MadSci Network: Molecular Biology
Query:

Re: Bacteria in biotechnology

Date: Sun Nov 14 16:24:21 2004
Posted By: Erik von Stedingk, Biotech Sales Manager
Area of science: Molecular Biology
ID: 1096937678.Mb
Message:

Hi Andrew,

I think their most important role has been, and is, to make proteins and 
peptides we would have a hard time producing otherwise. Hereís an 
example: haemophiliacs are people who cannot stop bleeding if they get 
cut. To get the compound they lack in their blood one used to gather 
enormous amounts of blood plasma and extract the minute amounts of 
protein from it. Tons of plasma could be needed for a single shot of 
medicine. Huge plants were needed, the plasma used was obviously not 
available for the hospitals (who need it badly to treat people who have 
lost a lot of blood) and there was always a risk of the medicine getting 
contaminated by using plasma from sick people. This is an expensive, 
ineffective and potentially dangerous way of making the medicine. In come 
the genetically modified bacteria. You can grow them in tanks while they 
produce the human protein that you just extract from the tank. Now the 
medicine can be produced safely and cheaply in large amounts. This change 
in production has been made possible for many medicines. Another 
important example of this shift is insulin for people with diabetes. For 
this kind of application itís not so dangerous that the bacteria are 
genetically modified, as they never leave the tanks they are growing in.

A second important application is to use some bacteriaís special 
features. Here, if they are genetically modified, one would have to be 
careful that they do not spread. However, many times they donít need to 
be modified: just by using them in a new environment, they can do a lot 
of good. For exemple: oil-eating bacteria that munch on oil spills, 
bacteria that pick out heavy metals from sewers, bacteria spread on seeds 
that protect the growing plant from fungus attacks, or bacteria added to 
food to give them special qualities ( so called smart food).

There is one bacterial source for biotechnology that is maybe easily 
overlooked: when one harvests parts of processes that only some bacteria 
could do. The most impressive example is Thermofilus aquaticus that lives 
in very hot water. In order to do this it needs, of course, to handles 
all its life processes at very high temperatures. By using the enzyme it 
carries for duplicating DNA, a process that is now used in nearly all 
biochemical labs in the world was created: PCR, or Polymerase Chain 
Reaction! This is what allows the police to get information from a small 
drop of blood, or to look at the genes from a long-gone mammoth. The 
inventors got their Nobel Prize for their efforts in 1993.

As you see, bacteria are used in many ways in biotechnology.

Kind regards,

Erik



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