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BIOTECHNOLOGY AND MEDICINE

About 200 years ago the life was very harsh and less than 2% people were able to live beyond the age of 65 years. With research, it became possible to control various diseases by using different antiseptics, vaccines, antibiotics, etc. Life expectancy over the last 150 years rapidly increased from 35 to almost 80 years. Today, the infectious diseases are no longer the main threat to life and only the chronic diseases, like cancer, cardiovascular diseases, etc. are dangerous and can be solved through genetic manipulation that has lead to the development of new strains with higher productivity and new medicines. New techniques of protoplast fusion and gene transfer technologies gave products, which resulted in the decrease in cost of production. Pharmaceutical drugs in the market are either synthetic chemicals or derived from biological sources. The various disease treatment agents are either obtained from:

a)      Non-recombinant organisms, e.g., antibiotics and vitamins from microorganisms, taxol (for the treatment of breast and ovarian cancers) from cell culture of Taxus, interferons from animal cell cultures, etc.

b)      Recombinant organisms, e.g., insulin, human growth hormone, interferons, blood clotting factor, etc. produced by genetically engineered microbial cells or cultured mammalian cells.

Antibiotics: are the antimicrobial compounds produced by living microorganisms to control infectious diseases and are extensively used in medicine since about 1945. The first antibiotic, penicillin which inactivates a wide range of bacteria, was discovered by Alexander Fleming (1928) and was produced by the fungus Penicillium notatum. This antibiotic was used for the treatment of deadly diseases, like pneumonia, tuberculosis, cholera, leprosy, etc., but today most of the pathogenic bacteria have developed resistance against this antibiotic.

Though, over 4,000 antibiotics have been isolated mostly from actinomycetes (e.g., Streptomyces) and mould fungi (e.g., Aspergillus, Penicillium), only 50 are widely used in fields, like:

(i) Human and veterinary medicine

(ii) In animal farming to increase the weight of livestock and poultry

(iii) To control plant diseases

(iv) As insecticides

(v) In food and feed preservation

Some antibiotics are broad spectrum and affect a wide range or microorganisms, e.g., chloramphenicol, tetracyclines, etc., whereas, others are narrow spectrum and effective against a few bacterial species, e.g., streptomycin, penicillin, etc.

Biopharmaceuticals: are the recombinant drugs, recombinant vaccines and monoclonal antibiotics developed through the techniques of molecular biology or genetic engineering. Earlier, they are derived from organs of cadavers and blood banks. But through genetic engineering, some of these scarce molecules can be obtained in unrestricted quantities. In this, the human-derived gene is inserted into a suitable microorganisms or mammalian cell culture, which produces the desired therapeutic protein identical to the normal human protein or with meaningful improvements. Moreover, in this method they are free from dangerous contaminants.

Certain human proteins of pharmaceutical potential, e.g., blood clotting factor, have been expressed in the lactating glands of some transgenic animals, like mouse, sheep, cow, pig. and the products are secreted in the milk from which they can be easily extracted and purified. This method of production of valuable products in the milk, blood or urine of the transgenic animals (equivalent to bioreactors) is called molecular farming, that is at the experimental stage and yet no commercial product is available in the market. This does not cause any adverse effect on the animals, All American company is producing human haemoglobin in the blood of transgenic pigs, which could serve as a human blood substitute that would be free from pathogen like AIDS virus.

Some of the important biopharmaceuticals are: