Biotechnology is the cutting edge of science research. What used to be the furthest reaches of science fiction is now everyday headlines! Scientists and researchers have created saltwater batteries, self repairing teeth, and can literally cut and paste genes in and out of DNA. Who knows what tomorrow can bring? Let’s take a look at some of the recent successes in biotechnology research.
CRISPR is not a friendly ghost, it’s a gene editing tool. Think of a reeeaaaallllyyyy tiny pair of scissors – CRISPR basically lets scientists cut and paste genes into, or out of, DNA. The implications for this are astounding. Identify the sequence associated with, say, webbed feet, and you can cut it out while a child is in utero. Voila! The child is born without webbed feet. Now imagine the implications for genetic predispositions to liver disease, cancer, hereditary diseases….and suddenly, the world is a very different place!
CRISPR started with research into yogurt (really!) but today is being used to fight cancer, modify crops for disease resistance, turning algae into a fuel source, and creating Zika-proof mosquitoes. That’s a wild list!
The ethical questions raised by CRISPR technology are many, and aren’t going away anytime soon – what was a dark idea to Aldous Huxley in Brave New World is now almost a reality. At the same time, it seems the only limit to what we can accomplish with this incredible biotechnology is our own imaginations.
Replacing 80% Of Someone’s Skin To Save Their Life
A seven year old Syrian refuge in Germany suffered from a debilitating skin disease called junctional epidermolysis bullosa. 80% of his skin was useless – as fragile as a butterfly’s wing. The condition was going to kill the child unless something drastic was done.
Indeed, something drastic WAS done. The doctors in Germany turned to an Italian researcher named Michele De Luca, the director of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia’s Center for Regenerative Medicine. De Luca took a small patch of healthy skin from the boy, and using a virus, injected it with a gene called LAMB3. (LAMB3 was the defective gene causing the condition.) Now with the genetic condition corrected, De Luca and his team grew sheets of skin over scaffolds in their lab – and the doctors in Germany surgically attached this new skin to the boy. Within months, he was walking, and today he is completely healthy.
Saltwater-Powered Soft Batteries, ala The Electric Eel
The electric eel inspired the first battery ever made – and now the hipster retro movement reaches the cutting edge of science, because scientists have returned to the eel as an inspiration to make soft, saltwater-powered, batteries. The batteries are actually sheets of gel, that when pressed together, let a current flow through them. There are plenty of problems to still work out, but the technology has the potential to create implants (like pacemakers) that can use the saline in the human body as an infinite power supply.
Teeth That Repair Their Own Cavities
Who likes going to the dentist? The drill, the pain…yet even when we brush and floss, there’s always a cavity somewhere or another. Until now – scientists have devised a way to amplify teeth’s ability to repair themselves. Scientists drilled holes into mice teeth, mimicking cavities. By utilizing drugs that interact with stem cells in dental pulp, the scientists got the teeth to repair themselves. The technology isn’t ready for humans just yet, but it probably will be in our lifetimes. Imagine that – no need for fillings!
Growing Human Organs In Laboratories
It might sound like Frankenstein, but scientists are actually growing human organs in laboratories:
- Researchers at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital are creating heart tissue using pluripotent stem cells
- Scientists at the University of Glasgow and University of West Scotland created a putty for bone grafts on broken bones made of bone marrow cells
- Scientists at the University of California took stem cells from children’s milk teeth and used them to grow neurons into organoids that are similar to brains. (This is serious science fiction stuff, except its not fiction!)
Proggio is used by many biotechnology companies to manage their clinical trials. There’s even a template for phase 1 clinical trials available!
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