I’m sure you have heard of the Biotechnology field before. It is the field in which living organisms are modified genetically in order to enhance them to make useful products. This has been used widely in the agriculture industry in the past decade with lots of controversy surrounding it. Maybe, you have heard of the Human Genome Project that was completed in April of 2003. It is when the first Human Genome was sequenced. This too is a part of the Biotechnology field and with the Human Genome Project being completed it brings to focus what I am talking to you about today.
Sequencing the Genome has begun the process of unlocking all the secrets hidden inside the most basic, essential part of us and understanding it is equivalent to understanding life. This development will lead us to uncovering the secrets behind all diseases and create a revolution in the medical industry which will lead to significantly extending our life expectancy. The Human Genome Project is a milestone in human history; its importance can be compared to the start of the industrial revolution or the creation of the atomic bomb; it’s that important.
The Human Genome Project has allowed us to process the very first Human Genome. The genome, if you don’t know, is the part of you that holds all of the directions to creating you. The Genome is most basically your entire DNA put out into a string of letters – you have over 3. 2 billion letters in your genome a combination of As, Cs, Gs, and Ts. These letters are in each of your cells and hold the information for what your body does. Synthetic Biology is field that has a lot of potential; just think about what is the most advanced technology in the world?
Well the word Technology means the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area. *** It is our genome if you think about it; the genome is a technology that is practically applied to create you! So the prospect of us creating life and modifying in a way that’s different than nature had evolved it for the production of useful applications is powerful. I recently watched a documentary in which there is a new hybrid animal called a spider-sheep . These spider-sheep are raised by Utah State University Professor Randy Lewis.
When introduced to the sheep, they locked perfectly normal. They only had one gene modified and that was taken from a silk-producing spider to produce a protein that caused the production of silk. This silk is very rare and only one type of spider in the world can produce it. The silk is valuable because it is one of the strongest substances known to man, stronger than man-made Kevlar and if you don’t know what that is it’s the material used for bulletproof vests. So it’s kind of a big deal to get this silk.
The problem is that farming the spiders is impossible because they are cannibalistic and so the area needed to grow a farm full of spiders is not viable. So the solution was to take the unique gene and place it in the sheep. (BBC – Horizon :Playing God [email protected]@@) When placed in the sheep everything is absolutely the same with the sheep. No, it doesn’t glow green in at night and it doesn’t have 8 legs (I’m sorry to have to break the news to you! ) It secretes an extra protein in its milk and the milk when it comes out still looks like ordinary sheep’s milk.
The protein is in the milk but, it needs to be taken to a lab and the other parts of the milk excluding the protein need to be separated. Then once that is done what’s left is the silk. It looks exactly like the spider’s silk. This silk can be used in medical applications “The silk could be used for eye sutures, as well as for certain facial injuries. There is even research on jaw repair, especially for veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan. ” (National Science Foundation 2010) They work very well. This is just a single example of how synthetic biology is being put into use.
The whole premise behind synthetic biology is to turn biology into an engineerable technology. “Synthetic biology is the engineering of biology: the synthesis of complex, biologically based (or inspired) systems, which display functions that do not exist in nature. This engineering perspective may be applied at all levels of the hierarchy of biological structures—from individual molecules to whole cells, tissues and organisms. In essence, synthetic biology will enable the design of ‘biological systems’ in a rational and systematic way. (@@@Synthetic Biology: Applying Engineering to Biology: Report of a NEST High Level Expert Group) This would mean that we could reengineer various living organisms to produce new beneficial traits. One of the uses as pointed out is transferring one gene to another animal. It is a simple process and creates a lot of new opportunities. Previously, unavailable materials start to become easier to produce and economically viable. Another aspect of synthetic biology is that organisms can be modified in order to maximize the potential it has of producing a substance.
So instead of only producing a little bit of the silk the sheep could with greater advances or more modification produce more silk in its milk. In another project headed by Chemical and Bioengineer Jay Keasling; he is putting into practice synthetic biology in an attempt to cure malaria. In the project Keasling is using yeast and modifying it with synthetic biology techniques to incorporate genes from 20 different organisms for the yeast to produce Artemisnin: an expensive drug that treats malaria.
The type of tools he employs is from the Metabolic engineering school of synthetic biology. With the use of synthetic biology the cost of this drug will become affordable for many more people. “The World Health Organization estimates that in 2010 malaria caused 216 million clinical episodes, and 655,000 deaths. ” (Source) (See Fig 1) Since these are mostly people from impoverished places in the world they cannot afford the medicine. With this advancement the cost of the drug will drop: millions of people will survive.
