Tuesday, December 2, 2008

‘Genes-the little genii at work’ published in “BioQuest”, Kerala University Publication

A magic lamp, deep inside a dark chamber, the path leading to the mysterious lamp studded with costly fascinations and at the same time danger. Yes, Aladdin was lurking with danger. But he hardly knew that all these cascade of experiences and distractions whilst his lead towards the lamp would be negligible once the magic lamp is in his hands, atleast that was on the course of changing his life forever. Setting aside all the meshwork of cobwebs on his way, neglecting all the shiny distractions he finally reached the destination where he wanted to. AN OLD RUSTY LAMP! "What it would do to me?" such a thought may have twinkled in his mind. But his destiny from that moment onwards became a part and parcel of our modern folklores. A rub to the lamp' and lo a huge genie would appear to perform anything under the sun for his master. What a life? Everything done in seconds! Well this may be an extract from the fascinating Arabian nights which we as children used to read it with eyes wide open and adrenalin pumping out of excitement and interest. But have we ever thought that somewhere, something is indeed serving as a genie for mankind. Yes, a true genie, a genie which is mortal enough to stay till the concept called life is prevalent on this blue globe, a genie which is expected to do many, many wonders for the human race ahead. Well, in other words its high time that we honored the genie of life, the real genie at work-"A GENE"-the biological unit of hereditary and of course, the modern genetics.

Its indeed hard to believe that such an ultra-tiny unit embedded in the chromosome, is capable of carrying out or infact can be modified to carry out many amazing deeds for the welfare of homosapiens. But as we say it's always appropriate to believe what one see; for the marvels of gene the genie have already mesmerized the people around the world. Lavish exhibitions of genetic wonders are indeed in store for us; in the future too!

Yesteryears dreams are reality today. The tool of gene manipulation have opened up the avenue, the freedom, the capability to modify, splice, insert or even remove genes for the desirable virtues, mankind crave for. Today gene manipulation is like the rub on the magic lamp and our ultra tiny-gen(i)e would work wonders for us. The dramatic changes in the field of gene therapy, last few decades have successfully paved path for treating some of the genetic disorders, which otherwise would have granted miserable life to some. Gene therapy has moved from theoretical fantasy to potential applications. Presently gene therapy has been successful in treating single gene disorders, while still scientists are struggling like our good old Aladdin, to bring in more wonders from the genie. One of the first examples wherein gene performed its role amazingly as a genie was in the case of four year old girl Ashanthi Desilva in 1990. This little girl had severe combined immunodeficiency, a rare genetic disorder which made her lack healthy immune system. Scientists removed her white blood cells and with the magic tool of gene manipulation, inserted the missing gene into white blood cells. In due course our gen(i)e played its part and help her strengthen her immune system. Though it sounds lucid and fast, scientists are still struggling to introduce genes straight into human cells, focusing on diseases caused by single gene defects, such as cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, sickle cell anemia etc.

When life maroon on a lonely island, for a cancer patient, he must have felt many times, to have at least another chance to relish the existence on this wonderful planet. He must have fantasized the magic lamp and the genie, which can fulfill his wish. The modern day genie, our gene has successfully worked as T-killer cells to destroy the cancerous cells of metastatic melanoma at National Institute of Health, US, thus illuminating hopes in the soul of such patients. At another place, the power of gene technology, the magic lamp- proved successful in treating patients with myeloid system. With multidisciplinary approach and advances in technology and understanding; the field of gene therapy is progressing in leaps and bounds, turning hardcore fantasies to reality. Today gene therapy have effectively treated pulmonary hypertensions and reduced organ transplant rejections. Against neurological damage, gene therapy can work to replace lost cells, reduce damage, or strengthen the brain's natural defenses, say by "overexpressing" neurotrophins, which inhibit programmed cell death. In future "antisense" technology, in which a strand of RNA is programmed to attach to and neutralize a strand of messenger RNA responsible for switching on disease-causing proteins, will be true. Therapeutic cloning (embryo cloning) is the production of human embryos for use in research. The goal of this process is not to create cloned human beings, but rather to harvest stem cells that can be used to study human development and to treat disease. Stem cells are important to biomedical researchers because they can be used to generate virtually any type of specialized cell in the human body. Many researchers hope that one day stem cells can be used to serve as replacement cells to treat heart disease, Alzheimer's, cancer, and other diseases. A long way to go with the magic lamp, yet the hopes are high in air!
The successful completion of the Human Genome Project was one of the great moments in science. By revealing the genetic program code of many organisms, biomedical science has been transformed, endowing biologists with the ability to analyze whole genomes and giving hope of comprehending the complexity of entire organisms. Tomorrow's moms and dads, needless to say, will be seeking to produce perfect children. A recent article in the British Medical Journal discusses the prospect of designer babies as if it were inevitability. In this brave new world of genetically-engineered humans, concerned parents would ensure their offspring were free of such diseases as cancer and cystic fibrosis, and for good measure had blue eyes and could sing like Yesudas! Thanks to our genie we can today order for drugs, tailor-made to a person's genetic specifications. If we believe in the power of genie, routine gene scans will successfully predict patients' responses to any given number of biochemical interactions. The hit-and-miss technique of trying medication after medication - often with heartbreaking results - will be a thing of the past. The magic lamp, gene technology is eliminating the suffering and elevating the standards of living

