liu DR (2016) Programmable editing of a target base in genomic DNA without double-stranded DNA cleavage. Nature 533:420–424.https://doi.org/10.1038/nature17946

Lenay C (2000) Hugo De Vries: from the theory of intracellular pangenesis to the rediscovery of Mendel. Accounts of the Academy of Sciences - Series III - Life Sciences 323: 1053–1060.https://doi.org/10.1016/s0764-4469(00)01250-6

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(Video) CRISPR Biology and the New Era of Genome Engineering

Seligman LM (2002) Mutations that alter the cleavage specificity of a targeting endonuclease. Nucleic Acid Research 30:3870-3879.https://doi.org/10.1093/nar/gkf495

Watson JD, Crick FHC (2003) Reprint: Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids. Annals of Internal Medicine 138:581.https://doi.org/10.7326/0003-4819-138-7-200304010-00015

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When did genetic engineering became popular? ›

An enormous breakthrough in GMO technology came in 1973, when Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen worked together to engineer the first successful genetically engineered (GE) organism [5]. The two scientists developed a method to very specifically cut out a gene from one organism and paste it into another.

What is genetic engineering history? ›

Genetic engineering based on recombination was pioneered in 1973 by American biochemists Stanley N. Cohen and Herbert W. Boyer, who were among the first to cut DNA into fragments, rejoin different fragments, and insert the new genes into E. coli bacteria, which then reproduced.

What kind of living thing was the first to be genetically engineered and why? ›

Bacteria were the first organisms to be genetically modified in the laboratory, due to the relative ease of modifying their chromosomes. This ease made them important tools for the creation of other GMOs.

Who is father of genetic engineering? ›

In 1972, Paul Berg started genetic engineering. With the aid of the lambda phage, he was able to insert the SV-40 virus gene into the bacterium. Berg is also called the “Father of Genetic Engineering”. He was awarded the 1980 Nobel Prize.

What are 3 facts about genetic engineering? ›

The first genetically modified organism to be created was a bacterium, in 1973. In 1974, the same techniques were applied to mice. In 1994 the first genetically modified foods were made available. Genetic engineering has a number of useful applications, including scientific research, agriculture and technology.

Why did genetic engineering is beneficial to the society? ›

Genetic engineering allows scientists to select one specific gene to implant. This avoids introducing other genes with undesirable traits. Genetic engineering also helps speed up the process of creating new foods with desired traits.

What are 3 examples of genetic engineering? ›

Learn about these plant examples of genetic engineering.
  • Pesticide-Resistant Rapeseed Plants. Rapeseed is a flowering plant used to make certain types of vegetable oil. ...
  • Plants That Fight Pollution. ...
  • Golden Rice. ...
  • Faster-Growing Trees. ...
  • Bigger, Longer-Lasting Tomatoes. ...
  • Insecticide Corn. ...
  • Non-Crying Onions. ...
  • Cloning Example.

What are the 4 types of genetic engineering? ›

Traditional genetic modification methods that have been employed—particularly for microbial starter cultures—include selection, mutagenesis, conjugation, and protoplast fusion, the last of which is analogous to somatic hybridization in plant systems.

What were the first successful products of genetic engineering? ›

1973: Biochemists Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen develop genetic engineering by inserting DNA from one bacteria into another. 1982: FDA approves the first consumer GMO product developed through genetic engineering: human insulin to treat diabetes.

What is the oldest form of genetic engineering? ›

Gene transfer is the oldest known form of genetic engineering. 2. Mutations are changes in the nucleotide sequence of DNA.

What is the oldest method of genetic engineering? ›

Selective breeding: Two strains of plants are introduced and bred to produce offspring with specific features. Between 10,000 and 300,000 genes can be affected. This is the oldest method of genetic modification, and is typically not included in the GMO food category.

Who is a famous genetic engineer? ›

1951: Jack Williamson: (1908 - 2006), American science fiction writer: coined the term "genetic engineering" in 1951. 1952: Alfred Hershey * (1908 - 1997), American bacteriologist and geneticist & Martha Chase (1927 - 2003), American geneticist: confirmed DNA's role in heredity in 1952.

