Biotechnology : Past, Present and Future
By: Lalji Singh
In our present day world,
personalized medicine, individual genomes on CD, drugs without side-effects,
organ replacement with biologically synthesized cells look to be some of the
important possibilities in the near future, given the revolutionary advances
being made in the field of Biotechnology. The knowledge of biotechnology goes
as far back as the beginning of human civilization and has been progressively
practiced ever since. Most pronounced activities involving the use of
biotechnology until the close of the Nineteenth Century were fermentation, curd
making, and brewing. In the Twentieth Century, the mankind witnessed the most
spectacular advances over the past millennium - elucidation of the mechanism of
heredity. This select knowledge allowed numerous manipulations for intelligent
breeding of plants and animals for survival in the competitive environment, for
betterment of the mankind.
Some of the important
milestones which have formed the bases for further advances in biotechnology in
the Twentieth Century include Mendelís theory of evolution in 1865, discovery
of chromosomes (1882), verification of Mendelís laws (1990), genetic mutations
(1927), transformation of one strain to another (1928), DNA-heredity material
(1944), X-ray diffraction data DNA (1952), discovery of the double-helical
structure of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick (1953), DNA-a double helix,
genetic engineering (1973), DNA Fingerprinting for identifying individuals
(1984), first physical map of human genome (1987), first cloning of a sheep
named Dolly (1997), the first genetically-engineered primate (2000), and
completion of the first sequence of the entire human genome (2000).
Human genome sequence
information would lead to discovery of new targets, which could be used for
discovering and designing of drugs. U.S. Food & Drug Administration has
approved 348 biomedicines so far and 370 are in development phase.
Among the new challenges, we
have the important task of finding out the functions of most of the genes.
There were 40,000 protein-coding genes and the functions of only 1,500 genes
were known so far. More than 98 per cent of DNA in human genome was non-coding
and the scientists regarded a major part of it as junk. The answer to puzzling
question that why are we so different from one another lies probably in the
non-coding DNA. Therefore, it is very important to understand functioning of
the remaining genes. It is much known today that the interaction of gene with
the environment makes people behave differently. It is environment that is
responsible for criminal tendency of a person.
We also know today that
identical twins behave differently in different environments. It is our
important experience that it is technology that drives science and not the
other way round. Technological breakthroughs hold answers for most of our
problems. The exploits of micro-array technology, proteomics, functional and
comparative genomics based on bioinformatics and structural biology such as
X-ray Crystallography and the Transgenic Gene Knock-out technology.
These facilities are available
at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology Hyderabad (CCMB), which are on
par with the international standards.
To make use of the knowledge in
these areas for drug discovery, there was a need to set up transgenic animal
models for human diseases. The imported animal models are very expensive. In
India, there are some institutes of science such as CCMB that have these models
and are being used by pharma companies for testing purposes. To ensure that
such facilities are adequately available in the country it is important to set
up Resource Centres which may be sponsored by the government or the private
sector and share them by networking. Individual companies could send their
proposals that could be screened by funding agencies. The selected proposals
could be provided grants and the Resource Centres asked to provide all
facilities for which payment might be made by the government from the grants.
One of the major developments
awaited in the near future is in the area of personalized medicine based on
individual genotype. At present, patients suffering from the same disease are
put on same medication. The current therapeutic approach elicits response from
some while others remain unresponsive, which is attributed to inherent
difference in their genetic make-up.
In some cases, the medicine
could be fatal. Therefore, the physician finds it important to know the
genotype before prescribing the medicine.
For a country like India with a
large section of the population facing economic challenge, such hi-tech
medicine would carry much significance if it could be made affordable to the
masses rather than to the affluent sections alone.
Advances in basic research in
plant and animal sciences would yield information about the genes that control
life processes. Advances in medicine would help understand the genetic control
of health and disease. Further progress in bioinformatics would result in the
creation of large databases, which would require complex software programming
for structural analysis and recognition of patterns.
There are immense possibilities
ahead in medicine and health, agriculture, food technology, industrial
technology that would tackle complex problems of human and animal diseases and
disorders, world food security, and, thus, redefine the human comfort.
Singh is the Director of Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology, Hyderabad.
article, reproduced from AIBA Newsletter, is based on a talk delivered by the
author at a meeting of the All India Biotech Association Ė Southern Chapter at