Breakthroughs in Cellular Technology

31.07.2020 - Omoleye Coker

Rapid advancements in technology are enabling biotechnologists, cell biologists, and bioinformaticians to explore new paradigms in animal and plant cells. Apart from an in-depth analysis of genomic data, cellular technology is being used to perform a wide range of tasks, such as identification of gene variation, analysis of gene expression, as well as prediction of protein structures and functions.
Furthermore, recent advances in cell biology have allowed scientists to study intracellular pathways and regulation networks at the molecular level. As cell biologists are enjoying the perks of advanced technology, we look at some of the interesting recent breakthroughs in cellular technology. Read on!

CRISPR-Cas9

CRISPR-Cas9 (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats and CRISPR-associated protein 9) is a technology that allows scientists to edit genomes. Researchers use this new genome-editing tool to edit fragments and alter genome sequence, allowing them alter parts of the DNA sequence.

It is one of the most straightforward and versatile tools to perform genetic manipulations. Scientists adapted CRISPR-Cas9 from bacteria, which has a natural genome editing system. Bacteria capture DNA fragments from invading viruses and use them to form snippets known as CRISPR arrays. These arrays allow bacteria to develop a sophisticated protection system (kind of immune system) to stop the attacks of viruses in the future. When the virus attacks again, the bacteria use CRISPR arrays to produce RNA segments that target the DNA of the intruder. Then, they use Cas9 enzymes to cut the DNA and disable the viruses.

Molecular biologists are making substantial efforts to make such a system in the laboratory. They are working to determine whether genome editing is effective and safe for use in humans. CRISPR-Cas9 has shown promising results in treating or preventing diseases like sickle cell anaemia, haemophilia, cystic fibrosis. Scientists are also working on using this approach in humans to treat complex diseases, such as heart disorders, HIV infection, mental health conditions, and cancer.
The CRISPR technology allowed researchers at KHERION-Biotech to alter Myostatin genes (important in muscle growth) for the purpose of making faster and stronger racehorse breeds.

Organ-on-a-Chip

The organ-on-a-chip is a phenomenal technology that allows scientists to recreate human cell physiology. These chips have microscopic fluidic channels, which can reproduce airflow and blood like actual human cells.

Organ-chips come in the size of an AA battery and have the ability to undergo muscle contractions and recreate breathing motions. These chips have been specifically designed to monitor the organ’s behaviour, functionality, and response. Scientists have used a translucent and flexible polymer material to manufacture the organ on a chip. Each microfluidic tube is 1mm in diameter, which can be lined with cells of a specific human organ.

Using organ-on-a-chip, scientists can pump drugs, compounds, blood, and nutrients through the microfluidic tubes. The cells then replicate some of the most vital functions of the organ. The chips will help pharmaceutical companies to develop new drugs as these chips can accurately emulate organs in the human body. So, researchers can use them to get more accurate and realistic drug test results. Read more about the Organ-on-a-chip here.

A real-life example of organ-on-a-chip is EVATAR, which is a model of the female reproductive system. EVATAR is capable of mimicking a 28-day female hormone cycle. The system is made up of liver, cervix, uterus, ovary, and fallopian tube. Thus, Researchers from Northwestern University who develop EVATAR think that it will help them study cervical cancer.

CAS-Clover

Unlike CRISPR-Cas9 that uses RNA to make genomic cuts or mutations in unwanted DNA sites, CAS-Clover offers an undetectable off-target activity. It is an advanced genome editing technology that allows for highly effective cutting and Indel (insertion and deletion of nucleotides) formation in primary T-cells.

On-site target binding of gRNAs provides strictly controlled nuclease activity. It has high activity in both multiplying and non-dividing cells. The CAS-Clover is a highly precise and site-specific genome editing technology that combines TALEN (Transcription activator-like effector nuclease that can cut specific DNA sequences) with CRISPR to improve efficiency.

Stem Cells Cloning

Scientists have used human cloning techniques to create stem cells, which can lead to regrowth of tissues and organs in the human body. Stem cell cloning is one of the breakthroughs in cellular technology. The process involves combining an unfertilised egg cell from a donor with a body cell of a patient. Next, scientists insert skin cells of the patient into an egg cell’s outer membrane. The process is induced chemically to trigger the development of a blastocyst. Embryonic cells divide in the blastocyst and produce a large number of stem cells.

Furthermore, scientists have validated the use of mesenchymal stem cells as vehicles to transfer genes and form the bone marrow microenvironment called marrow stroma, adipose fat tissue, cartilage, and bone. Scientists say the mechanism has the potential to treat bone-related and muscle conditions in humans.

In 1996, scientists used a mammary cell to clone a sheep called Dolly.

Conclusion

The integration of technology in cell biology and molecular genetics has enabled scientists to make discoveries and come up with unique inventions. Just like CRISPR-Cas9, organ-on-a-chip, and stem cell cloning are yielding a plethora of new information. Scientists foresee advances in biomedicine that will lead to a transformational improvement in healthcare.

Sources

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4975809/
2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7017614/
3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6215144/
4. https://www.cnn.com/2013/05/18/health/stem-cells-cloning/index.html
5. https://www.genengnews.com/resources/webinars/cas-clover-the-clean-alternative-to-crispr-cas9/
6. https://www.genecopoeia.com/resource/genome-editing-talen-or-crispr/
7. https://news.ohsu.edu/2014/07/02/nuclear-transfer-appears-superior-for-creating-embryonic-stem-cells
8. https://ncats.nih.gov/pubs/features/evatar
9. https://medium.com/the-21st-century/genetically-engineered-horses-stronger-and-faster-coming-in-2019-f3506e15af4