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Biotechnology and Medicinal Biochemistry

Essay by   •  December 2, 2017  •  Research Paper  •  1,414 Words (6 Pages)  •  885 Views

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Topic: Biotechnology and medicinal biochemistry

Field: Life Science

Although it may seem like biotechnology is a faraway technology for the major part of the public. It has become a not so distant technology with a sharp rise in development over the past few years. Humans have been using concepts of biotechnology since 7000 BC when the Chinese discovered fermentation through beer making.1 And recently we have started to strongly depend on biotechnology. It is used to increase crop yield of food.2 This is done by directly applying biotechnology to the foods, increasing their resistance to insects, tolerance to herbicides and resistance to pathogens like viruses.3 These lead to less death of plants due to insects, herbicides and diseases. Biotechnology can also help clean oil spills through genetically modified organisms such has oil decomposing bacteria.4 This can help minimize deaths of aquatic organisms and damage to the aquatic ecosystem.

In this report, I am going to focus on a new development in the biotechnology field, CRISPR. I will give an introduction on what it is, talk about the development of CRISPR, current progress, obstacles and the implications it has on the future. I will also compare CRISPR to tradition Chinese medicinal therapy while combatting prevalent diseases such as malaria.

The timeline for biotechnology can be said to have started in 7000 BC but modern research can be said to have started in 1663 with the first recorded description of living cells by Robert Hooke which he published in his book, Micrographia.5 However, early development was very slow due to lack of technological advancements. The word “biotechnology” was first coined by Karoly Ereky in 1919.6 Later, in 1953 James Watson and Francis Crick describe the structure of DNA using experimental data collected by Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins which they received a Nobel prize for.7 This is one of the biggest step forwards as scientist later discover the importance of thorough knowledge of the DNA in gene editing which is a major part of biotechnology. This lead to a boom in biotechnological research, inspiring one of the greatest research, CRISPR. CRISPR is short for clustered regularly repeating short palindromic repeats. It is said to have been coined by Francisco Mojica in 1993 while he was studying the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis.8 The start can be said to have been 2005 when he reported that the sequences matched certain parts of the genome of bacteriophage. This then led him to hypothesis first and then discover CRISPR is an adaptive immune system. Also, around the same time, another group that had been working on CRISPR showed similar results.9 It was found that CRIPSR sequence together with the newly discovered Cas9 genes imparted phage resistance in the bacteria.10 In 2013, the CRISPR/Cas9 combination system had been harnessed to edit targeted genes in mouse cells.11 By 2015, CRISPER/Cas9 was used to edit tri-chromosomal genes in pre-implantation embryos.12 Although unsuccessful at the time this gives hope of CRISPER/Cas9 to one day treat down syndrome in babies by altering their genes. In 2016, approval was given for the first human trial of the technology to be used as cancer treatment therapy. CRIPSER/Cas9 will be used to edit the patient’s own T-cells to target the cancer cells and kill them.13

Now, most people in the studying CRISPR/Cas9 talk about how it can be used to edit the genes of the human embryo or its potential to treat diseases. One of the most violent diseases being malaria which has the most human casualty in history.

Malaria is caused by a parasitic plasmodium which is a mosquito-borne infectious disease. It is transferred between humans through the mosquito carrying the parasite. A mosquito bite transfers the parasite into human blood from the mosquito’s saliva.14 It then travels to human liver where it first matures then reproduces. It then travels around the circulatory system, further reproducing eventually leading to the death of the host.

In 2015, Tu Youyou was awarded half of the Nobel prize for medicine when she discovered a group of drug called artemisinin.15 Derivatives of artemisinin are now used against plasmodium falciparum malaria as a treatment.16 While Tu Youyou was researching for treatments related to malaria, she stumbled upon reading traditional Chinese herbal medicine texts. She took inspiration from Chinese medicinal herbs. As a result she was able to separate artemisinin from Artemisia annua which is a herb used in Chinese medicine.17 Although the derivatives can treat for P.falciparum, their high costs and poor bioavailability make them a not so attractive option.18

On the other hand, CRISPR/Cas9 technology can be used to engineer mosquitos resistant to the parasite that causes malaria and this could wipe out malaria completely. Enough mosquitos resistant to the parasite will have to be released into the wild with the dominant new resistant gene which is engineered to the CRISPR/Cas9 technology. This will result in a large proportion of the next generation of mosquitos also resistant to parasite that causes malaria. This seems like a permanent method of ending malaria. A method called ‘gene drive’ would ensure that the mosquito will pass on its resistant genes to all of its offspring not just half that occurs usually in a homozygous dominant and recessive paring.19 20 

As what can be seen, both medicinal biochemistry and biotechnology are making huge progresses in combating diseases such as malaria. While Chinese medicine looks less immoral to some as gene editing isn’t involved much, CRISPR/Cas9 seems to be a very efficient method in treating diseases. Some people maybe afraid that CRISPR/Cas9 is too close to playing like god and karma will get us but it is an important step forward in human evolution.

The current obstacles in the path of CRISPR/Cas9 technology are mostly ethical issues. Some people may argue it is not natural while other argue not preventing preventable disease like early down syndrome detection in embryos and instead opting for abortion is more unethical. Then again where does the line stop. Why just edit the genes not to have a trisomy? Why not increase the edit the genes to increase the intelligence of the child, the looks, the muscles? Why not create a superhuman? Before CRISPR/Cas9 is able to advance, proper regulations need to be put out and before that the global community must have a greater understanding on the topic and have more talks and debates on the ethical issues.

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