Top Ten Emerging Biotech and Bioinformatics Technologies

Top Ten Emerging Biotech and Bioinformatics Technologies


  1. Genetic Engineering

    Genetic engineering, also called genetic modification, is the human manipulation of organisms’ genetic material in a way that does not occur under natural conditions. It involves the use of recombinant DNA techniques, but does not include traditional animal and plant breeding or mutagenesis. Any organism that is generated using these techniques is considered to be a genetically modified organism. The first organisms genetically engineered were bacteria in 1973 and then mice in 1974. Insulin producing bacteria were commercialized in 1982 and genetically modified food has been sold since 1994. Producing genetically modified organisms is a multi-step process. It first involves the isolating and copying the genetic material of interest. A construct is built containing all the genetic elements for correct expression. This construct is then inserted into the host organism, either by using a vector or directly through injection, in a process called transformation. Successfully transformed organisms are then grown and the presence of the new genetic material is tested for. Genetic engineering techniques have been applied to various industries, with some success. Medicines such as insulin and human growth hormone are now produced in bacteria, experimental mice such as the oncomouse and the knockout mouse are being used for research purposes and insect resistant and/or herbicide tolerant crops have been commercialized. Plants that contain drugs and vaccines, animals with beneficial proteins in their milk and stress tolerant crops are currently being developed.
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  2. Regenerative Medicine

    Regenerative Medicine is the process of creating living, functional tissues to repair or replace tissue or organ function lost due to age, disease, damage or congenital defects. This field holds the promise of regenerating damaged tissues and organs in the body by stimulating previously irreparable organs to heal themselves. Regenerative medicine also empowers scientists to grow tissues and organs in the laboratory and safely implant them when the body cannot heal itself. Importantly, regenerative medicine has the potential to solve the problem of the shortage of organs available for donation compared to the number of patients that require life-saving organ transplantation, as well as solve the problem of organ transplant rejection, since the organ’s cells will match that of the patient. Widely attributed (incorrectly as it turns out) to having first been coined by William Haseltine (founder of Human Genome Sciences). From the work of Michael Lysaght (Brown University), his team “first found the term in a 1992 article on hospital administration by Leland Kaiser. Kaiser’s paper closes with a series of short paragraphs on future technologies that will impact hospitals. One such paragraph had “Regenerative Medicine” as a bold print title and went on to state, “A new branch of medicine will develop that attempts to change the course of chronic disease and in many instances will regenerate tired and failing organ systems.” It refers to a group of biomedical approaches to clinical therapies that may involve the use of stem cells. Examples include; the injection of stem cells or progenitor cells (cell therapies); another the induction of regeneration by biologically active molecules; and a third is transplantation of in vitro grown organs and tissues (Tissue engineering).
  3. Anti-Aging Drugs: Resveratrol / SRT1720

           Resveratrol (3,5,4’-trihydroxy-trans-stilbene) is a phytoalexin produced naturally by several plants when under attack by pathogens such as bacteria or fungi. Resveratrol is currently a topic of numerous animal and human studies into its effects. The effects of resveratrol on the lifespan of many model organisms remain controversial, with uncertain effects in fruit flies, nematode worms and short-lived fish. In mouse and rat experiments, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, blood-sugar-lowering and other beneficial cardiovascular effects of resveratrol have been reported. Most of these results have yet to be replicated in humans. In the only positive human trial, extremely high doses (3–5 g) of resveratrol in a proprietary formulation have been necessary to significantly lower blood sugar. Despite mainstream press alleging resveratrol’s anti-aging effects, there is little present scientific basis for the application of these claims to mammals. Resveratrol is found in the skin of red grapes and is a constituent of red wine, but apparently not in sufficient amounts to explain the French Paradox. Resveratrol has also been produced by chemical synthesis and is sold as a nutritional supplement derived primarily from Japanese knotweed. Another drug in development hoping to cure the aging issue is SRT-1720 made by Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, it is intended as a small-molecule activator of the sirtuin subtype SIRT1. It has similar activity in the body to the known SIRT1 activator resveratrol, but is 1,000 times more potent. In animal studies it was found to improve insulin sensitivity and lower plasma glucose levels in fat, muscle and liver tissue, and increased mitochondrial and metabolic function. It is currently being investigated as a potential treatment for obesity and diabetes. However, the claim that SRT-1720 is a SIRT1 activator has been questioned and further defended.
  4. Synthetic Biology / Synthetic Genomics