The economy of these poorer countries will also improve dramatically “In 2000 the World Health Organization estimated that eliminating this growth penalty in 1965 would have resulted in up to $100 billion added to sub Saharan Africa’s  GDP of $300 billion“(Carlson 98). (Fig 1) : Impact of Malaria Synthetic biology can have a significant impact on the overall health of the planet and now since we understand the genome of organisms better we are able to use more advanced techniques in synthetic biology. The invention of biobricks is a game changer in synthetic biology.
Biobricks allow for predictable traits to be produced by combining simple designed bio-machines together – A major step in making synthetic biology much easier to apply. How biobricks are described usually is by comparing them to Lego pieces. These bricks can stack upon each other to create new genetic traits from one organism to the next and easily inserting the gene machine into bacteria; it’s limited to bacteria at present. This is just emerging right now but, it is speeding up the process of discovering new uses of biology dramatically.
This progress is because of the consistency of biobricks; once a biological machine is made it is put in a registry that anyone can access and build their own machine from the schematic. You can find it at this at the Registry of Standard Biological Parts located at http://partsregistry. org/. The uses of this are fairly novel (Yes, you can make things glow but, it’s not because of radioactivity like you see in the movies! ) also the choices are still limited, but once a new part is discovered it is added to the registry.
There are emerging uses such as producing antivirus medicine in E-coli. Another use is giving the bacteria a gene which allows it to react with poisonous substances and it will change colors. This could be used as a detection system for use in water systems for early detection of toxic substances in our water. “Whereas existing assays had a sensitivity of 50 parts per billion (ppb), the team’s E. coli sensor could detect concentrations of arsenic as low as 5 ppb” (Church 212) These solutions were not produced by corporations or by government entities.
They were produced by university students for the iGEM completion for MIT. iGEM stands for International Genetically Engineered Machines. The competition is held each year at MIT it is growing each year: kids from around the world take part in it. Pharmaceutical companies are also starting to catch on or at least the scientists are. Synthetic biology prototypes for what may be possible in the future are really inspiring to read about. In an academic paper I had read I discovered that Synthetic Biology could be used as a way to discover new drugs.
Pharmaceutical biotechnology could benefit tremendously, for example the bacteria that detects toxins in water, instead imagine if that method was used as a way to detect molecules of pharmacological value. This is possible in theory and is being proposed as a new drug discovery method for the future! Not only, but a study shows that there is several ways in which current synthetic biology techniques could be applied for use in the pharmacy industry. There are three ways in which synthetic biology can help the pharmaceutical industry as stated by an article I had read, drug discovery, production, and optimization.
Drug discovery would allow the detection of there is the production of drugs using organisms – much the same way as the toxin detecting e-coli mentioned earlier. Production is another technique it is nothing new, it has been around since bacteria was modified in 1978 to produce in insulin but, with a greater understanding of the genome we are modifying for it to be possible to produce more advanced drugs in the bacteria. Third, Optimization is another technique in which modifying the organism to most efficiently produce the drugs we need.
The Production and Optimization were mentioned earlier in the example of Jay Keasling working on the drug to treat malaria. The ideal system would be a combination of all three techniques at the same time but, this is still a long ways away. All 3 of these techniques are in practice already today but the advances in all will allow for creating better solutions “Future work should use these parts to create systems for the simultaneous production, identification and optimization of new drugs[… ]A lot of work needs to be invested before such an approach will become the mainstream of drug development. (Neumann & Neumann) Personalized Medicine is another aspect that genomics is touching on. This field is opening up like never before. It is now being used as an umbrella term for many different fields: there is preventative medicine, predictive medicine, pharmacogenomics, pharmacogenomics and molecular medicine. I’m not going to go over them all in detail but all of them are in part affected tremendously by understanding the human genome. Based on the names you can probably get the gist of which each field does. It is a giant leap for us to be moving toward this personalized approach to medicine.
Personalized medicine is “A form of medicine that uses information about a person’s genes, proteins, and environment to prevent, diagnose, and treat disease. ” (National Cancer Institute 2013) At present our medical system is based on a Symptomatological approach to medicine. Doctors check to see if there are any signs of illness by using diagnostic tools, such as in vitro tests and imaging techniques this has been effective but the main problem is that until you are sick there is not much a doctor can do for you. Understanding the genome is opening up a different approach called personalized medicine.
