10 January 2015

Genes, cells and biotechnologies: lecture notes

Sergey Kiselyov delivered a lecture "Genes, cells and biotechnologies"

Sergey Kiselyov. Photo: Natasha Chetverikova/polit.ru

Abstracts of a lecture by Sergey Kiselyov, Chief Researcher and Head of the Epigenetics Department of the Institute of General Genetics of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Doctor of Biological Sciences, delivered within the framework of the Festival of Public Lectures #KNOW – a joint project of the information and analytical channel "Polit.ru" and the Department of Science, Industrial Policy and Entrepreneurship of Moscow.

1. One of the first technologies that were mastered by mankind were biotechnologies. Biotechnologies were primarily associated with the fact that it was necessary to preserve food for a long time. Therefore, wine is a biotechnological product; cheese, bread are all the first biotechnological products that humanity mastered and that appeared, grew and improved in parallel with the development of mankind.

Although biotechnologies originated with humanity, the fact that all organisms consist of cells has been established quite recently. In 1860, Rudolf Virchow's theory of the cellular structure of the organism appeared. Its essence is that all organisms consist of cells; that the cell is the fundamental functional unit of the organism, that "omnis cellula e cellula" - all living things consist of cells, cells originate from cells. In fact, it was a breakthrough big enough for that time, which made it possible to unite the entire living world into a single whole. And plants are from cells, and animals are from cells, and all come from cells. Further, the cellular theory developed, in order to develop it, certain technologies were needed.

2. It is impossible not to recognize the merit of Hans Spemann, a German scientist who was the first to apply and develop the technology of micromanipulations. He took the thinnest capillaries drawn from glass tubes, very thin, so that it allowed him to manipulate individual cells and even in some cases – with intracellular contents. He established the law by using his instruments to transfer a particular tissue from a developing organism to different parts, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1935 "For organizing effects in embryonic Development."

3. There are genes, gentlemen, which are called "transcription factors", and there are genes that perform some kind of "lower" function of the smallest pupa, the very last. Transcription factors are the most important genes, they are produced into proteins that bind directly to the DNA molecule and trigger the work of other genes. These transcription factors are very powerful. For example, the Pax-6 gene, which is responsible for the development of the eyes, was once discovered in drosophila. If this gene is killed, then drosophila will not have eyes.

4. DNA encodes genes. The genome is three gigabytes of information. They contain all the information about the capabilities of the cell. The genes in the old sense, which we talked about, are actually very few. But there is a lot of DNA, which, without being converted into protein, forms a phenotype. Genetic information is realized depending on external factors.

5. What is called "cloning" in the jargon of journalists is scientifically called "the transfer of the nucleus of a somatic cell into an enucleated egg." Using the genetic material of one individual and the cytoplasm of the egg of another individual, it was possible to obtain – let's say so – a "chimera" between these two individuals, where the genetic material would belong to the donor, and the egg cell of another individual would ensure the implementation of the program, the chemistry contained in the egg. Briggs and King began these experiments in 1952, in 1962 John Gurdon picked up this laurel branch that they carried, and it ended with the fact that in 2012 John Gurdon received the Nobel Prize (by that time Briggs and King were no longer there, and the Nobel Prize is awarded only to the living). This is a cloning technology, we don't even know which genes yet, but we know that there are genes in the nucleus. And we know that there is a cell with great possibilities – an egg. And by combining these two things, we have made cloning biotechnology.

6. If we are talking about reproductive cloning about horses and pigs, that is, we get a new individual, we do reproduction, then neither in the case of monkeys, nor in the case of humans, reproductive cloning is out of the question. And we are talking only about doing the whole manipulation of nuclear transfer, growing the embryo to a certain stage – when the first specialization of blastocyst stage cells occurs, and from this stage to get so-called embryonic stem cells. What is the meaning of embryonic stem cells, why is there a lot of noise around them? First, they are obtained from the internal cell mass of the human blastocyst. Normally, it is from these cells that the entire human body subsequently develops. Not from the outer cells, but from the cells of the inner cell mass.

7. Everyone dreams of cell therapy, cell therapy. Well, why not? If we have some mutant cells, the mutation is known - let's try to correct this mutation in the laboratory. After that, we send them to the cell type that suffers from a certain pathology, and transplant them to patients from whom we initially took skin samples. This stage is the most difficult. But, nevertheless, it is being done. It seems to me that this is what the Nobel Prize will be awarded for in the next 2-3 years.

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