Biotechnology is a biological science applied in genetic engineering and recombinant DNA technology.
Organisms are structured by a vast diversity of organic compounds. The main substances are the proteins, because they generate the majority of the organic functions. The nucleic acids contain the set of instructions for the production of proteins and the other substances that generate the great variety of living beings.
These nucleic acids are Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) and Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) (see our Biology page). DNA is the genetic material of the cellular organisms. The RNA is used as genomic material by some classes of virus (e.g. retrovirus, as HIV).
DNA and RNA are the materials for biotechnological jobs, the modification of the genomes is the field of action of this biological domain and the generation of novel varieties beneficial for civilization and for nature is essential for its objective. There is no need to explain that those actions should be regulated by Bio-ethical rules.
Among many uses, Biotech (short term for biotechnology) is used in the manipulation of the genetic content of living organisms or their components, with the objective of improving food and fight against illnesses in vegetal, cattle and humans.
This page portrays only a small portion of the whole offered for this surprising science.
SOME REDESIGNED GENOMES
"Biologists have uncovered the mysteries of the life evolution. At present, scientists are capable to build new forms of life in quest of the beating of the biggest afflictions of the human race: Disease and Hunger."
Oryza sativa (Rice) against starvation - Rice is the food of first hand in poor countries. Coincidentally, in these countries the anemia and malnutrition are the greatest scourges of people, above all in small children, women and elderly. Xudong Ye, Salim Al-Babili, et al. reported that they have engineered rice that produces Iron and b-carotene (Science, Volume 287, Number 5451 Issue of 14 Jan 2000, pp. 241 - 243 ). This achievement will permit to feed succesfully to more than the half of the world human population in the nearby future. This new characteristic of rice was obtained by the inclusion of a daffodil gene in the rice genome.
Corn, bean, soya, and other plants that produce its own natural insecticide - At present, the transgenic plants have had a great success because they protect themselves against plague through the production of their own insecticides. The new gene was obtained from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), but some plants, as Chrysanthemum and Narcissus, also produce pyrethrin.
Fighting Pollution with Genetically Manipulated Plants - In the Science's issue of July 16, 1999, Anne Simon Moffat reported that Stephen H. Howell, Leon V. Koshian, et al. had achieved the maneuver on the genome of Arabidopsis to create varieties, which could prosper in soils contaminated by toxic industrial substances (Science, July 16, 1999; 285, No. 5426, pp. 369 - 370). The achieved mutants can grow in soils with concentrations of Aluminum four times over the concentration tolerated by the original plants. The gene that faces the contaminant heavy metals was found in the genome of a round worm, the Caenorhabditis elegans, from which the gene was substracted and then shot in the genome of Arabidopsis. It was also found in wheat and yeast. This mutation was induced also in Tobacco plants, yellow poplar and Canola.
Corn and Tobacco versus Infections - Thus it is as it reads. Some investigators have achieved mutant corn and plants of tobacco that produce human antibodies against the most frequent infectious illnesses.
Bacteria against Diabetes - Scientists have created bacteria with the gene that produces human insulin.
THE DECIPHERING OF HUMAN GENETIC CODE
Genome is the sum of chromosomes that each cell possesses. Genes compose each
chromosome, and the gene at the same time is a specific sequence of DNA.
The assembly of genes constitutes the genotype, whose expression is the phenotype.
The deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is a double helix built by units called nucleotides. A phosphate radical, a sugar called deoxyribose, and a nitrogenous base, form each nucleotide. The nitrogenous bases in DNA are Thymine, Adenine, Cytosine and Guanine. These nitrogenous bases match in a highly specific way: T-A and vice versa, and G-C and vice versa.
Deoxyribose and phosphate group act as a support for the nitrogenous bases and the nitrogenous bases are held, one facing the other, by Hydrogen bonds. It does that both sequences of nucleotides form a double helix, resembling a twisted stair, where phosphate groups and deoxyriboses would constitute the supports of the stair, and the nitrogenous bases the steps of it.
A specific sequence of nucleotides determines a phenotypic characteristic. It is the sequence of nucleotides in human chromosomes what was scrutinizing in the course of about 14 years through a project called Human Genome Project (HGP), and the scientists advocated to this searching have completed it. The identification of the sequences is important in all the aspects of the biological sciences:
Primarily, it will help us to determine the connections among the evolution of the human's genetic material and the genomes of other life forms; thus, we will be able to know in depth the phylogenies of Homo sapiens.
In second place, we will know the human genetic settings for the susceptibilities to illnesses, of such way that we will be able to manipulate the genomes for the prevention of diseases. We will be able also to recognize the genes for crime, and we will have the means to block them without damaging individuals.
Thirdly, we will recognize the origins of malformations and genetic syndromes in human embryos, and change the primary situation in the susceptible mothers, by means of genetic therapy, before they be pregnant.
Fourthly, we will be capable of knowing the genes of aging and the life span in humans, in such way that we will be capable of handling both phenomena to make longer the youthfulness and to stretch out the life of human beings.
Finally, knowing the genes for intelligence, it would be improved in each human so that it would be used in all its magnitude.
Besides of the Human Genome searching, many genomes of plants and animals have been unveiled. So that, we will be able to improve the genotypes of many species.
Transgenic crops started to be commercially introduced since 1995 in the United States.
Currently, 70 million acres of transgenic plants are being grown in the United States, and 98.6 million acres in the world.
At 1999, 45 million acres in the United States are sowed with genetically modified pest protected seeds (GMPP).
About 18 million acres are planted with GMPP cotton. Both corn and cotton contain Bacillus thuringiensis genes (Bt).
