Biotechnology is defined as technologies which have their roots in biological systems. You get the inspiration for new technologies from the nature around you. After all, nature has spent years and years adapting and refining its systems to survive in this harsh world.
The field of biotechnology has moved fast over the last couple of years. In this article, we have collected a few of the technologies which you should look out for.
#1 CRISPR/Cas-9 Gene Editing
The CRISPR/Cas-9 system has revolutionized targeted genome editing. But what on earth is that?
Targeted genome editing is changing the DNA of an organism at a specific site. Once, mutations were introduced at random sites and the researchers more or less hoped to get it right. Now, researchers are able to define what exact part of the DNA is to be changed. And by using the CRISPR/Cas-9 system, the editing has also been made easier to use.
The technology, for instance, makes it possible to produce pharmaceuticals in microorganisms and provide model organism for cancer research. As of right now, it is also tested to be part of cancer treatment.
What if there was a technology which made it possible to run animal studies but without the animals? That is exactly what is made possible with Organ-On-A-Chip. The microchip can imitate different organs. Some of the organs which have been made on a chip are lungs, arteries and heart.
By using these chips, researchers can get an insight into how diseases work – without the ethical aspect of animal testing. Moreover, the microchips give the researchers a more stable “work environment” as they are identical. Everybody benefits from this!
A Human-On-A-Chip also exist, combining up to seven types of organs. This can be helpful in evaluating the effects of new drugs. This type of chip is currently being tested by FDA and might one day be part of the clinical trials for new drugs.
A biosensor is an analytical device, that can convert biological material into an electronic signal. The biological material can, for instance, be DNA, enzymes and microorganisms. Several types of biosensors exist and are used in food safety and medical field, among others.
Biosensors can be made to recognize pathogens in the sample and aid to the right diagnosis of a patient. The biosensor can also be programmed to sense toxins and assist in food safety, making sure that the commodities hitting the store are safe to eat.
Last year, a trial with a new biosensor surfaced. The biosensor was a small patch, which was able to measure the blood glucose levels. No pricking your finger, as diabetes patients are used to. Just a small patch to wear.
#4 Synthetic DNA to store data
The data of our society is growing at increasing speed. Long-term storage is needed for some of this data. Using the technologies which we know today, will require lots of space. But by using DNA as storage, space will not be an issue.
Researchers at European Bioinformation Institute have succeeded in creating DNA, which encoded five files, including 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets. The idea is to convert the binary code of the computer into nucleotide code, the code of DNA. The DNA is then created and stored in a freezer. When needed, the DNA is amplified and analyzed.
DNA has a higher data density, meaning you can store more data in less space compared to using flash drives. It is estimated that one kilogram of DNA can store all the data in the world!
However, it is time-consuming and expensive to store data this way at the moment. But the technology is evolving fast and at some point you might save your work in DNA and not on a flash drive.
#5 Liquid biopsies
When you hear the word biopsy, the first thing to come to mind is a large needle and excruciating pain. The way a biopsy is illustrated in movies is not for the fainthearted. But a new type of biopsies has emerged; liquid biopsies.
The liquid biopsy is based on a blood sample, which is easy and quick to get. The blood sample can then aid in diagnosis of different diseases, such as cancer. Tumors shed parts of themselves into the blood. It is these parts which can then be detected in the blood sample. This type of biopsy can lead to early detection of cancer. It can also assist in making sure the patient gets the best possible treatment.
The first liquid biopsy for cancer diagnosis has been approved by FDA. The liquid biopsy is able to detect mutations associated with non-small cell lung cancer. Researchers are evolving new liquid biopsies as of right now to expand the types of cancers to detect.
Biotechnology will move the field of medicine, agriculture and food production. It will and has to some extent already revolutionized research all over the world.
Researchers are not just working in the laboratory now. They also start up their own businesses, for the benefit of the society. We believe that the technologies which will have the largest impact are to be found among these technologies.
If you think we missed something, please leave a comment below.