Recombinant insulin

Blog entry

I can spend days talking about recombinant DNA technology. It has fast become one of the most used tools in biomedical research and promises to be useful for a good long time. Most of us can’t think of too many people who DON’T utilize this tool in one way or another. But, I will keep this light and focused on today’s topic: Recombinant insulin.

Once upon a time, insulin was only available from pancreases (or “pancreata” as I’ve come to find out). If you were a diabetic, you went to the pharmacy and got either human, bovine, or porcine insulin for your injections.  This was sufficient at the time because as we learned last week, insulin is very similar in chemical make-up whether it comes from a pig, a cow, or your great uncle Ralph. Then in 1978-ish, scientists cloned the human insulin gene and by 1982, folks had recombinant human insulin as a therapeutic option.  This breakthrough not only revolutionized medical treatment of diabetes, but really helped lay the groundwork for so many molecular biology labs all over the planet.

The big discovery for us in the lab? The fact that we can harness the protein-making ability of bacteria, in this case E. coli, to make human (or other animal) proteins in a petri dish, rather than squeezing cow pancreata (there’s that word, again) to get at the insulin.  Nowadays recombinant insulin is used routinely in labs all over the world and is a vital component to many media and media supplements.  As we’ll see next week, recombinant insulin is most often the insulin used in a widely-used supplement, ITS.  Till then, may your cells enjoy extended log phase during expansion and restful senescence upon differentiation……


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