Recombinant DNA and the Birth of BiotechRecombinant DNA in the Lab
In a series of experiments, between 1972 and 1974, Stanley Cohen, Herbert Boyer, and their colleagues, at Stanford University and the University of California, San Francisco built on the work of recombinant DNA pioneers such as Paul Berg to develop techniques that would form the basis of recombinant DNA technology. These experiments helped spur the birth of the biotechnology industry.
Since 1959, scientists knew that bacteria contain extra loops of DNA called “plasmids” in addition to their chromosome. In nature, bacteria can swap these plasmids with one another, quickly transferring beneficial genes like those that code for antibiotic resistance. By the early 1970s, investigators had isolated several plasmids as well as special enzymes known as “restriction endonucleases” that work like scissors to cut open the loops of plasmids.
Herbert Boyer had expertise with restriction endonucleases and Stanley Cohen studied plasmids, and after meeting at a conference in 1972, the two decided to combine their research efforts. After preliminary experiments in 1973, the Cohen-Boyer team was able to cut open a plasmid loop from one species of bacteria, insert a gene from different bacterial species and close the plasmid. This created a recombinant DNA molecule-- a plasmid containing recombined DNA from two different sources. Next, they inserted the plasmid into bacteria and demonstrated that the recombinant DNA could be used by bacteria. The team had created the first genetically modified organisms.
|Stanley Cohen’s laboratory installed in NMAH’s exhibit Science in American Life, which ran from 1994-2012. Credit:Flickr user Ryan Somma|
A year later, they would use this technique to insert a gene from a frog into bacteria, proving that it was possible to transfer genes between two very different organisms. The technology for creating these “molecular chimeras” was patented on December 2, 1980 (US Patent 4,237,224.) Below are a number of objects used in the Cohen lab during the recombinant DNA experiments.
"Recombinant DNA and the Birth of Biotech - Recombinant DNA in the Lab" showing 1 items.
- Description (Brief)
- This refractometer was used in Stanley Cohen’s lab at Stanford University in his research on recombinant DNA. Refractometers measure how light changes velocity as it passes through a substance. This change is known as the refractive index and it is dependent on the composition of the substance being measured. In the Cohen lab, this refractometer was one of several techniques used to provide evidence that he and his research team had created a recombinant DNA molecule containing DNA from both a bacterium and a frog.
- To conduct the analysis, Cohen separated out the molecule he assumed to be recombinant DNA and measured its refractive index. The index for the molecule fell between the known values for frog DNA and bacterial DNA, suggesting that the unknown DNA molecule was a mixture of the two.
- For more information on the Cohen/Boyer experiments with recombinant DNA see object 1987.0757.01
- “Section 9.4.2: Buoyant Density Centrifugation.” Smith, H., ed. The Molecular Biology of Plant Cells. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft796nb4n2/
- “Louisiana State University Macromolecular Studies Group How-To Guide: ABBE Zeiss Refractometer.” Pitot, Cécile. Accessed December 2012. http://macro.lsu.edu/howto/Abbe_refractometer.pdf
- “Construction of Biologically Functional Bacterial Plasmids In Vitro.” Cohen, Stanley N., Annie C.Y. Chang, Herbert W. Boyer, Robert B. Helling. Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences. Vol. 70, No. 11. pp.3240–3244. November 1973.
- “Replication and Transcription of Eukaryotic DNA in Escherichia coli.” Morrow, John F., Stanley N. Cohen, Annie C.Y. Chang, Herbert W. Boyer, Howard M. Goodman, Robert B. Helling. Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences. Vol. 71, No. 5. pp.1743–1747. May 1974.
- Accession File
- Currently not on view
- date made
- Cohen, Stanley N.
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- catalog number
- accession number
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- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center