Though gene therapy is at its infancy due to human ethical interventions, gene manipulation technology has revolutionized the field of biotechnology, harnessing the qualities we wanted, producing the products we require. Already the complete genome sequence of Arabidopsis is available and it is likely that the complete genome sequence of many more species would be revealed. Microarray technology allows the simultaneous monitoring of thousands of expressed genes and in this way specific genes, which are likely to be of value in a given environmental or biotic challenge situation, can be identified and then a process of screening can be mounted in a germplasm collection. The seed banks of the world contain lines that have many unique characteristics needed for successful crop production, resistance to stresses, resistance to diseases, to toxic minerals and so on, and already breeding efforts have used these resources in crop thanks to the power of genes-the genie. Any desirable character we wish to derive from plants and animals; today is possible, through the efforts of this technology. Enormous increase in agricultural yield, reduction in usage of pesticides, constructing plants that harbor all the qualities it should encompass, increasing herbicide tolerance, slow the ripening of fruit or alter the timing and duration of flower production. Studies on the molecular biology and genetics of B. thuringiensis and B. sphaericus over the past 10-15 years has led to attempts, and undoubtedly will lead to future attempts, at providing more effective insect pest control agents based on B. thuringiensis and B. sphaericus The exhaustive lists of these real fantasies are the handiworks of the genie.

The ever expanding population on earth coupled with non-availability of agricultural land is now taken care by our genie. In food production, gene technology offers a range of potential benefits, some of which are close to market and others that still require further development. The genie has worked on giving better tasting and more flavorsome foods that are produced all year round, such as tomatoes, avocados, bananas, mangoes and many other seasonal fruits. Foods that stays fresh for longer. Healthier cooking oils, such as soy, canola and corn oils, those are lower in 'bad' fats and higher in 'good' cholesterol-reducing fats. Higher levels of nutrients in fruits and vegetables, like vitamins necessary for good health and antioxidants for fighting diseases and cancer. Rice with improved nutritional qualities like increased levels of vitamin A, protein and iron may help reduce childhood blindness and anemia that are major complications from poor third world diets. Elimination of food allergies by removing specific genes is also possible.

The gene manipulation technology imprinted its excellence in increasing the productivity and efficiency of livestock. Clones of sheep, goat, and cow are now moving from the laboratory to the pastures. Genetic modification for better productivity of livestock, transgenic animals that are resistant to diseases and increasing the nutritional value of meat are possible now. One such example is of the first genetically modified cloned calves from Australia genetically engineered in 2002, which harbored an additional gene for increased milk production. Scientists are ordering the genie, with efficient and advanced tools of gene technology, to bring back to the present, animals that disappeared in the shadows of past. Indian cheetahs to huge dinosaurs are all planning a come back. Here combinations and permutations have no limitations. There are no boundaries or hurdles in experimenting fantasies that we want to see through our eyes. Yes our gene, the genie; today is making our dreams come true.

We share this earth with millions and millions of tiny life forms, the bacteria, fungus, yeasts, viruses and so on. These spectral multitudes of microscopic living forms are today the industrial units that day and night churn essential and expensive bioproducts for welfare of the society. Cloning human genes into bacteria today is a trivial, yet ever demanding field of science. Among the most powerful of those tools is the capacity to synthesize DNA molecules of any desired sequence and to put these sequences to use in microbes. This offers the exciting prospect of assembling the best "parts" from the vast diversity of
life to create organisms with new capabilities for many different purposes. Production of insulin, vitamins, hormones, vaccines from these microorganisms are possible today, thanks again to our, tiny genie- gene; placing itself anywhere, anyhow and laboring day and night to bring into light; the orders we give. Fruits and other edible sources of plants are constructed to harbor vaccines for deadly diseases. Microorganisms that are capable of degrading plastics to deadly toxic wastes have been created by gene technology, assisting human dream of clean and healthy planet. Microorganisms are now in the process of producing fuels to meet the demands of vanishing natural resources. Microbes fitted with sensors and cameras are at guard inside our body, regulating and monitoring our systems, for having a better way of life. The power our gen(i)e holds is unfathomable.

The story of Aladdin takes a twist when the magic lamp falls in the hands of the villain. The genie had no choice, but to take commands from the master, who holds the magic lamp. The same good old genie; now stalled the peaceful life for Aladdin. Likewise the masters who control the modern day genie, the gene, should utilize the magic lamp for the benefits of peaceful co-existence one earth. The same gene technology can be used to construct bacteria's harboring genes which can cause deadly infections and obliterate the harmony of nature. Biological warfare or bioterrorism emerged, leading to chaos and total collapse of merits that gene technology acquired till then. There have been reports that the United States Army has been developing weapons-grade anthrax spores at Dugway Proving Ground, a chemical and biological defense testing facility in Utah, since at least as early as 1992. Today, several countries have or are developing biological warfare programmes. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, more than ten countries are suspected to have continuing biological warfare programs, including Russia, Israel, China, Iran, Libya, Syria and North Korea. Biological warfare can also specifically target plants to destroy crops or defoliate vegetation. Negative implications of gene technology- the magic lamp, to command our genes- the genie, can create mayhem to the sheer existence on earth. Hence a serious thought on such possibilities should be made before it becomes too late.

Like the transformed life of Aladdin, who flourished under the all begetting shade of magic lamp and genie, we are basking under the glory of modern day magic lamp- gene technology and the power of our genie- the gene. While information technology revolutionizes only the manner in which, and the speed with which, we communicate with one another. Wait until we have seen the full results of the gene technology, for that would revolutionize our very being, our very existence, how we look, how we think, how we relate to one another. Gene technology is something that can change what is internal to us.It has really emasculated the long list of our scientific dreams!

This magic lamp; the gene technology is challenging God's work.

It can create life, which, we have hitherto come to believe, is the exclusive preserve of God Himself.

Hey, our gen(i)e is really great!

Who knows what Frankenstein might wish from the magic lamp of gene technology in the wake of manipulating our little genie-the gene?

The future is with the gene technology- the magic lamp of present and the answers are with the gene - our modern day genie!

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