We all become aware of various types of trends based on all elements of life as a result of our interconnected environment. Some trends are peculiar, while others are amusing, and it appears that the esoteric world of science is no exception. With the COVID-19 craze still going strong, advancements in one field of research are getting more attention than others. This domain ‘integrates natural sciences with engineering sciences in order to produce technologies and products that draw inspiration from numerous biological systems existing in our environment for the greater good.’
As you may have guessed, we’re talking about Biotechnology, which isn’t a new branch of study, but the COVID-19 epidemic has brought the importance of this somewhat obscure realm of science to our attention. To emphasize the rapid rate of progress in Biotechnology, we’ve put up a list of the hottest trends and innovations for 2022.
Before we begin, we’d like to point out that, in order to provide you with the most accurate research, all “trends” are ranked on two scales: present relevance and worldwide investment. In addition, one recent innovation in each area is shown, because what good is a trend if it doesn’t foster innovation?
1. Precision Medicines
Precision medicines are one of the biotechnology megatrends, thanks to recently developed advanced tools like CRISPR gene editing and enhanced gene sequencing techniques. Precision medicines, as opposed to conventional medicines, allow for individualized treatment based on a person’s genetics. Furthermore, researchers can improve or generate future precision medicines by analyzing the influence of past precision medicines on highly specific gene pools, which aids in the development of newer precision medications.
In the year 2020, the pharmaceutical industry will have received a total investment of $200 billion USD for the research and development of new precision pharmaceuticals around the world.
Latest Innovation in Precision Medicine
Researchers at companies like Moderna, BioNtech, and Pfizer are aiming to apply mRNA technology to oncology, which means that mRNA-based cancer vaccines can be used to detect and eradicate tumor cells.
These tailored cancer vaccinations are created for each patient individually. To distinguish healthy cells from ill cells, the tumor and DNA of the patient are analyzed for mutations. Researchers can develop a very precise mRNA molecule to manufacture the vaccination using AI and machine learning. Once injected into the patient, the mRNA vaccine guides the cells to produce specific proteins that train the immune system to recognise and kill malignant cells. Personalized mRNA vaccines for cancer can be developed in the same time frame as the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines.
2. Artificial Intelligence and Big Data
Surprised!!? That is how a new subject of computer science might become a biotechnology trend.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) allows biotechnology businesses to automate a wide range of activities, allowing them to scale up their operations. For example, biopharmaceutical entrepreneurs use AI to speed up the drug discovery process, while researchers in domains like proteomics, genomics, and glycomics use AI to decipher the structures and sequencing of these varied sets of proteins.
The fact that humans alone have over 25,000 genes and 1,000,000 proteins is a prime example of Big Data’s existence in biology. Human minds will find it difficult to analyze and make good use of this unstructured data, therefore we will once again turn to AI to extract relevant combinations, models, and other information from this massive data set.
The global total corporate investment in AI reached over 68 billion dollars in 2020, and it is expected to reach 126 billion dollars by 2025.
Latest Innovation in Artificial Intelligence and Big Data
Converting data, mostly unstructured data into structured data is a lengthy and demanding process. Collection of technologies known as Intelligent Process Automation (IPA) have been developed by major tech companies to automate and immensely speed up this process with the help of AI.
The definition of biofuel in the dictionary is “any fuel obtained from biomass, such as plant or algal material or animal waste.” The presence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is increasing, which is a severe problem. In the year 2019, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere reached a new high of roughly 409 ppm (parts per million). Carbon dioxide emissions have also been steadily rising, with an annual increase of 12 billion tonnes of CO2 between 1990 and 2020. With ever-increasing energy demand and rapidly decreasing fossil fuel stocks, the development of efficient biofuels is a must.
Globally, 15.3 billion USD has been invested in research and development of better and more efficient biofuels in the previous five years (2015-2019).
Latest Innovation in Biofuels
Researchers at Columbia University, exploited a type of bacteria called N. europaea which uses energy released from reactions between Ammonia and Carbon Dioxide and makes liquid biofuels as byproducts inside of uniquely called Reverse Microbial Fuel Cells (R-MFC). Similar processes have been developed at Harvard University in which biofuels are made with the help of a different type of bacteria called Shewanella.
4. Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicines
Tissue engineering is a relatively new and emerging branch of biotechnology. The development of advanced techniques in bioprinting and microfluidics now allow formation of autologous tissue grafts for various purposes such as organ transplantation, treating burns and regenerative medicine. Furthemore, tissue engineering provides alternatives to surgical reconstruction, transplants and other medical devices that are used to repair damaged tissues.
Previously, tissue engineering was only limited to biomedical applications, plant tissue cultures, but now these days some companies have also started to engineer tissues on a small scale as an alternative to direct animal products such as laboratory meat and laboratory leather etc. However, this area is still in development and it needs to first reach a larger scale for products to be competitive in price with directly obtained animal based products.
