Biotechnology offers innovative solutions to problems in medicine, agriculture, manufacturing and the environment – yet raises numerous safety and national security questions.
Genome editing technology has already enabled researchers to produce hornless cattle and improve mustard green production through genome editing, while DNA recognition machinery is being adapted for cancer and pathogen treatment.
1. Gene Editing
Gene editing is an innovative technique used by scientists to modify the DNA sequences of living organisms, enabling them to remove disease-causing genes or add healthful ones.
Scientists can use genome editing to repair mutations that contribute to diseases like cystic fibrosis and cancer. The method employs enzymes such as CRISPR/Cas9 nucleases to target specific regions of DNA within cells.
Cas9, a type of bacterial immune system enzyme, cuts DNA where it’s needed. An attached guide RNA then recognizes its target sequence and attaches itself to Cas9. Once cut, this section is either deleted from DNA altogether or replaced with healthier code.
Globally, adult publics generally support scientific research into gene editing technology; however, they make distinctions regarding specific uses for it; for instance most people of various religious affiliations believe genetic engineering to alter intelligence would be an inappropriate use.
2. Gene Therapy
Gene therapy addresses the source of disease rather than just treating symptoms. A virus serves as a vector, carrying replacement or corrective genes into cells for production of functional proteins.
Voretigene neparvovec-rzyl was the first gene therapy treatment approved by the FDA in 2017 for treating an inherited retinal condition. This approach utilizes an AAV vector to deliver working copies of RPE65 gene into retinal cells where they produce proteins that convert light to electrical signals.
Scientists use both viral and nonviral delivery systems for genome editing, such as microinjection in vitro, direct injection into an embryo or zygote ex vivo, electroporation with mechanical deformation to temporarily create pores in cell membranes in order to deliver biomacromolecules, etc. Such techniques may be used to engineer bacteria to produce bioweapons, make spider silk that’s ultra strong yet ultra lightweight or reprogram cells so they’re resistant to antibiotics.
Biofuels are bio-based fuels derived from plant or algal material or animal waste that can be used to produce electricity, with increasing global energy demands and depleted fossil fuel stocks becoming ever more significant, biofuels have become an invaluable resource.
Current liquid biofuels such as ethanol from corn and biodiesel from oilseeds only utilize a fraction of their potential energy content, so “second-generation” processes for producing biofuels from cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin are being explored as a way to tap into more of it.
Biotechnology also provides tools for genetic engineering of plants to perform specific functions, including phytoremediation – whereby plants absorb pollutants in soil and remove them safely – this work helps conserve natural resources, enable animals to utilize nutrients more effectively in feed, decrease runoff into rivers and bays, as well as meet global food and land demand more effectively.
4. Tissue Engineering
Regenerative medicine entails using biological materials, engineering principles and synthetic material (which interacts with biological systems) to repair or reconstruct diseased or damaged tissue and organs. Regenerative therapies make use of all three elements simultaneously in order to regenerate healthy organs or restore functionality in diseased ones.
Scientists create artificial tissues by seeding cells onto scaffolds resembling tissues and then encouraging their proliferation on these artificial structures, leading to new tissue which serves the same biological purposes.
Bioengineered tissues have many uses, from replacing lost tissue in patients to helping screen medications. Researchers have created skin, cartilage and even an entire trachea in the lab! Bio-engineered tissues may also reduce animal testing requirements by using human-like tissues to test potential drugs’ toxicity levels.
Synthetic biology is an emerging field that utilizes chemical synthesis to rapidly produce catalogued DNA sequences and assemble them into genetically modified organisms (GMO). This technology enables scientists to design living systems without waiting for nature to provide their components.