11 July 2008

Other life sciences

Life sciences unite the most diverse branches of biology, biotechnology and medicine. In recent years, this has been one of the priorities of world science and economics. The choice of life sciences as a priority direction of development is explained by a number of reasons. These sciences are the basis for ensuring the primary needs of humanity.

First of all, this is healthcare. In order to take care of health, it is necessary to understand what is happening to a healthy person, and what happens in pathology. The life sciences are becoming especially important in conditions of increasing average life expectancy: the need to provide elderly members of society with a healthy and active old age poses new challenges to biology and medicine. Secondly, the growing population of the world and the growth of prosperity require the development of new ways to increase agricultural productivity, new plant varieties – not only more productive, but also with improved consumer properties. Thirdly, the increasing burden exerted by humanity on nature requires an increasingly in–depth study of ecology and taking measures to reduce this burden – for example, through methods of producing biofuels, biodegradable plastics, progressive methods of farming, reducing environmental pollution and bioremediation - restoring polluted or destroyed biocenoses.

The central link uniting the life sciences is biotechnology in the broadest sense of the term.

Priority of living systemsIdentification of personality and reliable diagnosis of diseases, cultivation of organs for humans and the creation of crops with a high content of vitamins, fats and proteins, new vaccines and medicines – these and many other technologies rightfully belong to the widest space called "living systems".

The creation of a developed economy in a post-industrial society is impossible without updating the technological structure and forms of scientific activity corresponding to the outgoing economic system. Therefore, one of the key tasks of our state is the formation of an effective and competitive sector of science and innovation. The main instrument of the state in the field of science and technology development is the federal target program "Research and development in priority areas of development of the scientific and technical complex of Russia for 2007-2012". Within the framework of this program, the state finances works corresponding to the selected scientific and scientific-technical state priorities, one of which is "Living Systems".

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Work on the priority direction "Living Systems" is also being carried out within the framework of the Federal target Program "Research and development in priority areas of development of the scientific and technological complex of Russia for 2007-2012". Within the framework of this direction, in 2008, the following critical technologies were developed, in particular:
– biomedical and veterinary technologies of life support and protection of humans and animals;
– biocatalytic, biosynthetic and biosensor technologies;
– genomic and postgenomic technologies for the creation of medicines;
– cellular technologies;
– bioengineering technologies.

The concept of "life sciences" has replaced the usual concept of "biological sciences" and has given a common name to all the sciences of life: zoology and genetics, botany and molecular biology, physiology and biochemistry, ecology and medicine. Everyone who works in these fields deals with living systems, that is, with living organisms, be it a person or a flower, a virus or a bacterium. We can say that living systems are everything that reproduces, breathes, feeds, moves.

However, it's not just about changing the name. The term "living systems" is more active, more structured. It reflects a systematic approach to this interdisciplinary field of science and knowledge, in which biologists, chemists, physicists, and mathematicians work. In addition, the term "Living Systems" is very technological. It provides not only the knowledge and discovery of the principles of the organization of the living, but also the use of this knowledge in the form of new technologies. This approach offers different specialists to move together from a scientific idea to its practical implementation and use in the interests of people.

Identification of personality and reliable diagnosis of diseases, cultivation of organs for humans and the creation of crops with a high content of vitamins, fats and proteins, new vaccines and medicines – these and many other technologies rightfully belong to the widest space called "living systems". The research and development carried out in this area will fill our industry with high-tech technologies, improve the health and increase the safety of Russian citizens. That is why living systems is one of the main state priorities in the field of science and technology, actively supported with the help of federal targeted programs.

This collection will briefly introduce the reader to the concept of technological platforms and biotechnologies, as well as some of the developments of leading Russian research teams working in the priority direction of "Living Systems".

Help STRF.ru:Distribution of funding in the direction of "Living Systems" within the framework of the Federal Target Program in 2008 by regions (million rubles):

Far Eastern Federal District – 9 contracts, budget 116.5
PFD – 17 contracts, budget 140.1
NWFD – 32 contracts, budget 156.0
SFO – 34 contracts, budget 237.4
UFA – 1 contract, budget 50
CFD – 202 contracts, budget 2507.8
SFD – 4 contracts, budget 34.85

Knowledge as technologyIn the conversation about the development of fundamental and applied developments in the field of living systems, the concept of "technology" is increasingly encountered.

In the modern, post-industrial economy, technologies are understood as a set of documented knowledge for purposeful activity using technical means (for example, organizational technologies, consumption technologies, social technologies, political technologies). It should be noted that in a market economy, technology, as a kind of knowledge, is a commodity. The complex of knowledge denoted by this concept raises questions not only about what we do, but also how, and most importantly, why we do it.

When defining strategies for the development of the scientific and technical complex on a national scale, the concept of "technological platform" is used. There is no unambiguous definition of this term yet. Nevertheless, it is already obvious that this concept includes a set of knowledge, techniques, material and technical base and qualified personnel, which varies depending on external orders for scientific and technological work. The priority direction of "Living Systems" can be considered as a combination of several technological platforms.