Tissue engineering can be done by four types of biomaterials namely polymers, ceramics, metals and composites (blend of above three). The source of these materials can either be synthetic or natural.
The fusion of cells to biomaterials is called a ‘construct’ and is the foundation of current tissue engineering. Construct-based conventional tissue engineering platforms are required because :- 1) Cells need a solid base to grow and proliferate. 2) Tissues need a solid scaffold to keep desired shape. 3) The rigid and porous scaffold also serves as an inductive and instructive guide that signals for cell differentiation, migration and orientation in a specific manner. 4) The porous structure of a solid scaffold will allow cell seeding and vascularisation. 5) The initial solid and porous scaffold will later get replaced by natural structures through morphogenesis of parenchymal and stromal cells, inside and outside of the tissue construct.
The global market size for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine was estimated at 9.5 billion USD in 2019 alone and is expected to witness a compound annual growth rate of 18.5% between 2020 to 2027.
Latest Innovation in Tissue Engineering
Apligraf – a bilayered skin substitute – was the first allogeneic cell based therapy which received permission for sale as a treatment for venous leg ulcers.
Apligraf is constructed by growing human foreskin-derived neonatal fibroblasts (a type of stem cells) in a bovine type I collagen matrix over which human foreskin derived neonatal epidermal keratinocytes are then cultured and allowed to stratify. Still, Apligraf does not directly restore the skin, but transiently protects and provides injured skin with scaffold and signaling molecules (produced by the cells within the construct) which fosters and accelerates skin regeneration.
5. Food Biotechnology and Agriculture
Biotechnology offers a variety of options for improving food quality, such as nutritional content and shelf life, as well as raising agricultural production. These tools include genetic engineering, the use of microbes for specialized purposes, and the mass manufacture of enzymes for food manufacturing, such as catalase enzymes for mayonnaise, chymosin for cheese, and alpha amylase for baking.
The most publicized use of biotechnology in history of food biotechnology and agriculture is the development of Bt Corn and Bt Cotton respectively which are genetically modified species, they are exceptionally effective against certain insect species due to their ability to express a unique bacterial protein from Bacillus thuringiensis called as ‘Cry’, these proteins are toxic against certain pest insects but are harmless to mammals and birds. Since then, biotechnology has continually proven its prowess in improving food quality and agricultural yields.
Investment in Food Biotechnology raised 8.37 billion USD in 2020 alone and experts estimate that the market will remain headstrong in this evergreen industrial sector.
Latest Innovation in Food Biotechnology and Agriculture
Harnessing the biodegradable waste products from agriculture is always a top priority in the field of biofuels as we discussed above. Similarly, putting food waste to good use is another challenge. For instance, 6 to 8 million metric tons of shellfish waste is produced every year during the making of seafood. Scientists have found a good use for this waste by turning the chitin (a heteropolysaccharide) from shells of shellfish in chitosan, which serves as biodegradable plastic wrap that could be used in food packaging.
6. Honorable Mention – Biotechnology in mRNAVaccines
There are myriad types of vaccines that have been developed for various purposes and it’s no secret that all types of vaccine development uses tools present in the arsenal of biotechnology. Without delving deep into the application of biotechnology in each type of vaccine, we will just focus on the most recently developed, a new type of vaccine called ‘mRNA vaccine’.
mRNA vaccines consist of mRNA (messenger RNA), which is encoded by antigen genes of an infectious agent. When the mRNA from mRNA vaccine is administered into host cells, it will translate into protein antigens that will invoke protective immunity against the infectious agent. Vaccines based on mRNA allow quick responses against pandemic microbe strains as they are easy to mass produce.
One unique feature of mRNA vaccines is that they are able to induce cellular and humoral immunity equally. Also in comparison to DNA vaccines, mRNA vaccines offer stronger safety advantages because mRNA vaccines carry only the elements that are directly required for expression of the encoded proteins and rarely interact with the genome. Because any protein can be encoded and expressed by mRNA, mRNA vaccines offer maximum flexibility with respect to vaccine production, and principally enable the development of prophylactic and therapeutic vaccines fighting against infections and cancers.
Latest Innovation in mRNA Vaccines
mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, a precision medicine, is evidently also an latest example of mRNA vaccines.
Finally, the number of biotechnology applications is vast and inexhaustible. Biotechnology’s varied contributions appear to have an impact on and enhance every element of life. With these trends accelerating in the field of biotechnology, I hope I’ve persuaded you why biotechnology occupies the highest echelon in the auditorium of applied sciences, and how biotechnology sharpens and exploits every biological system on the planet, from bacteria to higher echelons of eukaryotes, to provide an endless stream of innovations that make life a little easier step by step.
Author: Priyesh Avasthi
College: Dr. B. Lal Institute of Biotechnology
Course: M.Sc. Microbiology, Semester – 1