Which country invented genetic engineering? ›

The first field trials of genetically engineered plants occurred in France and the US in 1986, tobacco plants were engineered to be resistant to herbicides. The People's Republic of China was the first country to commercialise transgenic plants, introducing a virus-resistant tobacco in 1992.

Who is famous for genetics? ›

Gregor Mendel. Gregor Mendel's work in pea led to our understanding of the foundational principles of inheritance. The Father of Genetics. Like many great artists, the work of Gregor Mendel was not appreciated until after his death.

What are 4 benefits of genetic engineering? ›

Some benefits of genetic engineering in agriculture are increased crop yields, reduced costs for food or drug production, reduced need for pesticides, enhanced nutrient composition and food quality, resistance to pests and disease, greater food security, and medical benefits to the world's growing population.

What are the 5 pros and cons of genetic engineering? ›

Various Pros and Cons of Genetic Engineering For Cloning and Transformation
  • Tackling and Defeating Diseases.
  • Getting Rid of All Illnesses in Young and Unborn Children.
  • Potential to Live Longer.
  • Produce New Foods.
  • Organisms Can be 'Tailor-Made'
  • Faster Growth in Animals and Plants.
  • Pest and Disease Resistance.

What are the most common uses of genetic engineering? ›

Used in research and industry, genetic engineering has been applied to the production of cancer therapies, brewing yeasts, genetically modified plants and livestock, and more.

How does genetic engineering affect human life? ›

With the advent of genetic engineering, scientists can now change the way genomes are constructed to terminate certain diseases that occur as a result of genetic mutation [1]. Today genetic engineering is used in fighting problems such as cystic fibrosis, diabetes, and several other diseases.

What are three major advantages of genetic modification to human society? ›

Beyond health, the benefits of GMOs are widespread:
  • Less cost.
  • Higher yields.
  • Fewer chemicals and pesticides.
  • Less soil erosion than unmodified crops.
  • Used in medicine to produce life-saving vaccines, insulin, and treatments for diseases.
Dec 10, 2021

How does genetic engineering affect evolution? ›

A major concern of genetically modified organisms is that they will cause reduced genetic diversity of plants and animals in the environment. What this means is that the DNA, which codes for proteins in an organism, will become more similar between individuals of a species.

What type of genetic engineering did we do in the 1980s? ›

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR), developed by Kary Mullis in 1983, allowed small sections of DNA to be amplified and aided identification and isolation of genetic material. As well as manipulating the DNA, techniques had to be developed for its insertion (known as transformation) into an organism's genome.

Who introduced genetic engineering in 1951? ›

The term "genetic engineering" was first coined by Jack Williamson in his science fiction novel Dragon's Island, published in 1951 – one year before DNA's role in heredity was confirmed by Alfred Hershey and Martha Chase, and two years before James Watson and Francis Crick showed that the DNA molecule has a double- ...

In what decade was genetic engineering developed? ›

1960s: Discovering and Linking DNA

Important to the history of gene editing are the origins of genetic engineering that bring us back to Silicon Valley in the early 1960s. The '60s saw an explosion of research into the structure and function of prokaryotic and viral genetic material.

When was the first successful gene editing? ›

Gene therapy 1.0: First introduction of corrected genes

In 1990, 4-year-old Ashanthi de Silva became the first gene therapy success story. She was born with a severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) due to lack of the enzyme adenosine deaminase (ADA).


1. When Our Culture Changed Our DNA
(PBS Eons)
2. Are GMOs Good or Bad? Genetic Engineering & Our Food
(Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell)
3. The New World of Human Genetic Engineering
(World Science Festival)
4. Biotechnology: Crash Course History of Science #40
5. 10 Unbelievable Plans of Genetic Engineering
6. Gene-Hacking Plants to Make Every Color of the Rainbow
(Mr. Singularity)


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