Monday, March 26, 2012

Bio-Technology at a Glance

Biotechnology (sometimes shortened to "biotech") is a field of applied biology that involves the use of living organisms and bioprocesses in engineering, technology, medicine and other fields requiring bioproducts.

Biotechnology also utilizes these products for manufacturing purpose. Modern use of similar terms includes genetic engineering as well as cell and tissue culture technologies. The concept encompasses a wide range of procedures (and history) for modifying living organisms according to human purposes — going back to domestication of animals, cultivation of plants, and "improvements" to these through breeding programs that employ artificial selection and hybridization.

By comparison to biotechnology, bioengineering is generally thought of as a related field with its emphasis more on higher systems approaches (not necessarily altering or using biological materials directly) for interfacing with and utilizing living things. The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity defines biotechnology as:
"Any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use."

In other terms: "Application of scientific and technical advances in life science to develop commercial products" is biotechnology. Biotechnology draws on the pure biological sciences (genetics, microbiology, animal cell culture, molecular biology, biochemistry, embryology, cell biology) and in many instances is also dependent on knowledge and methods from outside the sphere of biology (chemical engineering, bioprocess engineering, information technology, biorobotics). Conversely, modern biological sciences (including even concepts such as molecular ecology) are intimately entwined and dependent on the methods developed through biotechnology and what is commonly thought of as the life sciences industry.

Biotechnology has applications in four major industrial areas, including health care (medical), crop production and agriculture, non food (industrial) uses of crops and other products (e.g. biodegradable plastics, vegetable oil, biofuels), and environmental uses.

For example, one application of biotechnology is the directed use of organisms for the manufacture of organic products (examples include beer and milk products). Another example is using naturally present bacteria by the mining industry in bioleaching. Biotechnology is also used to recycle, treat waste, cleanup sites contaminated by industrial activities (bioremediation), and also to produce biological weapons.
A series of derived terms have been coined to identify several branches of biotechnology; for example:

Bioinformatics is an interdisciplinary field which addresses biological problems using computational techniques, and makes the rapid organization and analysis of biological data possible. The field may also be referred to as computational biology, and can be defined as, "conceptualizing biology in terms of molecules and then applying informatics techniques to understand and organize the information associated with these molecules, on a large scale."Bioinformatics 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.

Blue biotechnology is a term that has been used to describe the marine and aquatic applications of biotechnology, but its use is relatively rare.

Green biotechnology is biotechnology applied to agricultural processes. An example would be the selection and domestication of plants via micropropagation. Another example is the designing of transgenic plants to grow under specific environments in the presence (or absence) of 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 ending the need of external application of pesticides. An example of this would be Bt corn. Whether or not green biotechnology products such as this are ultimately more environmentally friendly is a topic of considerable debate.

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

White biotechnology, also known as industrial biotechnology, is biotechnology applied to industrial processes. An example is the designing of an organism to produce a useful chemical. Another example is the using of enzymes as industrial catalysts to either produce valuable chemicals or destroy hazardous/polluting chemicals. White biotechnology tends to consume less in resources than traditional processes used to produce industrial goods.[citation needed]

The investment and economic output of all of these types of applied biotechnologies is termed as bioeconomy.

In medicine, modern biotechnology finds promising applications in such areas as
drug production
gene therapy
genetic testing (or genetic screening): techniques in molecular biology detect genetic diseases. To test the developing fetus for Down syndrome, Amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling can be used.

DNA microarray chip – some can do as many as a million blood tests at once
Main article: Pharmacogenomics

Pharmacogenomics is the study of how the genetic inheritance of an individual affects his/her body's response to drugs. It is a portmanteau derived from the words "pharmacology" and "genomics". It is hence the study of the relationship between pharmaceuticals and genetics. The vision of pharmacogenomics is to be able to design and produce drugs that are adapted to each person's genetic makeup.
Pharmacogenomics results in the following benefits:
Development of tailor-made medicines. Using pharmacogenomics, pharmaceutical companies can create drugs based on the proteins, enzymes and RNA molecules that are associated with specific genes and diseases. These tailor-made drugs promise not only to maximize therapeutic effects but also to decrease damage to nearby healthy cells.
More accurate methods of determining appropriate drug dosages. Knowing a patient's genetics will enable doctors to determine how well his/ her body can process and metabolize a medicine. This will maximize the value of the medicine and decrease the likelihood of overdose.
Improvements in the drug discovery and approval process. The discovery of potential therapies will be made easier using genome targets. Genes have been associated with numerous diseases and disorders. With modern biotechnology, these genes can be used as targets for the development of effective new therapies, which could significantly shorten the drug discovery process.
Better vaccines. Safer vaccines can be designed and produced by organisms transformed by means of genetic engineering. These vaccines will elicit the immune response without the attendant risks of infection. They will be inexpensive, stable, easy to store, and capable of being engineered to carry several strains of pathogen at once.

