Post Mortem

Understanding biotechnology

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 7/7/2019 12:16:17 PM IST

 Biotechnology (Bio-meaning Life and Technology- Application, or harnessing of scientific processes for a specific purpose) refers to any technical process or practice that modifies or makes use of any living system or organism to be used for human purpose(s) with the intent to improve the quality of human life.  Biotechnology is a branch of study laid by the foundation of Genetic studies as well as Molecular Biology studies that can in turn be used to study an organism at the simplest level, so called the molecular level. All living organisms are made up of nucleic acids(DNA -Deoxyribonucleic acid or RNA- Ribonucleic acid) which are sequences of nucleotides (a nucleotide is a single structural unit comprised of a Nitrogen base linked to a 5 carbon sugar and Phosphate group). It is also important to note that the chemical and the structural properties of the nucleotides of every organism, ranging from the prokaryotic single celled (Bacteria and other microbes) to higher multicellular eukaryotes (plants and animals) are exactly the same. The structural ascendency of an organism from the smallest level can be explained as a set of nucleotides in tandem forms the nucleic acids (DNA and RNA); the sequences of DNA/RNA form a chromosome; a set of chromosomes with other cellular organelles constitute a cell; cells congregate together to form a tissue; tissues then form an organ; organs then gives rise to an organism.

There is a clear misconception about the concept of the term “Gene” in this world today. As opposed to the thought of a ‘gene’ as an alien substance that enters an organism through ingestion or exposure to it. Whereas, a gene is just a sequence of nucleotides which can simply bedescribed as a carrier of genetic information. The information can be converted into a working product through a 2 step change wherein the DNA/RNA undergoes a structural and functional change into mRNA (messenger RNA). The mRNA is then converted to amino acids. The amino acids are then linked together by peptide bonds to form a functional protein.Biotechnological approaches makes use of exploiting an organism in its molecular state (DNA, mRNA or proteins) as well as cellular state for human benefit.

Different types of Biotechnology can be classified based on the targeted nature. They are listed in brief below:

• Red biotechnology involves medical processes by making use of living organisms to produce new drugs, or using stem cells to regenerate damaged human tissues and perhaps re-grow entire organs. 

• White (also called gray) biotechnology involves industrial processes such as the production of new chemicals or the development of new fuels for vehicles. 

• Green biotechnology applies to agriculture and involves such processes as the development of pest-resistant grains or the accelerated evolution of disease-resistant animals. 

• Blue biotechnology, though it is rarely mentioned, encompasses processes in marine and aquatic environments, such as controlling the increase of harmful water-borne organisms.

Advances in the field of Biotechnology:

Healthcare: Recombinant DNA (rDNA) technology utilizes DNA molecules from two different species (a donor and a host) wherein one of the DNA moleculeis isolated and a part of the DNA which contains the useful gene (a transgene)is cloned into a suitable vector to be inserted into the host’s genome (A complete set of an organism’s DNA). This advancement has been used for a number of applications such as:

Diagnostics: rDNA technology has proved to be a powerful diagnostic procedure that is useful in both medicine and forensics. In medicine this technologyis used in counselling prospective parents to the likelihood of having a child with a particular disease as researchers look for specific DNA fragments that are located in close proximity to the gene that causes the disease of concern. In forensics, DNA fragments called variable number tandem repeats (VNTRs), which are highly variable between individuals, are utilized to produce a “DNA fingerprint.” This DNA fingerprint can be used to determine if blood or other body fluids left at the scene of a crime belongs to a suspect.

Gene therapy: Gene therapy is the process where a normal gene is introduced into an individual’s genome in order to repair a mutation that causes a genetic disease. When a normal gene is inserted into a mutant nucleus, it will most likely integrate into a chromosomal site different from the defective allele. Upon replacing the mutant gene by the normal gene, it is probable that the transformed cells will produce enough normal gene product for the entire body to be restored to the undiseased phenotype. In human gene therapy, this has been attempted only on somatic (body) cells for diseases such as cancer and severe combined immunodeficiency syndrome (SCIDS). Somatic cells cured by gene therapy may reverse the symptoms of a disease in the treated individual, but the modification is not heritable. Germinal gene therapy which utilizes the germ cells to place corrected cells inside the germ line will prove to be heritable as they will undergo meiosis and provide a normal gametic contribution to the next generation. However, germinal gene therapy has been achieved experimentally in animals but not in humans.

Protein manufacture: rDNA procedures have been used to convert bacteria into “factories” for the synthesis of foreign proteins. This technique is useful not only for preparing large amounts of protein for basic research but also for producing valuable proteins for medical use. For example, the genes for human proteins such as growth hormone, insulin, and blood-clotting factor can be commercially manufactured.

Marine Biotechnology: It is an emerging field focused on research and development of technological applications of living marine organisms as well as their derivatives and bioprocesses. The marine derived products have been utilized to several areas such as health, environment remediation, industrial processes,pharmaceuticals and also on food supply which are the areas of interest. Nowadays,more researchers are applying the tools of biotechnology to the discovery and production of marine natural products. The biotechnological processes that have been extensively exploited are the use of marine organisms as biological factories for Bio-processing and extraction of organic substances such as the production of enzymes, proteins,chitin, carotenoidsand biomass.

Crop improvement: There has been significant advances in the improvement of crops using biotechnological approaches which has brought about improvement of both quality and quantity of food crops. The recent advancements also helped in longer shelf life of the food produce by reducing their senescence activity as well as tolerance to herbicides, pesticides, biotic and abiotic stresses through rDNA technology. Micro-propagation through tissue culture of the food crops can be also carried out giving rise to a large number of progeny plants from a single explant (any part of the plant which is grown in a culture medium containing all the essential nutrients). Micro-propagation is also used to rescue the immature embryos of the crops which have been developed through genetic modifications or through conventional breeding approaches of distant related crop species. 

Industrial Biotechnology: Industrial biotechnology focuses on using micro-organism and cellular matter (enzyme) to make commercial based products like chemicals, textiles, bioenergy (biofuels or biogas), and to reduce impact of harmful wastes from industrial plant by treating them with biological mediums such as microbes.Industrial Biotechnology deals ininitiating new technologies using biotechnological applications to aid the discoveries of products which are useful for the mankind. The advancement in Industrial biotechnology revealed untapped knowledge in the areas of research such as Bioenergy as an alternative for fossil fuels, Biomaterials (biofilms and bioplastics) as an alternative to plastic use, Biodefence against biological weapons (BW), Bioremediation for the reclamation of land and water sources and nano-biotechnologies where nanoparticles are used as probes, sensors and delivery systems in a living organism which are few of the applications of Industrial Biotechnology.

Limasunep Longkumer, Assam Agricultural University, Jorhat

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