Biotechnology: Present and Future

Sateesh Kumar TVS, Seoul, South Korea


ntroduction

Biotechnology is technology based on biology.

UN Convention on Biological Diversity defined Biotechnology as follows:

"Biotechnology means any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use."

The structure of DNA was deciphered by James Watson, a geneticist, and Francis Crick, a physicist, thus marking the beginning of molecular biology in the 20th century. Their determination of the physical structure of the DNA molecule became the foundation for modern biotechnology, enabling scientists to develop new tools to improve the future of mankind.

The Human Genome Project is a major biotechnological endeavor, the aim of which is to make a detailed map of human DNA. The hereditary instructions inscribed in DNA guide the development of the human being from fertilized egg cell to death. In this project, which is estimated to take 15 years, chromosome maps are being developed in various laboratories worldwide through a coordinated effort guided by the National Institutes of Health. The genetic markers for over 4000 diseases caused by single mutant genes have been mapped.

To get an idea of the magnitude of this project, imagine a stack of 25,000 books. If each book is two centimeters thick, the stack would measure 50 meters, the height of a 15 story building. Consider locating a particular word within one of the books in the stack. For a molecular biologist this would be analogous to finding one gene in the human genome. Up to this point molecular biologists have mapped only a tiny fraction of the genome. The twenty three pairs of human chromosomes are estimated to contain between 50,000 and 100,000 genes, although it appears that only about five percent are ever transcribed. as

Figure 1. Areas of applied biotechnology

Monoclonal antibodies are new tools to detect and localize specific biological molecules. In principle, monoclonal antibodies can be made against any macromolecule and used to locate, purify or even potentially destroy a molecule as for example with anticancer drugs.
Molecular biology is useful in many fields. DNA technology is utilized in solving crimes. It also allows searchers to produce banks of DNA, RNA and proteins, while mapping the human genome. Tracers are used to synthesize specific DNA or RNA probes, essential to localizing sequences involved in genetic disorders.

With genetic engineering, new proteins are synthesized. They can be introduced into plants or animal genomes, producing a new type of disease resistant plants, capable of living in inhospitable environments (i.e. temperature and water extremes...). When introduc ed into bacteria, these proteins have also produced new antibiotics and useful drugs.

cancer treatment, diagnostic testing, bone marrow transplantation and other applications. Conclusion

The biotechnology industr y is about to reach a critical mass of maturity and convergence. Combined with the related convergence of biotechnology, nanotechnology, and information technology, unprecedented rates of progress and expansion will ensue—if public acceptance of biotech can be won.

In the long run, biotechnology will:

• Profoundly impact our perceptions of health, aging, personality, and the human soul • Increase the carrying capacity of the planet

 

Sub-fields of Biotechnology

* Red biotechnology is applied to medical processes. Some examples are the designing of organisms to produce antibiotics, and the engineering of genetic cures through genomic manipulation.

* White biotechnology, also known as grey biotechnology, is biotechnology applied to industrial processes. An example is the designing of an organism to produce a useful chemical. White biotechnology tends to consume less in resources than traditional processes used to produce industrial goods.

* Green biotechnology is biotechnology applied to agricultural processes. An example is the designing of transgenic plants to grow under specific environmental conditions or in the presence (or absence) of certain agricultural chemicals. One hope is that green biotechnology might produce more environmentally friendly solutions than traditional industrial agriculture. An example of this is the engineering of a plant to express a pesticide, thereby eliminating the need for external application of pesticides. An example of this would be Bt corn.

* The term blue biotechnology has also been used to describe the marine and aquatic applications of biotechnology, but its use is relatively rare

Bioinformatics

It is an interdisciplinary field which addresses biological problems using computational techniques. The field is also often referred to as computational biology. It plays a key role in various areas, such as functional genomics, structural genomics, and proteomics, and forms a key component in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sector.

In1885, a scientist named Roux demonstrated embryonic chick cells could be kept alive outside an animal's body. For the next hundred years, advances in cell tissue culture have provided Techniques of cloning generate large quantities of pure human proteins, which are used to treat diseases like diabetes. In the future, a resource bank for rare human proteins or other molecules is a possibilit y. For instance, DNA sequences which are modified to correct a mutation, to increase the production of a specific protein or to produce a new type of protein can be stored. This technique will be probably playing a key role in gene therapy.

Recombinant DNA biotechnology has aroused public interest and concern and has influenced medicine, industry, agric ulture and environmental problem solving in the twenty years since its inception. In medicine faster and more efficient diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as cystic fibrosis, cancer, sickle cell anemia, and diabetes are soon to be developed. Recombinant organisms will be used in industry to produce new vaccines, solvents, and chemicals of all kinds.

Biotechnology has applications in both plant and animal breeding. Scientists are developing disease and herbicide resi stant crops, disease resistant animals, seedless fruits and rapidly growing chickens. Microbes are being engineered to digest compounds that are currently polluting our environment.

Some of the more exciting frontiers of biotechnology include protein based "biochips" which may replace silicon chips. It is believed that biochips would be faster and more energy efficient. Biochip implants in the body could deliver precise amounts of drugs to affect heart rate and hormone secretion or to control artificial limbs. Biosensors are monitors that use enzymes, monoclonal antibodies, or other proteins to test air and water quality, to detect hazardous substances, and to monitor blood components in vivo.

Gene therapy involves correction of defects in genetic material. In this process a normal gene is introduced to replace a malfunctioning one. "Gene therapy" will be the "expression" of the medical research branch of biotechnology. It may in time form the basis of its own industry or join the traditional pharmaceutical industry. New delivery systems, called liposomes, are being developed to get cytotoxic drugs to tumor sites with minimal damage to surrounding healthy tissues. New monoclonal antibodies will be isolated for use in

• Revolutionize manufacturing, materials science, and bioengineering—deeply impacting the nature and flow of information and materials through our economy

Ultimately, we could enter an era of self- directed evolution, with humanity creating entirely new molecules, biochemical pathways, tissues, organ systems, and life forms.

About the Author:
Sateesh Kumar TVS is Project Manager working in ITMagic Co.,Ltd,( www.itmagic.co.kr ) Seoul, South Korea. Email id: satish_tvs@yahoo.com

 

 

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