Revealed secretsFrom living systems we draw technologies that are the norm of life for nature.

She uses them at the birth, development and death of any living organism. Moreover, at each level of the hierarchy of a living system – genetic, cellular, and organismic – its own set of technological solutions works.

Any living system begins with the main molecule of life, DNA, which stores and transmits hereditary information from generation to generation. DNA can be conditionally divided into semantic sections – genes. They send commands to synthesize certain proteins that form the signs of an organism and ensure its life. Scientists estimate the number of genes in humans at 20-25 thousand. If there are breakdowns in the genes, called mutations, a person develops severe diseases. The volume of the text "recorded" in the genome is identical to the file of the daily newspaper "Izvestia" for 30 years.

DNA lives and works in the cell. A living cell is perfection itself. She is able to turn useless substances into necessary ones, synthesize internal medicines for the body, building materials and much more. Every minute millions of chemical reactions take place in a living cell under the most ordinary conditions – in an aqueous environment, without high pressure and temperatures.

One cell lives by itself only in unicellular organisms – bacteria., most living systems are multicellular. The body of an adult contains an average of 10-14 cells. They are born, transformed, do their job and die. But at the same time they live in harmony and cooperation, building collective defense systems (immune system), adaptations (regulatory system) and others.

Step by step, we reveal the secrets of living systems and create biotechnologies based on this knowledge.

BiotechnologiesBiotechnologies can be defined as processes in which living systems or their components are used to produce substances or other living systems.

Living beings are a kind of "factories" that process raw materials (nutrients) into a wide variety of products necessary to maintain their life. And besides, these factories are able to reproduce, that is, to generate other very similar "factories".

Today we already know a lot about how the "workers" of living factories are arranged and function – the genome, cellular structures, proteins, the cells themselves and the organism as a whole.

Thanks to this knowledge, albeit incomplete, researchers have learned how to manipulate individual elements of living systems – genes (genomic technologies), cells (cellular technologies) – and create genetically modified living organisms with traits useful to us (genetic engineering). We are able to adapt natural "factories" to produce the product we need (industrial biotechnologies). And what's more, genetically modify these factories so that they synthesize what we need.

This is how we create biotechnologies, which will be discussed further. But before we introduce you to examples of technologies that have already been put at the service of man, a few words need to be said about an elegant solution that today helps scientists penetrate the secrets of life and learn the mechanisms of living systems. After all, the processes taking place in the cell are not visible, and scientific search requires technologies with which you can see and understand them. By the way, this solution is a biotechnology in itself.

Glowing proteinsTo find out how genes work, you need to see the result of their work, that is, proteins that are synthesized at their command.

How to see exactly the ones we are looking for? Scientists have found a method that makes proteins visible, glowing in ultraviolet light.

Such luminous proteins are found in nature, for example, in crustaceans and jellyfish. During World War II, the Japanese used powder from the "sea firefly" – a crustacean with a bivalve shell as a local light source. When it was soaked in water, it glowed brightly. Named from this sea firefly and jellyfish, O. Shimomura (Japan) at the end of the 50s of the twentieth century for the first time isolated luminous proteins. This was the beginning of the history of today's famous GFP – green fluorescent protein (green fluorescent protein). And in 2008 O. Shimomura, M. Chelfi and R. Tsien (USA) received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for fluorescent proteins. With the help of these proteins, a variety of living objects can be made to glow, from cellular structures to an entire animal. The fluorescent flashlight, which could be attached to the desired proteins by genetic manipulation, allowed us to see where and when this protein is synthesized, to which parts of the cell it is directed. It was a revolution in biology and medicine.

But red fluorescent proteins were first found in corals and other marine organisms by two Russian researchers – Mikhail Matz and Sergey Lukyanov. Now we have fluorescent proteins of all colors of the rainbow, and the scope of their application is very wide: from the cutting edge of biology and medicine, including oncology, and the detection of toxic and explosive substances to luminous aquarium fish.

Under the leadership of Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences S.Lukyanova (Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences) created the Russian biotechnological company "Eurogen", which supplies scientists around the world with multicolored fluorescent labels. Today, Eurogen is one of the leaders in the global market of fluorescent proteins for biological research.

Genetic identificationWe are all very different.

Appearance, character, abilities, susceptibility to drugs, rejection of a particular food – all this is set genetically. The uniqueness of the genome of each of us makes it a reliable tool for establishing identity. In essence, our genes are the same fingerprints, only of a different nature. The method of DNA identification was introduced into forensic practice by British researcher Alik Jeffreys in the 80s of the last century. Today, this is already a common and familiar procedure all over the world.

