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NOVEL ORGANISMS

Nature can produce organisms with new gene combinations through sexual reproduction. A brown cow bred to a yellow cow may produce a calf of a completely new color. But reproductive mechanisms limit the number of new combinations. Cows must breed with other cows (or very near relatives). A breeder who wants a purple cow would be able to breed toward one only if the necessary purple genes were available somewhere in a cow or a near relative to cows. A genetic engineer has no such restriction. If purple genes are available anywhere in nature-in a sea urchin or an iris-those genes could be used in attempts to produce purple cows. This unprecedented ability to shuffle genes means that genetic engineers can concoct gene combinations that would never be found in nature.