Illustration of a could filled with icons representing innovations in biotechnology.

In the first installment of cool innovations in biotechnology, the article examined oil-eating bacteria, the possibility of growing human organs in pigs (or pig organs to be transplanted into humans), advanced biofuel technology and lab-grown meat and plants.

Given the technological breakthroughs in biotechnology, there are plenty of additional innovations to examine. Here are some other cool innovations in biotechnology.

Targeted CRISPR Cell Therapy

CRISPR stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. Palandromic repeats are DNA sequences the control the production of enzymes in regulatory regions of the human body. They help provide immunity against foreign genetic elements.

According to the Broad Institute, CRISPR is one of the hallmarks of a bacterial defense system that forms the basis for genome editing technology. These systems can target genetic code and edit DNA at precise locations.

Applications for CRISPR include permanent modification of genes in living cells and organisms, which make it possible to correct mutations at precise locations in the human genome to treat the genetic causes of disease. In addition to treating and preventing genetic diseases, there is the potential for CRISPR systems to accelerate research into mental illness and cancer.

Seminars in Cancer Biology examined CRISPR/Cas9 technology for cancer research and therapy, including the first clinical trial at a hospital in China for a patient with non-small cell lung cancer. The literature review regarded this and additional trials as a proof-of-concept study for applying the technology in cancer treatment. The review also acknowledged CRISPR’s place in identifying genes across cancer cell lines and how it can help facilitate the discovery of novel drug targets. This potential will require a great deal of research to accomplish.

Cancer-Fighting Virotherapy

In recent years, research has progressed on oncolytic viruses, which are able to selectively infect, replicate in, and kill tumor cells with minimal impact on normal tissue. According to Frontiers in Oncology, while administering these viruses alone rarely induces successful regression of established tumors, combining them with chemotherapeutic drugs, can make the viruses more effective.

One field that’s developing is with oncolytic RNA viruses, which possess alternative tumor-targeting strategies compared to the more established oncolytic DNA viruses. Biological Chemistry credits RNA viruses with broadening the field of virotherapy. One subcategory of these viruses is genetically modified RNA viruses, which have demonstrated promising efficacy in early clinical trials.

Mast Cell Activation Test for Peanut Allergy

Current tests for patients with peanut allergies often produce false-positive results. A new peanut allergy test, however, has demonstrated a 98 percent specificity rate with no risk of allergic reactions. The results were published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

“The current tests are not ideal,” said the lead investigator of the study Alexandra Santos.  In an article in Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News, Santos said, “If we relied on them alone, we’d be overdiagnosing food allergies. Only 22 percent of school-aged children in the U.K. who test positive for a peanut allergy are actually allergic when they consume peanuts in a monitored setting.”

The new test is a simple blood test that is five times more cost-efficient than the current standard food allergy test. The new method could be adapted to test for other food allergies.

The mast activation test focuses on mast cells, which play a crucial role in triggering allergic reactions. These cells activate by recognizing an antibody in plasma called IgE. For people with food allergies activating this antibody results in symptoms like digestive problems and skin reactions, itching or constriction of the mouth, throat and airways. Mast cells produce biomarkers in allergic reactions, which can be detected in the lab.

Currently, the test is being adapted to detect other food allergies, like milk, eggs, sesame and tree nuts. “This test will be useful, as we are seeing more and more children who have never been exposed to these foods because they have severe eczema or have siblings with allergies,” Santos said, “Parents are often afraid to feed them a food that is known to cause allergic reactions.”

Liquid Biocomputer

Researchers have been designing workout clothes and running shoes constructed in a fabric that has pores. The pores open when people sweat, using bacteria that contract in humid conditions. Engineering bacteria is no easy task, and one of the designers, Helene Steiner, decided to spin off and create a new company, Cell-Free Tech, to make biodesign more accessible.

The company’s first product, Bixels, is a basic DNA computer with a biological display. Cell-Free Tech has removed ribosomes from cells so that consumers can feed them various DNA to create proteins. Ribosomes are minute particles consisting of RNA and associated proteins. They can be found in large numbers in the cytoplasm of living cells.

Ribosomes sit in each of the 64 “bixels” on the device’s display, and an app controls each site’s LED, simulating how proteins are made. Proteins can be engineered to light up with certain patterns or to play a game of bio-Tetris, according to Fast Design.

The product is an educational tool designed for older students. In a workshop at the Royal College of Art in London, Steiner, Cell-Free Tech’s founder used Bixels to teach fashion design students how to incorporate biological materials into apparel. The students had no experience with biology or electronics.

“People said, no way, it’s impossible that I’m capable of doing this,” Steiner told Fast Design. But by the end of the workshop, “people really started discussing how they’d like to use it: to integrate into fibers, create accessories, how it could react to indicate your pH.”

Cell-Free Design received $250,000 of funding from SOSV to grow the company, expand product offerings and accelerate their vision: “to build accessible consumer products and applications which integrate biotechnology but are beyond medical.”

Innovate and Change the World

The biotechnology field continues to grow, and there’s never been a better time to join this industry and create a cool innovation.

If you’re ready to become a biotechnology leader, apply for Husson University’s online biotechnology MBA. You’ll learn critical skills to help existing biotech firms gain greater market share. You’ll also learn how to launch and run a biotech startup. Regardless of whether you are an entrepreneur or a visionary leader, you’ll learn from experienced professors who have your success in mind. At Husson University, you’ll enjoy small class sizes and a flexible online schedule that allow you to balance your studies with your busy life.