It is also used in Russia. However, we buy reagents for analysis abroad. A set of reagents for human DNA identification is being created at the Institute of General Genetics of the Russian Academy of Sciences under the leadership of Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences Nikolai Yankovsky. The appearance of such a domestic tool is very timely, since the law "On Genomic Registration", adopted by the State Duma of the Russian Federation on November 19, 2008, will come into force on January 1, 2009. The development of our scientists will not only allow us to abandon imports, but will also give criminologists a more advanced tool, which, unlike Western analogues, works with heavily destroyed DNA. And this is a frequent case in forensic medical examination.

With the help of this tool, another important social task will be solved – the creation of a bank of genetic data of violators of the law, thanks to which the detection of crimes will increase and the investigation time will be reduced. In the UK, the database of genetic data of people somehow connected with the criminal world already has several million people.

The DNA identification method is especially good for identifying people who died in wars, disasters and other circumstances. Today it is used in Russia. The most famous case is the identification of the remains of the last royal family. The final stage of this great work – the identification of the remains of the Emperor's son and daughter – was carried out by Professor Evgeny Rogaev, Head of the Genomics Department of the Institute of General Genetics of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Finally, another area of application of the DNA identification method is the establishment of paternity. Studies show that several percent of legal fathers are not biological. For a long time, paternity was established by a blood test of the child and the parent – the blood group, Rh factor were determined and the data were compared. However, this method was inherently unreliable, as researchers now understand, and gave many mistakes that turned into personal tragedies. The use of DNA identification has increased the accuracy of the analysis to almost 100%. Today, this technique for establishing paternity is also available in Russia.

Genetic diagnosisTo make a complete analysis of the genome of one person so far costs a lot of money – two million dollars.

However, in ten years, as technology improves, the price is projected to drop to thousands of dollars. But you don't have to describe all the genes. It is often enough to evaluate the work of only certain groups of genes that are critical for the occurrence of various ailments.

Genetic diagnostics requires special devices, miniature, fast and accurate. These devices are called biochips. The world's first patent for biochips for determining the structure of DNA belongs to Russia – the team of academician Andrey Mirzabekov from the V.A.Engelhardt Institute of Molecular Biology of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Then, at the end of the 80s of the last century, Mirzabekov's team developed the technology of micro-matrices. They were called biochips later.

Biological microchips are a small plate made of glass or plastic, on the surface of which there are many cells. In each of these wells there is a marker for a particular part of the genome that needs to be detected in the sample. If a patient's blood sample is dropped onto the biochip, then we can find out if there is what we are looking for in it – the corresponding hole will glow because of the fluorescent label.

Looking at the spent biochip, researchers can diagnose a predisposition to certain diseases, as well as detect dangerous viruses in the patient's blood, for example, tuberculosis or hepatitis C. After all, a virus is nothing more than a piece of foreign DNA in a protein shell. Thanks to the new technique, the duration of complex laboratory analyses of biological materials has been reduced from several weeks to one day.

Today, dozens of companies in Europe and the USA are developing biological microbiochips. However, Russian biochips successfully withstand competition. One analysis using the Biochip-IMB test system costs only 500 rubles, while using a foreign analogue costs 200-500 dollars.

And the Institute of Molecular Biology of the Russian Academy of Sciences has started certification of biochips that detect varieties of hepatitis C virus in a patient. The market potential of the new technology is huge. After all, with the help of traditional analyses, in every third case it is not possible to find out which kind of virus the found virus belongs to. Now this problem is solved.

With the help of DNA diagnostics, it is possible not only to detect diseases and predisposition to them, but also to adjust the daily diet. For example, whether to include whole milk in it or not. The fact is that for many people whole milk causes nausea, diarrhea and general malaise. This is due to a lack of an enzyme that destroys milk sugar - lactose. It's because of him that troubles arise in the body. And the presence of the enzyme is genetically determined. According to genetic studies, from a third to half of adults in our country (depending on the region) are not able to digest whole milk. However, the school diet still prescribes a glass of milk a day for each child. With the help of a DNA diagnostic developed at the Institute of General Genetics of the Russian Academy of Sciences, it is easy to determine who can be recommended whole milk and who can not. The project "Preserving the health of healthy people", implemented by the RAS jointly with the administration of the Tambov region, is aimed at this.

Gene therapyGenetic diagnostics builds the foundation for the medicine of the future.

But medicine is not only a diagnosis, it is also a treatment. Can we correct defective genes in a living organism or replace them with full-fledged ones in those severe cases when traditional treatment is powerless? This is exactly the task that gene therapy sets itself.

The essence of gene therapy in words is simple: it is necessary either to "repair" a broken gene in the cells of those tissues and organs where it does not work, or to deliver a full-fledged gene to the patient's body, which we can synthesize in a test tube. Today, several methods of introducing new genes into cells have been developed. This includes the delivery of genes with the help of neutralized viruses, microinjection of genetic material into the cell nucleus, firing cells from a special cannon with the smallest gold particles that carry healthy genes on their surface, etc. So far, there have been very few successes in the field of practical gene therapy. However, there are bright and witty finds made, including in Russian laboratories.

