Eternal life has been an ancient human desire. All kinds of stories point to this yearning. However, it has remained an unfulfilled dream so far. Can biotech fulfill it? Going further, can it help us remain young for ever?
Biotech is now working with genes, the fundamental units that determine our proneness to diseases. Gene modification has created high-yielding, more nutritious and disease-resistant crops. Human gene modification, however, is beset with ethical and controversial issues, and is not so easy to apply. Once the issues are overcome, eternal youth and life might just become possible.
The question is whether anyone would want such eternities. For example, defense against biological, chemical and radiological/nuclear agents is an area of focus for many governments and biotech companies. See https://www.bio.org/articles/preparedness-pandemics-and-biodefense. These agents can be used as weapons that contain pathogens or toxins that can maim or kill humans, crops and livestock. Who would want eternal life in such a world!
Let us look at less esoteric issues.
The Promise of Biotechnology
The promises can only be seen as promises. While certain specific benefits are clearly seen, it is possible that there could be unexpected results with adverse impact on health and environment. For example, GM crops promise high yields but have led to "killer" seeds that affects farming economy.
The list below is only illustrative; application possibilities are numerous.
Vaccines: Defense against diseases include prevention, detection and cure. Of these, prevention is the best option that minimises the adverse impact. Vaccines seek to do this by generating immunity against specific diseases. And vaccines are bio products consisting of live or dead cells, or extracts of microorganisms. Biotech is helping us develop vaccines against more and more infectious diseases.
Replacement of Body Parts: Infectious diseases are only one group. Diseases can also result from malfunction of a body organ. In such cases, replacement of the organ is the remedy, which is not easy because the body tends to reject foreign elements. Biotechnology can help us understand and overcome such rejection.
Genetic Modification: A third group of diseases are genetic disorders. These are caused by defects in genes. Now, if we can replace these defective genes with healthy ones, even this group of diseases can be treated. Nano and bio technologies are helping us work with the nanoscale DNA molecules that make up the genes.
Food in Plenty: Genetic modification of crops has enabled development of varieties that are resistant to pests, or can be grown under hostile conditions, promise food in plenty for the world's population.
Environment Cleanup: GM techniques are creating bacteria that can clean up polluted water bodies. This can help with oil spills and waste treatment, for example, leading to a cleaner environment.
Business Opportunities in Biotechnology
The examples of biotech applications in the last section will give an idea of the innumerable business opportunities created by biotechnology. The combination of biotechnology and nanotechnology, which enables seeing what happens at the (electron)microscopic levels of cells and DNA, is opening up opportunities for ever new solutions (and innovative businesses).