The year in biotechnology began with a landmark event. A decade after the first human genome was decoded at a cost of about $3 billion, the sequencing-machine company Illumina, of San Diego, introduced a new model, the Hyseq X-10, that can do it for around $1,000 per genome. The system, which costs $10 million and can decode 20,000 genomes a year, was snapped up by large research labs, startup firms like J. Craig Venter’s Human Longevity (which plans to sequence 40,000 people a year), and even by the British government (the U.K. is the first country with a national genome sequencing project).Francis de Souza, Illumina’s president, predicted that within two years the genomes of about 1.6 million people will have been sequenced. Cheap sequencing means a deluge of information and a new role for technology designed to handle and exploit “big data.” The search giant Google was the tech company most attuned to the trend, launching a scientific project to collect … [Read more...] about 2014 in Biomedicine: Rewriting DNA, Decoding the Brain, and a GMO Paradox
Gmo cancer study
Biologists often emphasize how little anyone really knows about the brain, the genome, and the mechanisms behind effective drugs. But this year their tune changed as diverse technologies–gene editing, stem cells, cloning, and DNA databases–coalesced into an immensely powerful toolkit for manipulating life. The message in 2015 seemed to be: “We can do anything.” The technology that stole the headlines was CRISPR, the versatile genetic scissors that make it easy to cut and edit DNA of living cells. For the year, the number of scientific publications involving the technique doubled to more than 1,200, as scientists use gene editing to engineer extra-muscular dogs, create mosquitoes that can’t spread malaria, and alter plants so easily that companies predict it’s just a matter of years before gene-edited foods hit our dinner plates.We can do these things, but should we? Social and ethical questions began dogging the CRISPR breakthrough early in the … [Read more...] about 2015 in Biomedicine: Baby Engineering, Spray-On GMOs, and Cancer Cures
Somewhere in Baltimore, volunteers are gulping capsules filled with GMOs—gene-modified E. coli bacteria, to be precise. Synlogic of Cambridge, Massachusetts, the company behind the unusual study, is testing what it calls “synthetic biotics,” or bacteria engineered to carry out specialized jobs in a person’s stomach.Inside the pills are E. coli engineered to sop up ammonia inside the gut of people who can’t get rid of it fast enough. The study signals how genetic engineers are hoping to harness the microbiome, as the trillions of microscopic organisms that dwell within you are known. The drug is designed to help people suffering from disorders of the “urea cycle.” That’s the metabolic flywheel inside your liver that gets rid of excess nitrogen. For people whose urea cycles are faulty, excess nitrogen turns into ammonia, just like what’s under your kitchen sink, and just as hazardous. Though the condition is rare, for some … [Read more...] about Gulp. These Volunteers Are Swallowing E. Coli Pills to Help Medicine
In February MIT Technology Review highlighted 10 breakthrough technologies poised to significantly change the world over the next few years. Here’s how they have progressed since then. Immune Engineering We predicted that 2016 would bring major progress on high-tech cancer cures enabled by using gene editing to tune the human immune system, and it did. First, American scientists got a green light to start using the gene-editing technique called CRISPR to customize T cells and turn them into cancer killers. That study turned out to have the backing of Internet billionaire Sean Parker, who in April had announced he’d give away $250 million toward “hacking” the immune system. By November, a Chinese company announced it had raced ahead and dosed a patient with the first T cells edited with CRISPR. Precise Gene Editing in Plants CRISPR gene editing isn’t only for cancer. The tool makes it easier to genetically modify crops, too. In 2016 U.S. … [Read more...] about 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2016: Where Are They Now?
Disease Research GMOs lead the fight against Zika, Ebola and the next unknown pandemicGMOs may very well have filled up that syringe. Syringe image via www.shutterstock.comJeff Bessen, Harvard UniversityThe shadow of the Zika virus hangs over the Rio Olympic Games, with visitors and even high-profile athletes citing worries about Zika as a reason to stay away (even if the risk is probably quite low). The public’s concerns are a striking example of the need to rapidly combat emerging infectious diseases.In the fight against Zika, public health experts have turned to what may sound like an unlikely ally: genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.Consumers are used to hearing about GMOs in food crops, but may be unaware of the vital role GMOs play in medicine. Most modern biomedical advances, especially the vaccines used to eradicate disease and protect against pandemics such as Zika, Ebola and the flu, rely on the same molecular biology tools that are used to create genetically … [Read more...] about GMOs Lead Fight Against Zika, Ebola, and the Next Unknown Epidemic