03 December 2008

The first day of the Fifth Congress of the Society of Biotechnologists of Russia

Washes without soakingTatiana Zimina, "Science and Life"

The Fifth Congress of the Ovchinnikov Society of Biotechnologists of Russia has opened in Moscow.

The speakers who spoke on the first day of the congress mostly talked about the problems of the biotechnology industry, but there were optimists among them.

"We have practically no biotechnological industry today," said Academician Anatoly Miroshnikov, Chairman of the Pushchinsky Scientific Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences. And in confirmation of his words, he stated that 50% of our high-tech biotechnology is located at the M.M. Shemyakin and Y.A. Ovchinnikov Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IBH RAS), where the congress is taking place. It is in the IBH RAS, according to A. Miroshnikov, that insulin, hepatitis B vaccine, and growth hormones are produced. On the one hand, we have problems with personnel, the academician said, and on the other, who needs them? Where can they be in demand?

Anatoly Miroshnikov noted that everything is not so bad at the research level, but in order for their results to find industrial application, it is necessary to make the transition from the laboratory to production. This very transition is very difficult for us to overcome – literally, a dead zone where few people want to step. Therefore, the results of research, if they find their application, then abroad, from where they are already returning to us in the form of expensive technologies. At the same time, according to the head of the expertise department of the Rusnano State Corporation, Doctor of Chemical Sciences Sergey Kalyuzhny, among the applications for financing innovative projects received by the State Corporation, the share of the biotechnological direction is negligible. Among the 730 applications received since April 1, 2008, the most projects are in the field of electronics (17%), energy (17%), mechanical engineering (16%) and medicine (15%). Applications for biotechnology were among the "others".

The director of the Bioengineering Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Academician Konstantin Scriabin, in confirmation of the words that there are still "growth points" in biotechnological Russian science, spoke about some recent achievements. He noted that over the past five years there have been revolutionary changes in the methods used by biotechnological science, thanks to which the human genome, for example, can be deciphered in just two weeks. Moreover, the cost of genomic decoding has become thousands of times lower. Academician Scriabin reported that in 2007, 785 complete genomes of bacteria were deciphered, 50 – eukaryotes (organisms whose cells have a nucleus). What is it for?

The modern biotechnological industry is based on genome decoding. Scientists have learned not only to quickly "read" genomes, but also to "re-create genetic programs." One of the rapidly developing areas of biotechnology is the metabolic engineering of microorganisms. We are talking about organisms that produce certain necessary substances – industrial and medical enzymes, growth factors, viral antigens. All these substances are products of their metabolism.

The bacterium can be "forced" to produce another desired product. To do this, it is enough to "turn off" one of the genes. Such an approach, as explained by the director of the Bioengineering center, can be conditionally designated as "from structure to function". But the inverse problem is also solved: "from function to structure".

The same microorganism can become a factory of several products at once. For example, the study of the metabolism of E. coli has shown that it can be used to obtain different products, creating new genetic programs.

Thermophilic microorganisms have become an interesting object as a source of new enzymes. These are, first of all, archaea isolated from coastal marine hydrotherms and volcanic springs of the Kuril Islands, Kamchatka, and Western Siberia. The peculiarity of these organisms is growth and reproduction at high temperatures (for hyperthermophiles – up to 115 ° C). At the same time, they produce enzymes that are stable at high temperatures, which can be used in industry (production of washing powders, wastewater treatment, etc.), agriculture, medicine. Scientists decode the genomic structures of thermophilic microorganisms, identify the genes encoding new thermostable enzymes and clone them. These genes are the basis for constructing an artificial cell with "combined" genetic information, a kind of factory for the production of new enzymes.

For example, proteolytic enzymes produced by thermophilic archaea break down proteins, "work" at high temperatures (usually they act at temperatures no higher than 40 ° C) and are used in the production of modern washing powders.

"We have five or six hits that we need to develop, in which we are the first," said Academician Scriabin. But, he admitted, they are not in demand in Russia. Therefore, we conclude contracts with Western companies.

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