           Synthetic biology is a new area of biological research that combines science and engineering. Synthetic biology encompasses a variety of different approaches, methodologies and disciplines, and many different definitions exist. What they all have in common, however, is that they see synthetic biology as the design and construction of new biological functions and systems not found in nature. Synthetic genomics is a nascent field of synthetic biology that uses aspects of genetic modification on pre-existing life forms with the intent of producing some product or desired behavior on the part of the life form so created. Synthetic genomics is unlike genetic modification in the sense that it does not use naturally occurring genes in its life forms. It may make use of custom designed base pair series, though in a more expanded and presently unrealized sense synthetic genomics could utilize genetic codes that are not composed of the four base pairs of DNA that are currently used by life. The development of synthetic genomics is related to certain recent technical abilities and technologies in the field of genetics. The ability to construct long base pair chains cheaply and accurately on a large scale has allowed researchers to perform experiments on genomes that do not exist in nature. Coupled with the developments in protein folding models and decreasing computational costs the field synthetic genomics is beginning to enter a productive stage of vitality. The J. Craig Venter Institute has assembled a synthetic Mycoplasma genitalium yeast genome by recombination of 25 overlapping fragments in a single step. “The use of yeast recombination greatly simplifies the assembly of large DNA molecules from both synthetic and natural fragments.” Other companies, such as Synthetic Genomics, have already been formed to take advantage of the many commercial uses of custom designed genomes.
  5. Stem Cell Treatments

           Stem cell treatments are a type of intervention strategy that introduces new cells into damaged tissue in order to treat disease or injury. Many medical researchers believe that stem cell treatments have the potential to change the face of human disease and alleviate suffering. The ability of stem cells to self-renew and give rise to subsequent generations with variable degrees of differentiation capacities, offers significant potential for generation of tissues that can potentially replace diseased and damaged areas in the body, with minimal risk of rejection and side effects. A number of stem cell therapeutics exist, but most are at experimental stages and/or costly, with the notable exception of bone marrow transplantation. Medical researchers anticipate that adult and embryonic stem cells will soon be able to treat cancer, Type 1 diabetes mellitus, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Celiac Disease, cardiac failure, muscle damage and neurological disorders, and many others. Nevertheless, before stem cell therapeutics can be applied in the clinical setting, more research is necessary to understand stem cell behavior upon transplantation as well as the mechanisms of stem cell interaction with the diseased/injured microenvironment.
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  6. Hibernation or Suspended Animation

           Suspended animation is the slowing of life processes by external means without termination. Breathing, heartbeat and other involuntary functions may still occur, but they can only be detected by artificial means. Extreme cold can be used to precipitate the slowing of an individual’s functions; use of this process has led to the developing science of cryonics. Cryonics is another method of life preservation but it cryopreserves organisms using liquid nitrogen that will preserve the organism until reanimation. Laina Beasley was kept in suspended animation as a two-celled embryo for 13 years. Placing astronauts in suspended animation has been proposed as one way for an individual to reach the end of an interstellar or intergalactic journey, avoiding the necessity for a gigantic generation ship; occasionally the two concepts have been combined, with generations of “caretakers” supervising a large population of frozen passengers. Since the 1970’s, induced hypothermia has been performed for some open-heart surgeries as an alternative to heart-lung machines. Hypothermia, however, only provides a limited amount of time in which to operate and there is a risk of tissue and brain damage for prolonged periods.
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  7. Vitrification or Cryoprotectant

           A cryoprotectant is a substance that is used to protect biological tissue from freezing damage. Arctic and Antarctic insects, fish, amphibians and reptiles create cryoprotectants (antifreeze compounds and antifreeze proteins) in their bodies to minimize freezing damage during cold winter periods. Insects most often use sugars or polyols as cryoprotectants. Arctic frogs use glucose, but Arctic salamanders create glycerol in their livers for use as cryoprotectant. Conventional cryoprotectants are glycols (alcohols containing at least two hydroxyl groups), such as ethylene glycol, propylene glycol and glycerol. Ethylene glycol is commonly used as automobile antifreeze and propylene glycol has been used to reduce ice formation in ice cream. Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) is also regarded as a conventional cryoprotectant. Glycerol and DMSO have been used for decades by cryobiologists to reduce ice formation in sperm and embryos that are cold-preserved in liquid nitrogen. Mixtures of cryoprotectants have less toxicity and are more effective than single-agent cryoprotectants. A mixture of formamide with DMSO, propylene glycol and a colloid was for many years the most effective of all artificially created cryoprotectants. Cryoprotectant mixtures have been used for vitrification, i.e. solidification without any crystal ice formation. Vitrification has important application in preserving embryos, biological tissues and organs for transplant. Vitrification is also used in cryonics in an effort to eliminate freezing damage. Some cryoprotectants function by lowering a solution’s or a material’s glass transition temperature. In this way, the cryprotectants prevent actual freezing, and the solution maintains some flexibility in a glassy phase. Many cryoprotectants also function by forming hydrogen bonds with biological molecules as water molecules are displaced. Hydrogen bonding in aqueous solutions is important for proper protein and DNA function. Thus, as the cryoprotectant replaces the water molecules, the biological material retains its native physiological structure (and function), although they are no longer immersed in an aqueous environment. This preservation strategy is most often observed in anhydrobiosis. Cryoprotectants are also used to preserve foods. These compounds are typically sugars that are inexpensive and do not pose any toxicity concerns. For example, many (raw) frozen chicken products contain a “solution” of water, sucrose and sodium phosphates.
  8. Body Implants and Prosthetics