One of these ideas, intended for the treatment of cancer, can be conditionally called a "Trojan horse". One of the genes of the herpes virus is injected into cancer cells. Until a certain time, this "Trojan horse" does not reveal itself. But it is worth introducing into the patient's body a medicine widely used for the treatment of herpes (ganciclovir), as the gene begins to work. As a result, an extremely toxic substance is formed in the cells, destroying the tumor from the inside. Another variant of cancer gene therapy is the delivery of genes to cancer cells that will trigger the synthesis of so–called "suicide" proteins that lead to the "suicide" of cancer cells.

The technology of gene delivery to cancer cells is being developed by a large team of scientists from the M.M.Shemyakin and Yu.A.Ovchinnikov Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Russian Cancer Research Center of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, the Institute of Molecular Genetics of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Gene Biology of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The work is led by Academician Evgeny Sverdlov. The main focus of the project is on the creation of drugs against lung cancer (first place in mortality) and esophageal cancer (seventh place). However, the created techniques and designs will be useful for fighting any type of cancer, of which there are more than a hundred. After the necessary clinical trials, if they are successful, the drugs will enter practice in 2012.

Cancer diagnosisA large number of research teams in Russia and around the world are working on the problem of cancer.

This is understandable: every year cancer harvests a slightly less deadly harvest than cardiovascular diseases. The task of scientists is to create technologies that allow detecting cancer at the earliest stages, and to destroy cancer cells with precision, without side effects for the body. Early and rapid diagnosis, when the analysis takes only a few hours, is extremely important for traditional cancer therapy. Doctors know that it is easier to nip the disease in the bud. Therefore, clinics all over the world need diagnostic technologies that meet these requirements. And here biotechnologies come to the aid of researchers.

A new approach to early and rapid cancer diagnosis was proposed for the first time in the world by Alexander Chetverin from the Institute of Protein of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The essence of the method is to identify in the blood those mRNA molecules that remove information from the corresponding parts of the genome and carry the command to synthesize cancer proteins. If such molecules are present in the patient's blood sample, then a diagnosis can be made: there is cancer. However, the problem is that there are very few of these molecules in the blood sample, and many others. How to find and discern those single instances that we need? This task was solved by a team of scientists led by A. Chetverin.

Researchers have learned how to multiply the desired, but invisible marker molecules of cancer cells using the so-called polymerase chain reaction (PCR).

As a result, whole molecular colonies grow out of one invisible molecule, which can already be seen in a microscope. If a patient's blood sample (say, one milliliter) contains at least one cancer cell and one marker molecule, then the incipient disease will be detected.

The analysis can be done in just a few hours, and it costs several thousand rubles. But if you use it en masse, for example, during an annual preventive medical examination, the price may drop to 300-500 rubles.

Cancer TreatmentIn the field of cancer treatment, there are also several new approaches based on biotechnology.

One of them is the use of specific antibodies as anticancer agents.

Antibodies are protein molecules produced by cells of the immune system. In fact, this is a chemical weapon that our body uses in the fight against all kinds of viruses, as well as with the degenerated cells of its own body – cancer. If the immune system itself cannot cope with cancer, then it can be helped.

Scientists from the Laboratory of Molecular Immunology (Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences) under the leadership of Corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences Sergey Deev are designing a new generation of antibodies that recognize the target and destroy it. This approach is based on the principle of the so-called "magic bullet", which always and unmistakably finds its victim. Antibodies are the best fit for this role. One part of their molecule serves as an "antenna" pointing at the target – the surface of a cancer cell. And various damaging agents can be attached to the tail of the antibody – toxins, organic molecules, radioactive isotopes. They have different effects, but all eventually kill the tumor.

Cancer cells can also be destroyed almost naturally. It is enough to start the mechanism of programmed cell death, a kind of suicide, provided by nature. Scientists call it apoptosis. The suicide mechanism is triggered by intracellular enzymes that destroy proteins inside the cell and DNA itself. Unfortunately, cancer cells are amazingly tenacious, because they are able to suppress their suicidal "moods". The problem is that there are very few of these enzymes in cancer cells, so it is difficult to start apoptosis.

However, this problem is also solvable. To trigger the suicide mechanism, Siberian scientists propose to open the membranes of cellular structures, for example, mitochondria. Then the cell will inevitably die. The Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, SSC "Vector" (Koltsovo village), Municipal Pulmonary Surgical Hospital (Novosibirsk), NPF "Medical Technologies" (Kurgan), Research Institute of Clinical and Experimental Immunology of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences (Novosibirsk) take part in this large project. Together, the researchers selected substances that can open the membranes of cellular structures, and developed a way to deliver these substances to a cancer cell.

VaccinesOur knowledge about the immune system of animals can be used not only for the treatment of cancer, but also for any infectious diseases.

We get immunity against most diseases "by inheritance", against others we acquire immunity by transferring the disease caused by a new infection. But immunity can also be trained – for example, with the help of vaccination.

