Ploughing with a yoke of horned cattle in Ancient Egypt. Painting from the burial Chamber of Sennedjem, c. 1200 BC
Although the word biotechnology sounds new and contemporary, we’ve been tweaking genes–the stuff of life–for millennia:
“Early people began altering communities of flora and fauna for their own benefit through means such as fire-stick farming and forest gardening very early. Exact dates are hard to determine, as people collected and ate seeds before domesticating them, and plant characteristics may have changed during this period without human selection. An example is the semi-tough rachis and larger seeds of cereals from just after the Younger Dryas (about 9,500 BC) in the early Holocene in the Levant region of the Fertile Crescent. Monophyletic characteristics were attained without any human intervention, implying that apparent domestication of the cereal rachis could have occurred quite naturally.
Agriculture began independently in different parts of the globe, and included a diverse range of taxa. At least 11 separate regions of the Old and New World were involved as independent centers of origin. Some of the earliest known domestications were of animals. Pigs were domesticated in Mesopotamia around 13,000 BC. Sheep were domesticated in Mesopotamia between 11,000 and 9,000 BC. Cattle were domesticated from the wild aurochs in the areas of modern Turkey and Pakistan around 8,500 BC. Camels were domesticated late, perhaps around 3,000 BC.”–Via
Nowadays, the stuff that we can do with genes would seem like wizardry to ancient Mesopotamians. We can use the immune system of bacteria to edit the human genome. With current techniques, insulin can be made by embedding human genetic code in the genome of Escherichia coli. In other words, if the plow, the scythe, and slashing and burning were the tools that made it possible for the ancients to manipulate genes, the micropipette, the electrophoresis chamber, and the agarose gel are new the hardware.
AP and Honor (10th Grade) students:
Write a brief reflection–of no more than 150 words–of your Biotech Experience (March 6–10, 2017) on the comment section below. This being a blog, you can add pictures, videos, and/or hyperlinks to your comment. Remember that your experience had to be documented with pictures (a minimum of 5). Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. The total value of this assignment is 50 points. Due date: March 31, 2017.