           An implant is a medical device manufactured to replace a missing biological structure, support a damaged biological structure, or enhance an existing biological structure. Medical implants are man-made devices, in contrast to a transplant, which is a transplanted biomedical tissue. The surface of implants that contact the body might be made of a biomedical material such as titanium, silicone or apatite depending on what is the most functional. In some cases implants contain electronics e.g. artificial pacemaker and cochlear implants. Some implants are bioactive, such as subcutaneous drug delivery devices in the form of implantable pills or drug-eluting stents. An artificial limb is a type of prosthesis that replaces a missing extremity, such as arms or legs. The type of artificial limb used is determined largely by the extent of an amputation or loss and location of the missing extremity. Artificial limbs may be needed for a variety of reasons where a body part is either missing from the body or is too damaged to be repaired, including disease, accidents, and congenital defects. A congenital defect can create the need for an artificial limb when a person is born with a missing or damaged limb. Prosthetics are however not needed in the event of an accident where only the nerves were damaged and not the extremities. In this case, Functional Electrical Stimulators (FES) are used. Industrial, vehicular, and war related accidents are the leading cause of amputations in developing areas, such as large portions of Africa. In more developed areas, such as North America and Europe, disease is the leading cause of amputations. Cancer, infection and circulatory disease are the leading diseases that may lead to amputation.
  9. Personalized Medicine

    Personalized medicine is a medical model emphasizing the systematic use of information about an individual patient to select or optimize that patient’s preventative and therapeutic care. Personalized medicine can broadly be defined as products and services that leverage the science of genomics and proteomics (directly or indirectly) and capitalize on the trends toward wellness and consumerism to enable tailored approaches to prevention and care. Over the past century, medical care has centered on standards of care based on epidemiological studies of large cohorts. However, large cohort studies do not take into account the genetic variability of individuals within a population. Personalized medicine seeks to provide an objective basis for consideration of such individual differences. Traditionally, personalized medicine has been limited to the consideration of a patient’s family history, social circumstances, environment and behaviors in tailoring individual care. Advances in a number of molecular profiling technologies, including proteomic profiling, metabolomic analysis, and genetic testing, may allow for a greater degree of personalized medicine than is currently available. Information about a patient’s proteinaceous, genetic and metabolic profile could be used to tailor medical care to that individual’s needs. A key attribute of this medical model is the development of companion diagnostics, whereby molecular assays that measure levels of proteins, genes or specific mutations are used to provide a specific therapy for an individual’s condition by stratifying disease status, selecting the proper medication and tailoring dosages to that patient’s specific needs. Examples of successful personalized treatments exist in the field of oncology. Measurements of erbB2 and EGFR proteins in breast, lung and colorectal cancer patients are taken before selecting proper treatments. As the personalized medicine field advances, tissue-derived molecular information will be combined with an individual’s personal medical history, family history, and data from imaging, and other laboratory tests to develop more effective treatments for a wider variety of conditions.
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  10. Artificial Photosynthesis

           Artificial photosynthesis is a research field that attempts to replicate the natural process of photosynthesis, converting sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates and oxygen. Sometimes, splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen by using sunlight energy is also referred to as artificial photosynthesis. The actual process that allows half of the overall photosynthetic reaction to take place is photo-oxidation. This half-reaction is essential in separating water molecules because it releases hydrogen and oxygen ions. These ions are needed to reduce carbon dioxide into a fuel. However, the only known way this is possible is through an external catalyst, one that can react quickly as well as constantly absorb the sun’s photons. The general basis behind this theory is the creation of an “artificial plant” type fuel source.
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  11. In Vitro Meat

    In vitro meat, also known as cultured meat, is animal flesh that has never been part of a complete, living animal. (May turn out to be tasty, but something about this seems wrong). Several current research projects are growing in vitro meat experimentally, although no meat has yet been produced for public consumption. The first generation products will most likely be minced meat, and a long-term goal is to grow fully developed muscle tissue. Potentially, any animal’s muscle tissue could be grown through the in vitro process. A few scientists claim that this technology is ready for commercial use and simply needs a company to back it. Cultured meat is currently prohibitively expensive, but it is anticipated that the cost could be reduced to about twice as expensive as conventionally produced chicken. In vitro meat should not be confused with imitation meat, which is vegetarian food product produced from vegetable protein, usually from soy or gluten. The terms “synthetic meat” and “artificial meat” may refer to either. In vitro meat has also been described, somewhat derisively, as “laboratory-grown” meat.
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