The effectiveness of vaccination was first demonstrated more than 200 years ago by the physician Edward Jenner, who proved that a person who has had cowpox becomes immune to natural smallpox. Since then, many diseases have been brought under the control of doctors. Since the time of Pasteur, weakened or killed viruses have been used for vaccines. But this imposes restrictions: there are no guarantees that the vaccine is completely free of active viral particles, working with many of them requires great care, the shelf life of the vaccine depends on storage conditions.

These difficulties can be circumvented by using genetic engineering methods. With the help of them, you can develop individual components of bacteria and viruses, and then inject them to patients – the protective effect will be no worse than when using conventional vaccines. The first vaccines obtained with the help of genetic engineering were vaccines for animals – against foot-and-mouth disease, rabies, dysentery and other animal diseases. The first genetically engineered vaccine for humans was the hepatitis B vaccine.

Today, we can make vaccines for most infections – classical or genetically engineered. The main problem is connected with the plague of the twentieth century – AIDS. Vaccination is only in his favor. After all, it boosts the immune system, makes the body produce more immune cells. And the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS, lives and reproduces in these cells. In other words, we provide him with even more opportunities – new, healthy cells of the immune system for infection.

Research on the search for AIDS vaccines has a long history and is based on a discovery made back in the 70s of the last century by future academicians R.V.Petrov, V.A.Kabanov and R.M.Khaitov. Its essence lies in the fact that polyelectrolytes (charged polymer molecules soluble in water) interact with cells of the immune system and encourage the latter to intensively produce antibodies. And if, for example, one of the proteins that make up the envelope of the virus is attached to a polyelectrolyte molecule, then an immune response against this virus will be activated. Such a vaccine is fundamentally different in its mechanism of action from all vaccines that were previously created in the world.

Polyoxidonium has become the first in the world and so far the only polyelectrolyte that is allowed to be injected into the human body. Then the proteins of the influenza virus were "sewn" to the polymer. The result is the “Grippol” vaccine, which has been protecting millions of people in Russia from viral infection for almost 10 years.

According to the same method, an AIDS vaccine is being created today. A protein characteristic of the AIDS virus was associated with polyelectrolyte. The resulting vaccine was successfully tested on mice and rabbits. According to the results of preclinical tests, the Institute of Immunology of the Russian Academy of Sciences was granted permission to conduct clinical trials with the participation of volunteers. If all the stages of testing of the drug are successful, it can be used not only for the prevention of HIV infection, but also for the treatment of AIDS.

Medicines donated by biotechnologiesMedicines are still the main tool of medical practice.

However, the possibilities of the chemical industry, which produces the lion's share of medicines, are limited. The chemical synthesis of many substances is complex, and often impossible, as, for example, the synthesis of the vast majority of proteins. And here biotechnologies come to the rescue.

The production of medicines using microorganisms has a long history. The first antibiotic, penicillin, was isolated from mold in 1928, and its industrial production began in 1940. Following penicillin, other antibiotics were discovered and their mass production was established.

For a long time, many medicines based on human proteins could be obtained only in small quantities, their production was very expensive. Genetic engineering has given hope that the range of protein preparations and their number will increase dramatically. And these expectations were met. Several dozen biotechnologically obtained drugs have already entered medical practice. According to experts, the annual volume of the global market of medicines based on genetically engineered proteins is increasing by 15% and will amount to $18 billion by 2010.

The most striking example of the work of our biotechnologists in this field is genetically engineered human insulin, which is produced at the M.M.Shemyakin and Yu.A.Ovchinnikov Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Insulin, that is, a hormone of protein structure, regulates the decomposition of sugar in our body. It can be extracted from animals. That's what they did before. But even insulin from the pancreas of pigs – the animals closest to us biochemically – is still a little different from human.

Its activity in the human body is lower than the activity of human insulin. In addition, our immune system does not tolerate foreign proteins and rejects them with all its might. Therefore, the injected pork insulin may disappear before it has time to have a therapeutic effect. The problem was solved by genetic engineering technology, which is used to produce human insulin today, including in Russia.

In addition to genetically engineered human insulin, the Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry named after M.M.Shemyakin and Yu.A.Ovchinnikov of the Russian Academy of Sciences, IBH RAS, together with the Hematology Research Center of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, created a technology for the production of proteins to combat massive blood loss. Human serum albumin and blood clotting factor are excellent means of "ambulance" and resuscitation, demanded by disaster medicine.

Genetically modified plantsOur knowledge in the field of genetics, replenished day by day, has allowed us to create not only genetic tests for the diagnosis of diseases and glowing proteins, vaccines and medicines, but also new organisms.

Today, there is hardly a person who has not heard of genetically modified, or transgenic, organisms (GMOs). These are plants or animals whose DNA contains externally introduced genes that give these organisms new, useful, from a human point of view, properties.

The GMO army is great. Among its ranks are useful microbes that work in biotechnological factories and produce a lot of useful substances for us, and agricultural crops with improved properties, and mammals that give more meat, more milk.

