When the first human genetic map was unveiled in the year
2000, the global collaborative project cost approximately $3 billion.
Two years ago, when the full genome of the iconic scientist, James
Watson was published in full, the project cost just a tenth or around
$300 million. Now there are companies in California offering to provide
an individual’s gene map for just about $1,000. And the
latest issue of Technology Review, from MIT, has predicted
that the individual genome map could soon be available for as little as
This is the progress biotechnology is making with the adoption of some
cutting edge technological tools. Many of these developments are
possible mainly due to advances on computer software, electronic
instrumentation, imaging, and host of other enabling technologies. So
this 6th Anniversary Special Issue of BioSpectrum has attempted to
highlight some of these enabling technologies without which biotech
would not be what it is today.
In fact sequencing technologies have enabled the mapping of human
genome and understanding of molecular mechanisms of life much better.
Gene sequencer as a technology has remained central to modern molecular
research. PCR emerged as the most revolutionary technique that
accelerated biotech research allowing detection of genetic mutations as
well as analyzing degraded DNA, among other things. Similarly DNA
microarray is a prime technology for the analysis of performance of
gene expression. Chromatography and mass spectrometry are the most
preferred techniques for routine bio analysis and are commonly used in
With the development and maturing of other technologies like the flow
cytometry and LIMS, biotechnology is being harnessed much better now.
And biotechnology is moving into the next horizon of managing the life
in general and life sciences industry in particular. It promises hope
for treatment of Alzheimer’s; promises stem cells therapies;
new ways of managing life style diseases like obesity and insulin; gene
therapy using purified preparations of a gene or a fraction of a gene
to treat diseases; and new therapies for neurodegenerative disorders
like the neuron replacement therapy. Certainly the expectations run
high on the healthcare arena. While new therapies are being discovered,
the use of biotechnology as an alternative to conventional fuel cells
etc. is on. Genetic testing is a new way of diagnosis. In another five
years time genome analysis of an individual would be available for
lesser than Rs 1,000 and as common as mobile phone technology.
The Technology Review’s 10 Emerging Technologies list also
has other interesting developments in areas such as clean energy,
health care, computing and communications. The promising ones include
some medical technologies such as paper-based medical tests, biological
machines and $100 genome analysis chip. These developments are good
news to the sector.
Are there any other major technological developments that will guide
the progress in biotechnology?
BioSpectrum has put together a list of 12 developments that
would make a difference to the life sciences industry in general. The
thin line between the pharmaceutical industry and biotech segment is
now narrowing further. The developments at Pfizer, Roche, etc. are an
indication to this effect. And the industry has the opportunity to
embrace the challenges posed by the current financial downturn and
transform its way of conducting business and research. Operational
excellence as a strategy is the mantra.