Source: Adkinson, Perry L., Genetically Modified Pest-Protected Plants, pp. xi-xiii, National Academy of Sciences, USA.
At this point, you should know about the world-shattering information on the deciphering of the Human Genome (HG). Many of us have written articles for newspapers referring the importance that this landmark has in applied science.
We have talked about the importance that the unveiling of HG has for biotechnology and for medical investigation, but few scientists have written
about the meaning it has for basic science, specifically in Evolution.
The analysis of the HG reveals things not seen before. The humanity has evolved through millions of years as any living being. We begun as an early bacterium,
from which we conserve some genes, then we evolved toward more complex organisms, as sponges, coelenterates, fish, amphibians, reptiles and finally mammalians, conserving the genetic remnants of those life forms attached to
our genome. All of this is found in the HG. We can say that we are built in part
by bacteria, in part by mushrooms, in part by jellyfish, in part by rodents, etc.
Humans have genetic information acquired from other species.
This is an irrefutable substantiation for evolution, and the final demonstration on
the falsehood of Creationism. With the deciphering of the HG, it has been shown that the intelligent creation -or intelligent planned evolution- has never existed.
However, this compels us to accept with humility that we are not better than the remainder of the species and that we are not the conclusion of evolution, but just one step toward other creatures more advanced than us. Human beings are merely in transit through a very extensive evolution process as other species.
Scientists no longer have to elude criticisms from creationists; therefore the maximum attestation of evolution is located in ourselves, in our genes.
Human Genome has been made little by little from the genomes of other species.
BIOCONFINEMENT OF GENETICALLY ENGINEERED ORGANISMS (GEOs)
The Genetically Engineered Organisms (GEOs) are those organisms which genotype (genome) has been modified by means of Genetic Manipulation (GM).
Since 20 years ago, big laboratories have been producing thousands of transgenic organisms by manipulating the genetic codes of virus, bacteria, fungus, plants and animals.
This activity has generated some potential risks:
Potential risk # 1. Displacement of feral native species. GEOs would generate an uneven competence as intra-specific (between individuals from the same species) as inter-specific (between organisms from different species) in which the transgenic organisms would have an enormous advantage upon the wild or feral individuals. This occurs because the transgenic organisms have been genetically prepared to tolerate adverse conditions that, in the natural way, equilibrate the feral (wild) populations.
It would occur thanks to horizontal transference of transgenes (engineered genetic material) and natural selection, extensively studied by the National Academy of Sciences and other international scientific organizations.
In the case of the horizontal transference of transgenes, the GEOs would act like donors of advantageous genes toward wild individuals, as from the same species, as from different varieties of the same species, as from different species, but belonging to the same Dominium, while the non transgenic feral individuals, so from the same species, as from different varieties from the same species, as from different species, but from the same Dominium, would act like passive receptors of improved transgenes. It would cause the disappearing so of varieties from the same species, as the varieties of other species belonging to the same Dominium.
This phenomenon has been well studied and scientifically demonstrated, above all in transgenic corn, transgenic tomatoes and some species of fish.
Potential risk # 2. Invasion of territories not considered as natural habitats for GEOs. In this case, GEOs would reduce the local biodiversity upon forming wild monoclonal populations (whole populations generated from a single genome) that would displace the wild local populations.
Potential risk # 3. The species of transgenic plants that have been modified to improve their resistance to drought, herbicides, soil aluminates and plagues could accelerate the impoverishment of the soil; therefore these transgenics present a better growth in a shorter time than non transgenic plants.
Plus, we have been considered that some GE bacteria that have been engineered for the elimination of soil pollutants would be able, of equal way, to reduce soil nutrients needed for the healthy development of plants, as wild as cultivated plants.
Potential risk # 4. In the case of transgenic animals, the most important risk is the potential elimination of biodiversity in a given region. The most important risk lies on some species of fish that have been genetically modified to increase their growth, to augment their resistance to cold environments and viral illnesses, and to execute a more efficient metabolism of glucose. This already has been observed in several species of Tilapia that, when they have been freed to their natural environment, they have substituted to the wild individuals.
LONG TERM THREAT- There is a reasonable scientific concern ahead transgenic diatoms (unicellular algae that constitutes a very important class of phytoplankton in marine and fresh-water biomes) because some species of these organisms have been genetically modified to survive without need of light by means of the insertion of a human gene involved in the metabolism of the sucrose inside the genome of the diatoms. If this gene would be transferred to other species of phytoplankton, plus into the genomes of more species of complex algas, the production of Oxygen would be dramatically affected because phytoplankton produces almost 80% of the Oxygen of the planet.
However, we should clear up that the replacement of all the aquatic photosynthetic organisms by transgenic species would happen in thousands of millions of years.
There are more risks, but the risks here mentioned could occur globally. By this means, it is indispensable to create an efficient protocol for the biological confinement of the transgenic species, to be applied internationally.
A technique of bioconfinement consists on the inclusion of one or more genes to the transgenic DNA, which would inhibit the combination of transgenes into the genomes of non transgenic organisms. This is named “Limited Transference of transgenes" (Transgenic DNA).
Another method of bioconfinement consists on impeding that the transgenic organisms be able to reproduce, whether by the introduction of a gene that blocks the maturation of germinal cells or through the introduction of genes that restrain the transgenic organisms to develop sexual organs (gonads).
A real problem arises with viruses, bacteria, fungus, algae and other unicellular organisms, precisely, because these organisms are used in genetic engineering to introduce segments of the new genome to the genome of non transgenic organisms. These microorganisms should be forcibly confined into the labs where they were created.
At any rate, transgenics from superior organisms have been already used for crop and has been scattered in nature, as by means of the horizontal genetic transference, as by means of human hands.