One of the most massive divisions of GMOs is, of course, plants. After all, from time immemorial they have served as food for humans, animal feed. From plants we get fibers for construction, substances for medicines and perfumes, raw materials for the chemical industry and energy, fire and heat.

We are still improving the quality of plants and breeding new varieties with the help of breeding. But this painstaking and time-consuming process requires a lot of time. Genetic engineering, which allowed us to insert useful genes into the plant genome, has raised breeding to a fundamentally new level.

The very first transgenic plant created a quarter of a century ago was tobacco, and now 160 transgenic crops are used on an industrial scale in the world. Among them are corn and soybeans, rice and rapeseed, cotton and flax, tomatoes and pumpkin, tobacco and beets, potatoes and cloves, and others.

At the Bioengineering Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences, headed by Academician K.G.Scriabin. Together with our Belarusian colleagues, we have created the first domestic genetically modified crop – the Elizaveta potato variety, resistant to the Colorado potato beetle.

The first genetically modified crops produced in the early 1980s were resistant to herbicides and insects. Today, with the help of genetic engineering, we get varieties containing more nutrients, resistant to bacteria and viruses, to drought and cold. In 1994, for the first time, a variety of tomatoes that are not susceptible to rotting was created. This variety appeared on the markets of genetically modified products in two years. Another transgenic product, Golden rice, has become widely known. In it, unlike ordinary rice, beta-carotene is formed – a precursor of vitamin A, absolutely necessary for the growth of the body. Golden rice partly solves the problem of proper nutrition of residents of those countries where rice is still the main dish in the diet. And this is at least two billion people.

Nutrition and productivity are not the only goals pursued by genetic engineers. It is possible to create such varieties of plants that will contain vaccines and medicines in their leaves and fruits. This is very valuable and convenient: vaccines from transgenic plants cannot be contaminated with dangerous animal viruses, and the plants themselves are easy to grow in large quantities. And finally, "edible" vaccines can be created on the basis of plants, when it is enough to eat a certain amount of some transgenic fruit or vegetable, for example, potatoes or bananas, for vaccination. For example, carrots containing substances that are involved in the formation of the body's immune response. Such plants are jointly created by scientists of two leading biological institutes in Siberia: Institute of Cytology and Genetics of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Chemical Biology and Fundamental Medicine SB RAS.

It is impossible not to say that society is wary of genetically modified plants (GMR). And in the scientific community itself, the discussion about the possible potential danger of GMR continues. Therefore, research is underway all over the world to assess the risks associated with the use of GMR – food, agrotechnical, environmental. So far , the World Health Organization states the following: "The experience gained over 10 years of commercial use of GM crops, analysis of the results of special studies show that to date there has not been a single proven case of toxicity or adverse effects of registered GM crops as food or feed sources in the world."

Since 1996, when commercial cultivation of GMR began, until 2007, the total area sown with transgenic plants increased from 1.7 million to 114 million hectares, which is about 9% of all arable land in the world. Moreover, 99% of this area is occupied by five crops: soybeans, cotton, rice, corn and rapeseed. In the total volume of their production, genetically modified varieties account for over 25%. The absolute leader in the use of GMR is the USA, in which already in 2002 75% of cotton and soybeans were transgenic. In Argentina, the share of transgenic soybeans was 99%, in Canada 65% of rapeseed was produced, and in China 51% of cotton. In 2007, 12 million farmers were engaged in the cultivation of GMR, of which 90% live in developing countries. In Russia, the industrial cultivation of GMR is prohibited by law.

Genetically modified animalsA similar strategy is used by genetic engineers to breed new breeds of animals.

In this case, the gene responsible for the manifestation of any valuable trait is injected into a fertilized egg, from which a new organism develops further. For example, if a set of animal genes is supplemented with the gene of a growth-stimulating hormone, then such animals will grow faster with less food consumed. At the exit – more cheap meat.

An animal can be a source not only of meat and milk, but also of medicinal substances contained in this milk. For example, the most valuable human proteins. We have already talked about some of them. Now this list can be supplemented by lactoferrin, a protein that protects newborn babies from dangerous microorganisms until their own immunity works.

A woman's body produces this substance with the first portions of breast milk. Unfortunately, not all mothers have milk, so human lactoferrin must be added to artificial feeding mixtures in order to preserve the health of newborns. If there is enough protective protein in the diet, then the mortality of artificial infants from various gastrointestinal infections can be reduced tenfold. This protein is in demand not only in the baby food industry, but also, for example, in the cosmetics industry.

The technology of goat milk production with human lactoferrin is being developed at the Institute of Gene Biology of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Scientific and Practical Center of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus for Animal Husbandry. This year, the first two transgenic baby goats were born. 25 million rubles were spent on the creation of each of them over several years of research. It remains to wait until they grow up, multiply and begin to give milk with valuable human protein.

Cellular EngineeringThere is another tempting area of biotechnology – cellular technologies.

