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The World Needs to Boost Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Initiatives

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“The rewards for biotechnology are tremendous -to solve disease, eliminate poverty, age gracefully. It sounds so much cooler than Facebook”, says George M. Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School.

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs)  are the leading cause of death worldwide. An estimated 17.9 million people died from CVDs in 2019.1 The heart is a unique organ that has the innate potential to grow additional blood vessels (angiogenesis). Scientists are exploiting the heart’s ability to remodel itself for the treatment of chronic angina due to coronary artery disease.

Angiogenic gene therapy that employs alferminogene tadenovec, Ad5FGF-4— a replication-deficient human adenovirus serotype 5—  that expresses human fibroblast growth factor-4 (FGF4), an angiogenic protein that enhances the formation of new blood vessels, thus improving reperfusion of ischemic myocardium.2

Biotechnology is the science of leveraging living organisms or their products for the welfare of humankind, while biomanufacturing is a type of biotechnology that employs biological systems to produce commercially important products. From promoting food and medicine production in the 19th century to the manipulation of genetic material and living tissues, these technologies have served humanity through top-notch innovations.

In this piece of writing we will look through the trailblazing advancements of biotechnology that are transforming our lives.

E-waste management

Electronic waste is one of the rising problems across the globe. With technological breakthroughs, electrical appliances have become an integral part of our lives. Their waste (the electronic apparatus that is deemed useless after the end of its life) poses significant health risks to humans and is detrimental to the environment.

Many upcycling technologies, including mechanical and chemical techniques, have been used, but environmentally and economically sound microbial technology is garnering global attention. Organic acids (e.g., citric, gluconic, oxalic, and malic acid) of microbial origin have been proven fruitful as chelating agents in the biohydrometallurgical process for extracting metals from disposed lithium-ion batteries.

A schematic illustrating e-waste management via biotechnological approaches [3]

According to a report, Aspergillus niger produced gluconic acid that has the potential to dissolve Li, Cu, Mn, Al, Ni, and Co. This biohydrometallurgical process holds immense promise for recovering metals from spent electronic devices as they contain up to 60 percent of metals and elements.4

Food Security

Population explosions, climate change, availability of arable lands and water crisis are undermining global food production and sustainability. Cell culture technologies such as animal cell culture (cultured meat), microbial cell culture (mycoprotein), and vegetable and fruit plant cell culture can minimize the use of arable land.

They also offer pathogens-free food, provide controlled production, and are geographically and seasonal independent. Moreover, animal cell culture does not hurt the sentiments of animal lovers, thus justifying its ethical grounds.

To meet the escalating demand for food supply, crop improvements such as photosynthetic efficiency, withstanding environmental stressors, and insect and herbicide resistance are being conducted to enhance yield using advanced plant breeding with marker-assisted selection (molecular breeding) and genetic modification. Molecular breeding uses DNA markers to reshape the genetic makeup of plants.5

“Agri-biotechnology…is one of the key forces to promote food security, social progress, and economic prosperity in the world.” – Hepeng Jia, Science Communicator, China.

The various techniques and tools for genetic engineering to acquire desirable traits in plants.
The various techniques and tools for genetic engineering to acquire desirable traits in plants.

Bioeconomy

A bio-economy is defined as “an economy where the basic building blocks for materials, chemicals, and energy are derived from renewable biological resources.” 6 This notion is meant to attain a net zero-carbon society.

The transition from fossil-based to bio-based products (circular economy) and energy is crucial from climate change, food security, health, industry restructuring, and energy security perspectives. It hinges on biomass carbon (i.e., any biodegradable organic sources) as the building block.

A study finds the use of coconut juice residues (CJRs) as the feedstock to produce bacterial cellulose, which could be acetylated to synthesize bio-cellulose acetate (bio-CA) membranes.

These membranes could then be harnessed to separate CO2 from biogas produced during bio-waste anaerobic breakdown, yielding biomethane (CH4), a renewable fuel, and CO2. This captured CO2 can be used for microalgae cultivation which bedsides fulfilling food and feed requirements, it can also be used for biofuels, cosmetics, fertilizers and health supplements.7

 Another pressing issue is burning crop residues that result in mounted air pollution levels, greenhouse gas emissions with a threat to public health, and a decline in organic matter in the soil. The conversion of crop residues to industrially sustainable products such as enzymes, biofuels, and soil additives, thereby contributing to the circular economy.8

 “Bioeconomy pathways can yield many benefits for health, livelihoods, climate and resilience. But we must carefully design, evaluate, and implement policies and technologies to achieve these benefits and minimize trade-offs”, Andrew Haines, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Medical Biotechnology

The World health system is witnessing a paradigm shift in prophylactics, diagnostics, and therapeutics thanks to novel approaches to biotechnology and biomanufacturing. Biologics such as monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) are proving their worth in treating autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, psoriasis, etc.

 Messenger RNA (mRNA) based vaccines are substituting conventional vaccine methods to fight infectious diseases and cancers due to their high efficacy, capacity for rapid development, and safe route of administration [9]. Gene silencing using interference RNA to target the mRNAs of disease-associated genes has therapeutic activities.10

Gene therapy to supplant malfunctioning genes and genetic engineering tools such as CRISPR-Cas9 are being utilized to combat hereditary diseases and mitigate antimicrobial resistance by knocking out resistance genes.

Genome sequencing techniques are applied to evaluate rare disorders, screen genetic abnormalities, to monitor emerging pathogens. Fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) is a persuasive technique for detecting specific DNA sequences, gene mapping and discovering oncogenes responsible for any type of cancer.11

Bioremediation

Given the worsening environmental pollution levels owing to human activities, biotechnological interventions to degrade pollutants such as hydrocarbons, heavy metals, agricultural wastes, nuclear waste, and plastics are groundbreaking.

Bioremediation refers to the use of living organisms such as bacteria, fungi, or their enzymes to degrade these noxious compounds. Scale-up fermentation to obtain microbial biomass and enzymes for bioremediation techniques can help reduce or eliminate recalcitrant polymers and xenobiotic compounds.

Schematic representation of different bioremediation techniques
Schematic representation of different bioremediation techniques

The potential of biotechnology and biomanufacturing can be harnessed to transform human health, improve food security and sustainability, secure our supply chains, and foster economies across the globe.

Discoveries of gene editing tools such as Crispr-Cas technologies help combat antimicrobial resistance by knocking out drug resistance genes, curing inheritable diseases that were hard to treat, and manipulating genes at early embryonic levels to acquire desirable characteristics.

Molecular typing methodologies have paced the diagnostics and therapeutics. Agricultural biotechnology can help mitigate climate change by covering crops and producing microbial enzymes that can draw excess atmospheric CO2. Genetically modified plants are tolerant to biotic and abiotic stressors.

Scale-up production of industrially important enzymes to help reduce pollution levels via bioremediation techniques. Bio-based economies are contributing to achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As we unravel new horizons of technologies such as artificial intelligence, it can lead to significant breakthroughs in biological sciences.

References

Also Read: Stem Cells— A Hallmark in the Treatment of Neurological Disorder

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