Happy New Year, 2014 !!
As we move on to the next year with hopes of unlimited possibilities, here is a look at the discoveries and innovations that shaped biotechnology in 2013. The list is subject to my preferences and, hence, should be expected to be biased. But, it is a peek into the future of life sciences. The list is in no particular order.
- G-quadruplex discovered in human cells
These involve folding of DNA in guanine-rich regions where 4 guanine nucleotides are held together with hydrogen bonds. Pyridostatin, which marks these quadruplexes, traps these in cancer cells. Shankar, who led the research, believes that trapping these quadruplexes might be an effective way to inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells.
- Microscopic biological factories assembled in hours
A quicker method developed at the Imperial College, London doesn’t require the cell to be re-engineered every time a synthetic biology part is made. It is now easier to develop vast libraries of reusable DNA components. These “factories” can be used to deliver drugs, produce biofuels or extract minerals.
- 3D printing an artificial ear
Cornell University researchers created a collagen mould using a 3D printer. A gel made from living cells was injected into the mould. The attached ear grew its own cartilage within 3 months.
- Human Connectome Project
The project aims at building a network map that will elaborate the anatomical and functional connectivity within the human brain. The data obtained will accelerate research into brain disorders like autism and schizophrenia. The study will also detail which neural pathways are critical for human behaviour.
It is a biological transistor, developed at Stanford, that contains enzymes known as integrases to control the movement of DNA polymerase as it travels over the DNA strand. Multiple transcriptors can be linked together to create logic gates. The transcriptor
is the third and the final component required for developing a biological computer.
- Skin cells to bone cells via 3D scaffolding
Researchers produced induced pluripotent stem cells from skin cells. These iPS cells were then used to create bone-forming cells which they placed on 3D scaffolds. Fully grown bone substitutes were developed which could be customized for the needs and immune profile of a patient.
- Non-synthetic genes cannot be patented
US Supreme court ruled against the patenting of human genes. The decision is likely to reduce the cost of genetic testing for health risks. The distinction between genes found naturally and those created synthetically may alter the business scenario of human genes.
- Mini brain and kidney
Miniature pea-sized brains were grown in lab that reached the same level of development as in normal foetus, but are incapable of thought. Though the mini brains can not be used fro testing drugs or studying communication among neurons, they are good tools for studying developmental brain disorders. In another study, Salk Institute researchers created mini human kidneys using stem cells. These kidneys are used to study development and diseases of kidneys.
- A 100% efficient vaccine against malaria
The vaccine is called PfSPZ because it is made up of sporozites of Plasmodium falcipurum which invoke an immune response against the weakened pathogen. The vaccine showed 100% efficiency in phase I safety trials. In another success in the fight against malaria, Keasling’s team at UC Berkley were able to engineer production of artemsinin precursor in yeast. It is much cheaper to produce the anti-malarial drug now.
- Scientists impart false memories into mice
Researchers were able to implant memories of experiences into mice brains, that were different from the environment the mice were subjected to. Also, the study shows the evolution and unreliability of memories. The brain cells conditioned in an environment when transplanted into mice in other environment generated the former experience in thee latter.
- Breath test to detect cancer
Chinese and Israeli researchers have come up with a test that analyzes the chemical signature of a patient’s exhaled breath and could help diagnose stomach cancer. It is less expensive and, obviously, non-invasive.