Stem cells, fantastic in their abilities, live and work in the human body. They replace dead cells (for example, a red blood cell, a red blood cell, lives only 100 days), they heal our fractures and wounds, repair damaged tissues.

The existence of stem cells was predicted by Alexander Maximov, a Russian hematologist from St. Petersburg, back in 1909. Several decades later, his theoretical assumption was confirmed experimentally: stem cells were discovered and isolated. But the real boom began at the end of the twentieth century, when progress in the field of experimental technologies allowed us to see the potential of these cells.

So far, advances in medicine related to the use of stem cells are more than modest. We know how to isolate, store, multiply, and experiment with these cells. But we still don't fully understand the mechanism of their magical transformations, when a faceless stem cell turns into a blood or muscle tissue cell. We have not yet fully understood the chemical language in which the stem cell receives the order to transform. This ignorance creates risks from the use of stem cells and hinders their active introduction into medical practice. Nevertheless, there are successes in the treatment of non–healing fractures in the elderly, as well as in the rehabilitation treatment after heart attacks and heart surgery.

In Russia, a method of treating retinal burns by using human brain stem cells has been developed. If these cells are introduced into the eye, they will actively move to the burn area, be located in the outer and inner layers of the damaged retina and stimulate the healing of the burn. The method was developed by a research group of scientists from the Helmholtz Moscow Research Institute of Eye Diseases of the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation, the N.K.Koltsov Institute of Developmental Biology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Gene Biology of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Scientific Center of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Perinatology of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences.

While we are at the stage of accumulating knowledge about stem cells. The efforts of scientists are focused on research, on the creation of infrastructure, in particular, stem cell banks, the first of which in Russia was Gemabank. Organ cultivation, treatment of multiple sclerosis and neurodegenerative diseases are the future, although not so distant.

BioinformaticsThe amount of knowledge and information is growing like a snowball.

Learning the principles of functioning of living systems, we realize the incredible complexity of the structure of living matter, in which a variety of biochemical reactions are intricately intertwined with each other, and form intricate networks. It is possible to unravel this "web" of life only by using modern mathematical methods for modeling processes in living systems.

That is why a new direction has been born at the junction of biology and mathematics – bioinformatics, without which the work of biotechnologists is already unthinkable. Most of the bioinformatic methods, of course, work for medicine, namely, the search for new medicinal compounds. They can be searched for based on knowledge of the structure of the molecule that is responsible for the development of a particular disease. If such a molecule is blocked by some substance selected with high accuracy, then the course of the disease can be stopped. Bioinformatics makes it possible to detect a blocking molecule suitable for clinical use. If we know the target, say, the structure of a "disease-causing" protein, then with the help of computer programs we can simulate the chemical structure of a drug. This approach allows you to significantly save time and resources that are spent on sorting and testing tens of thousands of chemical compounds.

Among the leaders in the creation of medicines using bioinformatics in Russia is the company "Himrar". In search of potential anti-cancer drugs, she is engaged, in particular, in screening many thousands of chemical compounds. The Institute of Cytology and Genetics of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences is also among the strongest Russian research centers dealing with bioinformatics. Starting from the 60s of the twentieth century, a unique scientific school was formed in Novosibirsk Akademgorodok, which united biologists and mathematicians. The main area of work of Novosibirsk bioinformatics is the analysis of the interaction of proteins inside cells and the search for potential molecular targets for new drugs.

To understand the mechanism of development of a particular disease, it is important to know which genes out of thousands working in a diseased cell are really responsible for the disease. This is not an easy task at all complicated by the fact that genes, as a rule, do not work alone, but only in combination with other genes. But how to take into account the contribution of other genes to a particular disease? And here bioinformatics comes to the aid of physicians. Using mathematical algorithms, it is possible to build a map on which the intersections of the paths show the interactions of genes. Such maps reveal clusters of genes working in a diseased cell at different stages of the disease. This information is extremely important, for example, for choosing a cancer treatment strategy depending on the stage of the disease.

Industrial biotechnologiesMan has been using biotechnology since time immemorial.

People made cheese out of milk, fermented cabbage for the winter, prepared cheerful drinks from everything that was fermented. All these are classical microbiological processes in which the main driving force is a microorganism, the smallest living system.

Today, the range of tasks solved by biotechnologies has expanded enormously. We have already talked about the genetic diagnosis of diseases, new vaccines and medicines obtained with the help of biotechnologies, genetically modified organisms. However, life throws up other tasks. Giant chemical production facilities, where we get the substances necessary for the construction of a comfortable living environment (fibers, plastics, building materials and much more), no longer seem as attractive today as they did 60 years ago. They consume a lot of energy and resources (high pressures, temperatures, catalysts made of precious metals), they pollute the environment and occupy precious lands. Can the biotechnologists here offer a replacement?

