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Genetic engineering: Insulin production

Genetic engineering is used to produce human insulin protein on an industrial scale. Insulin is required for the treatment of diabetes mellitus.

The human insulin gene has been inserted into bacteria using genetic engineering. These bacteria now produce human insulin. The bacteria are grown in a fermenter:

Fermenters keep bacteria under optimal growth conditions to maximise the production of insulin.
Fermenters keep bacteria under optimal growth conditions to maximise the production of insulin.

There are several advantages to this method of insulin production:

  • Human insulin: the old method of insulin production used insulin from pigs or calves. This can cause an immune reaction and has ethical objections.
  • Large-scale production: the bacteria are grown in vast amounts.
  • Purer product: the bacteria secrete the insulin, making it very easy to separate from the bacteria and harvest.
  • Much cheaper: the process is roughly 1% of the cost of extracting insulin from a pig pancreas.