Biotechnology Could Eradicate Diseases, Improve Life – Here’s How

Posted on September 3, 2010 in Sci- Tech

By Santosh Kumar Maharana:

Biotechnology is the term made by fusion by of two words. The first one is Biology and the second one is Technology. Biotechnology is the integrated and control use of Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Immunology, Genetic Engineering (Recombinant DNA Technology), Biological Agents (Cellular Component, Protein, and DNA), Plant Tissue Culture, and Animal Tissue Culture for our benefit to improve the variety of microorganisms, plants, and animals.

Biotechnology is a very vast area in the field of research. Progress in biotechnology is currently working on environmentally-friendly biodegradation processes for a cleaner, healthier planet, experimenting with until-now untapped energy sources, and devising useful consumer chemicals such as adhesives, detergents, dyes, flavors, perfumes, and plastics.

With the progress seen thus far in the fight against deadly diseases such as polio and small pox, it is not beyond reason that biotechnology may hold the promise for effective treatments or even cures for, say, cancer and AIDS. Gene therapy may well become the method whereby we correct congenital disease caused by faulty genes. Stem cell research may prove the panacea for Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and muscular dystrophy. Also, given the genetic improvements made with crop yield and nutritive value, world hunger and malnutrition may witness their denouement with the continual advancement of biotechnology.

The techniques of biotechnology which are commonly used in present as well as for future point of view are Plant Tissue Culture (Somatic Hybridization, Protoplast Culture, Disease Free Plants, Cryopreservation, Somaclonal Variation, etc.), Plant Breeding, Micropropagation, Genetic Engineering, Molecular Biology, Stem Cell, and Cancer Cell. We must try to develop very novel variety of vaccine/ drugs etc. to cure persons who are suffering from disease and also for those who are not disease but are at a risk of the disease. We must try to develop medicines or drugs for treatment of cancer which would be helpful for the persons who have been suffering from cancer. By use of recombinant DNA technology we must try to synthesize r-DNA (which codes for the viral coat protein) and insert this recombinant DNA into the host cell (human being).

We must try to control and regulate the cell-division through gene therapy technology which is very helpful for prevention of tumors in cancer patients. This can be possible by regulating the expression of gene (controlled expression) or by replacing the mutated gene once. 50% or more cancer is due to mutation in a particular gene, so the need is to replace the mutated ones with new in diseased persons. Many genes are also responsible for causing cancer. When we find out the defect we can cure the disease fully or up to some extent. Cancer is very widely and rapidly spread disease throughout the world. No treatment is available for that so the people suffering from the disease get cured. Many people die every year and the rate of death is increasing every year.

Gene Therapy

Altogether, there are about 5,000 known human genetic diseases (e.g. cystic fibrosis, which affects mainly northern Europeans, sickle cell anemia which affects mainly Africans, and hemophilia, which devastated many branches of European royalty). In fact, all of us have approximately half a dozen to a dozen genes which are potentially lethal.

In gene therapy, a “bad” gene can be corrected by inserting the “good”  gene into a vector (usually a virus which has been rendered harmless) and then infecting the patient with the virus. The virus then multiplies rapidly, injecting the “good” gene into the cells of the patient. Infected cells can also be grown and cultivated outside the body in order to increase their number and then injected back into the body. The ultimate goal is to infect virtually all the cells of the body to replace the deficient gene, which is still an elusive goal.

SCIDS (bubble boy syndrome) in which children lack a fully functioning immune system was the first disease to be treated successfully with this method. Affected children can now live outside an artificial sealed environment.

The first patient with Alzheimer’s disease to be treated with gene therapy was a 60 year old woman. She was injected with cells treated with nerve growth factor in hopes of preventing cell brain cell death that typifies Alzheimer’s.

Cloning

First, a large number of fetuses must be sacrificed in the process of producing one healthy clone. This is because the methods of cloning are still quite crude and largely hit-or-miss because of the trauma introduced by re-activating the cell reproduction mechanisms.

Second, a large number of genetic defects are introduced by the process of cloning, injuring the health of the animal. Cloned animals may look normal but actually suffer from obesity, premature aging, arthritis, or any number of other medical problems. By analyzing the genes of the cloned animals, scientists at MIT’s Whitehead Institute analyzed 10,000 genes of cloned mice and could see quite clearly the large number of genetic mutations introduced by the cloning process. A cloned mouse, for example, may have several hundred flawed genes.

However, within five years, it is conceivable that some unscrupulous scientist will attempt the first human cloning.

Stem cells:

This gives the promise of eventually creating a “human body shop,” whereby human organs will be replaced as they wear out, get diseased, or injured.

When tissue engineering technology is married to stem cell technology, within five years one should be able to grow more complex organs like the liver and the pancreas (which involve only a handful of different tissues).  This may have a dramatic effect on liver transplants and also treating diabetes. More complex organs, because they involve many different types of tissues with very complex geometries, are for the future.

Medicine

This period will usher in the era of “molecular medicine.” The trial-and-error approach used for the last 4,000 years in medicine will gradually be replaced by understanding the molecular and genetic nature of disease and the function of the body.

Agriculture

Because plants are easier to manipulate than animals, progress in applying this technology to plants and food crops will progress much faster than for animals. Humans have been cloning plants (e.g. in the form of cuttings) and manipulating their genes (by hybridization and breeding) for millennia. Many of the main crops cultivated on earth (e.g. corn) are the product of thousands of years of gene manipulation by humans. Also, compared to animals, plants have a shorter life cycle, fewer genes in general, are easier to handle, and present fewer ethical issues.

Within the next five years, all the main commercially viable food crops will have their complete genome read. This, in turn, will make possible the application of this technology for the Third World. Because of relatively low start-up costs, even countries like Cuba have a vigorous and growing biotech industry for agriculture.

The future for biotechnology is a chest of ineffable promise the quality of life improved, diseases expunged, hunger terminated, and untold possibilities broached. We all await the future. Quite possibly, the next chapter in the Information Age may be the “Age of Biotechnology.”

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