Recombinant DNA and the Birth of Biotech

Recombinant DNA is one of the first stories in modern biotechnology history.  The National Museum of American History contains collections which trace this foundational technique of genetic engineering from its conception in academia through its adoption by industry and into the creation of the first marketable products of modern biotechnology—recombinant pharmaceuticals.

What is recombinant DNA?

Recombinant DNA is a technique that allows scientists to cut DNA from two sources—say a frog and a bacterium—and glue them back together into a single piece of DNA.  This “recombinant DNA” can then be inserted into an organism.  It’s a simple way to move a gene from one species to another.

Follow the story of recombinant DNA on the next several pages from its conception in the lab to medical products on the pharmacist’s shelf.