The genome is the source of all traits contained within your body “These proteins determine, among other things, how the organism looks, how well its body metabolizes food or fights infection, and sometimes even how it behaves. ” (***Oak Ridge National Labratory) Inside the genome lies the code to who you are and each one of us is different. Certain genes are more vulnerable to diseases then others. By analyzing the genome then it is possible to see how likely we are to develop certain diseases in the future. This knowledge creates the ability to then work on preventing the diseases in the future.
This knowledge creates the ability to then work on preventing the diseases from developing by either developing a lifestyle to counter it. Some examples would be committing to an exercise plan or changing your diet when confronted with the aspect of being at risk for a life threatening disease or creating medicine in order to prevent the disease from ever cropping up. Then there is the ability to produce medicine on a more individual basis. At present pharmaceutical companies create generalized drugs in order to suit the wider population. This has worked to a great extent until now, but it has been reaching its age.
One of the most significant problems of the current healthcare system is how many side effects occur due to the generalized medicine just looking at deaths alone is an eyesore “Adverse Drug Reactions are one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in health care. The Institute of Medicine reported in January of 2000 that from 44,000 to 98,000 deaths occurs annually from medical errors. ” (Khon***) Examining the genome allows for a closer examination of both the cellular and molecular levels of people, this allows for a much greater understanding of the person that is being treated.
The truth of the matter is that humans are very complex. We have been simplifying our understanding and we can go much deeper to the cause of the health problems if we get a better understanding in how to best treat people and this will lead to longer live. The personalized approach to medicine is already here and it is continuing to grow with each passing year. Some applications that you could check out if you are interested are drug-dosing chips, The Warfarin Genetic test, and more advanced Breast Cancer Diagnosis and treatment.
In the couple years it is likely you will be able to going to the doctor’s office and you will also be getting your genome sequenced for you. This is because the cost of testing is dropping to more affordable prices each year. (See fig 2) The magic price for genome sequencing is thought to be $1000. This is because at $1000 it is thought to be the right price for many people to get their genome sequenced. (***find a source for this claim) This is the first step to getting a personalized approach to your medicine and it is coming quick!
It is however important to note that any new drug developments are still a while away “Most new drugs based on genome-based research are estimated to be at least 10 to 15 years away. According to biotechnology experts, it usually takes more than a decade for a company to conduct the kinds of clinical studies needed to receive approval from the Food and Drug Administration. ” ( National Human Genome Research Institute 2011) (Fig 2) Cancer is a genome based disease that personalized medicine is helping to treat. Cancer creates a mutation within the genome which causes the disease.
Gene-based therapies are allowing to target the cancer mutated cell rather than killing off entire cells like chemotherapy does. In the documentary I watched (Cracking the Genetic Code***) There was a case study of Tom Garpestad. He has melanoma which is known commonly as skin cancer. Melanoma has a mutation on the BRAF gene. This was discovered using DNA sequencing. A new gene based drug was developed to fight off the cancer and resulted in Tom feeling healthy enough to go back to work and live normally. You might not want to know this information but, it can sure save your life!
You can discover that you have a higher likelihood for cancer, or Alzheimer, heart disease and adjust your lifestyle in order to better deal with the reality of the matter. This had been done by looking at family history but now it can be done by getting your genome sequenced. A study done by the company says that there is a low likelihood of a patient negatively reacting to finding out that they were at high risk for ovarian and breast cancer due to Direct to Consumer DNA sequencing results. ” All but one of the 32 mutation-positive participants appreciated learning their BRCA mutation status. (Frankle et al **) The next 5 to 10 years will keep bringing more of the new approaches to medicine at that time we will begin to see more of a switch toward personalized medicine The darker side to this is that some individuals may find out that they have diseases that are devastating and they can’t do anything about it but as previously written about with he study from 23 and me most people don’t particularly mind the results There is also the point that insurance companies might get their hands on the results and try to not allow someone into their policy due to finding out that a person is a high risk person but, the government passed a law against this in May of 2008 calling it the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. The Human Genome Project may have been completed in 2003 but that was just the beginning and a turning point in the project. Since then the government agency (NIG and Genome. org ***) The project expanded the project to take care of how missions for the genome. The most notable of which is The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA).