Pharmaceutical products
Computer-generated image of insulin hexamers highlighting the threefold symmetry, the zinc ions holding it together, and the histidine residues involved in zinc binding.

Most traditional pharmaceutical drugs are relatively simple molecules that have been found primarily through trial and error to treat the symptoms of a disease or illness.[citation needed] Biopharmaceuticals are large biological molecules such as proteins and these usually target the underlying mechanisms and pathways of a malady (but not always, as is the case with using insulin to treat type 1 diabetes mellitus, as that treatment merely addresses the symptoms of the disease, not the underlying cause which is autoimmunity); it is a relatively young industry. They can deal with targets in humans that may not be accessible with traditional medicines. A patient typically is dosed with a small molecule via a tablet while a large molecule is typically injected.

Small molecules are manufactured by chemistry but larger molecules are created by living cells such as those found in the human body: for example, bacteria cells, yeast cells, animal or plant cells.
Modern biotechnology is often associated with the use of genetically altered microorganisms such as E. coli or yeast for the production of substances like synthetic insulin or antibiotics. It can also refer to transgenic animals or transgenic plants, such as Bt corn. Genetically altered mammalian cells, such as Chinese Hamster Ovary cells (CHO), are also used to manufacture certain pharmaceuticals. Another promising new biotechnology application is the development of plant-made pharmaceuticals.

Biotechnology is also commonly associated with landmark breakthroughs in new medical therapies to treat hepatitis B, hepatitis C, cancers, arthritis, haemophilia, bone fractures, multiple sclerosis, and cardiovascular disorders. The biotechnology industry has also been instrumental in developing molecular diagnostic devices that can be used to define the target patient population for a given biopharmaceutical. Herceptin, for example, was the first drug approved for use with a matching diagnostic test and is used to treat breast cancer in women whose cancer cells express the protein HER2.

Modern biotechnology can be used to manufacture existing medicines relatively easily and cheaply. The first genetically engineered products were medicines designed to treat human diseases. To cite one example, in 1978 Genentech developed synthetic humanized insulin by joining its gene with a plasmid vector inserted into the bacterium Escherichia coli. Insulin, widely used for the treatment of diabetes, was previously extracted from the pancreas of abattoir animals (cattle and/or pigs). The resulting genetically engineered bacterium enabled the production of vast quantities of synthetic human insulin at relatively low cost.[9] According to a 2003 study undertaken by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) on the access to and availability of insulin in its member countries, synthetic 'human' insulin is considerably more expensive in most countries where both synthetic 'human' and animal insulin are commercially available: e.g. within European countries the average price of synthetic 'human' insulin was twice as high as the price of pork insulin.[10] Yet in its position statement, the IDF writes that "there is no overwhelming evidence to prefer one species of insulin over another" and "[modern, highly purified] animal insulins remain a perfectly acceptable alternative.[11]
Modern biotechnology has evolved, making it possible to produce more easily and relatively cheaply human growth hormone, clotting factors for hemophiliacs, fertility drugs, erythropoietin and other drugs.[12] Most drugs today are based on about 500 molecular targets. Genomic knowledge of the genes involved in diseases, disease pathways, and drug-response sites are expected to lead to the discovery of thousands more new targets.[12]

Genetic testing
Genetic testing involves the direct examination of the DNA molecule itself. A scientist scans a patient's DNA sample for mutated sequences.
There are two major types of gene tests. In the first type, a researcher may design short pieces of DNA ("probes") whose sequences are complementary to the mutated sequences. These probes will seek their complement among the base pairs of an individual's genome. If the mutated sequence is present in the patient's genome, the probe will bind to it and flag the mutation. In the second type, a researcher may conduct the gene test by comparing the sequence of DNA bases in a patient's gene to disease in healthy individuals or their progeny.

Genetic testing is now used for:
Carrier screening, or the identification of unaffected individuals who carry one copy of a gene for a disease that requires two copies for the disease to manifest;
Confirmational diagnosis of symptomatic individuals;
Determining sex;
Forensic/identity testing;
Newborn screening;
Prenatal diagnostic screening;
Presymptomatic testing for estimating the risk of developing adult-onset cancers;
Presymptomatic testing for predicting adult-onset disorders.
Some genetic tests are already available, although most of them are used in developed countries. The tests currently available can detect mutations associated with rare genetic disorders like cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, and Huntington's disease. Recently, tests have been developed to detect mutation for a handful of more complex conditions such as breast, ovarian, and colon cancers. However, gene tests may not detect every mutation associated with a particular condition because many are as yet undiscovered.