Yes, they can. For example, genetically modified microorganisms that work as effective catalysts for industrial chemical processes. Such biocatalysts were created at the Institute of Genetics and Selection of Microorganisms, for example, for the dangerous and dirty stage of obtaining the toxic substance acryalamide. It is used to make a polymer polyacrylamide, used in water treatment, and in the manufacture of diapers, and for the manufacture of coated paper, and for many other purposes. The biocatalyst allows a chemical reaction to produce a monomer at room temperature, without the use of aggressive reagents and high pressure.

The biocatalyst was brought to industrial use in Russia by the efforts of the scientific team of Bioamide CJSC (Saratov) under the leadership of Sergei Voronin. The same team developed a biotechnology for the production of aspartic acid and created an import-substituting cardiological drug "Asparkam L". The drug has already entered the market in Russia and Belarus. The Russian drug is not only cheaper than imported analogues, but also, according to doctors, more effective. The fact is that "Asparkam L" contains only one optical isomer of acid, the one that has therapeutic effects. And the Western analogue, panangin, is based on a mixture of two optical isomers, L and D, the second of which simply serves as a ballast. The finding of the Bioamide team lies in the fact that they managed to separate these two difficult-to-separate isomers and put the process on an industrial basis.

It is possible that in the future giant chemical plants will disappear altogether, and instead there will be small safe workshops that do not harm the environment, where microorganisms will work, producing all the necessary intermediates for various industries. In addition, small green factories, whether they are microorganisms or plants, allow us to obtain useful substances that cannot be made in a chemical reactor. For example, the protein of spider silk. The frame threads of the fishing nets that the spider weaves for its victims are several times stronger than steel to break. It would seem that plant spiders in workshops and pull protein threads from them. But spiders don't live in the same jar – they will eat each other.

A beautiful solution was found by a team of scientists led by Doctor of Biological Sciences Vladimir Bogush (State Research Institute of Genetics and Selection of Microorganisms) and Doctor of Biological Sciences Eleonora Piruzyan (Institute of General Genetics of the Russian Academy of Sciences). First, the genes responsible for the synthesis of spider silk protein were isolated from the spider genome. Then these genes were embedded in yeast and tobacco cells. Both of them began to produce the protein we needed. As a result, the basis has been created for the production technology of a unique and almost natural structural material, lightweight and extremely durable, from which ropes, bulletproof vests and much more can be made.

There are other problems. For example, a huge amount of waste. Biotechnologies allow us to turn waste into income. By-products of agriculture, forestry and food industry can be converted into methane, biogas, suitable for heating and energy production. Or you can – in methanol and ethanol, the main components of biofuels.

Industrial applications of biotechnologies are actively engaged in at the Faculty of Chemistry of Lomonosov Moscow State University. It consists of several laboratories engaged in a variety of projects – from the creation of industrial biosensors to the production of enzymes for fine organic synthesis, from technologies for the disposal of industrial waste to the development of methods for producing biofuels.

Science, business, governmentThe successes achieved are the result of the combined efforts of biologists, chemists, physicians and other specialists working in the space of living systems.

The interrelation of different disciplines proved fruitful. Of course, biotechnologies are not a panacea for solving global problems, but a tool that promises great prospects if used correctly.

Today, the total volume of the biotechnology market in the world is 8 trillion dollars. Biotechnologies are also leading in terms of funding for research and development: in the United States alone, government agencies and private companies spend more than $ 30 billion annually for these purposes.

Investments in science and technology will ultimately bring economic benefits. But biotechnologies will not be able to solve complex medical or food problems by themselves. A favorable healthcare infrastructure and industrial structure should be created to guarantee access to new diagnostic techniques, vaccines and medicines, and plants with improved properties. An effective communication system between science and business is also extremely important here. Finally, an absolutely necessary condition for building an effective innovative sector of the economy is the interaction of scientific and commercial structures with the state.

Help STRF.ruIn 2008, 939 applications were submitted for the formation of a topic in the direction of "Living Systems" (for comparison: a total of 3180 under the program),

– 396 applications were submitted for the competition (1597 in total),
– 179 contests were held (731 in total)
– organizations of 23 departments took part in the competitions (36 in total), 17 of them won
– 179 contracts have been concluded (all731)
– 120 contracts continue to date (630 in total)
– 346 organizations (842 in total) sent applications for the formation of topics on live systems
– 254 organizations (806 in total) sent applications for the competition as the main ones
– 190 organizations (636 in total) sent applications for the competition as co-executors
– the average competition for lots in the direction of 2,212 (the average for the program is 2,185)
– the contract budget for 2008 amounted to 1041.2 million rubles (21.74% of the budget of the entire program)

Dynamics of growth and distribution of funding in the direction of living systems within the framework of the Federal Target Scientific and Technical Program of 2002-2006 and the Federal Target Program of 2007-2012:
2005 – 303 contracts, 1168.7 million rubles (100%)
2006 – 289 contracts, 1227.0 million rubles (105%)
2007 – 284 contracts, 2657.9 million rubles (227%)
2008 – 299 contracts, 3242.6 million rubles (277%)

The team of authors, STRF.ruPortal "Eternal youth" www.vechnayamolodost.ru


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