According to NCI The overarching goal of TCGA is to comprehensively define the important genomic changes involved in cancer. This knowledge will advance our molecular understanding of the disease and improve our ability to diagnose, treat, and prevent it (National Cancer Institute***) According to studies it is still difficult to analyze some diseases such as cancer. In a study I had read about new devices and bioinformatics techniques are being worked out in order to understand cancer. This is could be used as an extension to what the Cancer Atlas project is doing. The Cancer Genome Atlas needs information about the cancer that it sequences. What the scientific community is doing is sharing this information on the web from one to another.
The information that is gathered by the scientists is biological data that is being gathered by microarray and put into computers to have the data analyzed by algorithms on a computer. This data as previously stated is then stored with scientists to better understand it. The article is really about how technology in Biotechnology, Bioinformatics (Computers), and Nanotechnology is converging and producing new ways to solve problems in diseases. Most notable in cancer because of the way cancer spreads for a long time it has made analyzing it very difficult, if not impossible but with the new technology and applications from the emerging technology it is finally becoming a viable solution. Optimization of biomarker panels via bioinformatics, quantitative molecular profiling and nanotechnology; for example, bioconjugated nanoparticle probes could be used to predict cancer behavior, clinical outcome and treatment response and thus could help to individualize or personalize therapy. ” (Phan et al 356) This brings me to the subject of the acceleration in speed that Biology and medicine are experiencing now. This speed of growth should be nothing surprising if you look at any chart of history since the industrial revolution at the rate of innovation and discovery has been increasing at an exponential rate. This same trend is also true in the computer industry.
Moore’s Law is widely known in the Computer Industry it is the prediction that the number of transistors on a chip will double about every 24 months. So what does this have to do with biology? Everything. The completion of the Human Genome Project could have never been possible without computers. In 1990 when the project began (**check the date) The Human Genome Project wasn’t even believed to be possible to complete by many scientists. Scientists doubted it would be completed but in 2003 – 3 years ahead of schedule new advances in computers and DNA sequencing allowed the project to finish ahead of schedule. These factors that all work together will bring about new solutions to the problems we have been dealing with for our entire existence.
All living things have been suffering from diseases for all years but, it seems that we may be getting to a state in our understanding of life where we will be able to cure all diseases and our life expectancy will increase significantly. If we look to the past 100 years it is obvious we have made huge progress in our life expectancy. Now we are moving from the age of scientific discovery to the age of scientific mastery what I mean by this is our society as a whole has been finding out about how things in the world and our universe have been working since science has gained acceptance. With every skill one must acquire information, understand it, explore it and then there is mastery. This is the age in which we do it. My belief is that most of our advancement in our knowledge of medicine will be coming from an understanding of genetics both of our own and other organism.
Then with computers we will be able to turn that understanding into better understanding by exploring the knowledge we have and mining the algorithms that are created and sharing the information with many scientists. As scientists explore and technology becomes more advanced new knowledge will emerge and applications for this knowledge will arise. The modifying of organisms has just begun. Let us go back to synthetic biology to show how this is interrelated. For example with bacterial, there have been experiments to create a whole new organism. This has been done by creating a genome in a computer then replacing the genome of blank bacteria with the genome produced by the computer.
So technically that bacteria’s parent is a computer. Another thing that modifying genes of rats have led to some interesting discoveries. We are able to create rats with better memory, with better strengthen and even a higher life expectancy. These advancements in the genes of the mouse in the future will be able to be tired on humans. This is inevitable. I do not know if this will be allowed by the government because some of the discoveries that science has found don’t mean that they will do that because it is considered unethical. Such as the example of human cloning. Dolly the sheep was cloned and soon after that human closing was outlawed by many governments.
This could happen with some of the uses that the new advancements may create for us. Nevertheless, the advancements from genomics are incredible and the ones that can be applied to the medical field are profound. These discoveries will continue to increase and evolve. In this paper I have gone over the topics in which genomics is applied to fields such as synthetic biology, personalized medicine, and have shown how they can be applied to better our health. The knowledge of genomics is still a very early field; the completion of the Human Genome Project was just 10 years ago. In that time we have made significant strides forward to apply the knowledge to medicine.
This paper has gone over a very small amount of these applications, I encourage you to go out and find more if you are interested. My research leads me to the belief that the study of the Human Genome will bring many beneficial results to medicine in the future. There is opposition to this belief; many believe that the social implications of the emerging technology are too great. I don’t know the future and I have realized over time that being worried about the implications of this technology is not worth it since I at heart am an optimist. In the end I see that neither side will fully win, arguments will spring up between each of the opposing sides.
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