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Name: Syeda
Status: student
Grade: 4-5
Location: Outside U.S.
Country: United Kingdom
Date: Fall 2013

Why is bacteria used to produce insulin for humans instead of animals?

Bacteria can produce insulin of higher purity more cheaply than animals. While animals were used in the past, the advent of modern molecular biology techniques allowed for the industrial production of insulin by bacteria. Furthermore, insulin derived from animals was not human insulin, but a close variety grown by the animal itself. Insulin produced by bacteria is exactly the same as human insulin.

Due to the use of new technologies, scientists can use engineered bacteria (and now plants) to produce unusual variants of insulin that are found neither in humans or animals. These new types of insulin have special characteristics - such as the ability to be absorbed more quickly into the body - that would be difficult to design in animal-derived insulin.

S. Unterman Ph.D.


You can research this topic and you will find that insulin indeed was first harvested from animals. The problem was that there were individuals who needed insulin but had allergies to pork/beef sources of insulin. By using genetic engineering and bacteria, the allergy conditions were circumvented.

Thank you for using NEWTON! Ric Rupnik

Hi Syeda,

Thanks for the question. The usage of bacteria to produce insulin is easier and more cost-effective than the usage of animal cells. Bacteria readily grow while animal cells are more difficult to culture. It is also more difficult to incorporate the foreign DNA (to make the insulin) into an animal cell as compared to a bacterial cell.

I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have more questions. Thanks Jeff

The main reason for using genetically modified bacteria to make "human" insulin is to prevent allergic reactions when a human receives this insulin. Previous pork (porcine) and beef (bovine) derived insulin caused significant allergic reactions in some people. A secondary reason is that using bacteria to make insulin is much more cost efficient (cheaper) to manufacture.

Dr John Cowsar Family Physician San Antonio, TX USA

Because being a single celled organism, it is much easier to add a gene, and they reproduce very quickly.


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