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The Contribution Of Dr. Herbert Boyer To The Field Of Biotechnology

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Dr. Herbert Boyer has made an outstanding contribution to the field of biotechnology through his hard work and determination. He has succeeded in bringing the first biotechnology product to market with FDA approval, as well as contributing to multiple breakthroughs. Most notably, involving cutting plasmids and recombining foreign DNA with bacteria resulting in the bacteria naturally replicating in another host. Which has greatly contributed to the scientific community and resulted in the creation of genetically modified agriculture, pharmaceuticals and cloning. I will attempt to defend this thesis by providing background information on prior research that had been conducted in this field that led to his success and how his success has contributed to future discoveries in research.

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In 1971, Paul Berg first experimented with gene splicing using the enzyme EcoRI which proved to be successful in a lab setting. This experiment involved splicing a bacterial virus containing DNA, into simian virus SV40. The experiment led to the two viruses combining, this came to be known as recombinant DNA (rDNA). Berg was hesitant to continue experimentation with another organism because of the fears shared by peers and the public. He later refused to insert rDNA into another organism because of the potential dangers of such experimentation. These fears were of grave concern as creating a cancerous tumor could be devastating to the public as it could spread outside the laboratory using bacteria. In 1972, Dr Herbert Boyer took it upon himself and fellow researchers to find a way to insert rDNA into bacteria in such a way that the foreign DNA would be able to replicate naturally. After several repeated attempts, Boyer attended a conference and met Dr Cohen who shared his own laboratory’s work on plasmids. The two collaborated with the goal of mapping the genes present on plasmids in different laboratories in the California area. Boyer focused on cutting the plasmids that Dr Cohen sent to his laboratory using EcoRI which is an enzyme isolated from E. coli that separates DNA double helices to fragments in certain areas. Upon sending the cut plasmids to Dr Cohen, they would be introduced to E. Coli to become recombinant DNA (rDNA) where they multiplied and were analyzed.

This partnership led to a breakthrough with a plasmid called pSC101, where drug resistance was known to be transferred among bacteria; this discovery was made in the spring of 1973. The drug resistance was shown to have persisted through replication of the rDNA which proved to be a remarkable discovery. This discovery was the impetus behind creating agriculture that is resistant to viruses. After this breakthrough, the pair continued to test additional cloning experiments which varied in complexity, where they continued to show that genetic materials can be passed on between different species. Boyer partnered with Cohen to establish a company called Genentech in 1976 amongst criticism and public fear concerning cloning. The two recognized the duty that they had to the scientific community to experiment with combining bacteria with human genetic information. They felt a deep devotion to public health that they would be able to duplicate the human body’s natural immune system, which is a means of fighting disease, to improve it and ultimately remedy birth disorders. They succeeded in creating a human protein using bacteria called somatostatin, which is a hormone in the brain that naturally regulates human growth. This protein was found to be virtually identical to the real one and proved to be a remarkable discovery. The pair went on pushing the boundaries of what was possible to create a plasmid for human insulin. The product successfully went to market after Genentech developed a production process with a pharmaceutical company and it came to be known as Humulin. It was the first biotechnology product to be approved by the FDA in 1982 when it went to market. This is where the biotechnology industry was born.

The result of these discoveries is astronomical in proportion, as recombinant DNA has become widely used in medicine with the manufacturing of pharmaceutical products beyond human insulin. Recombinant DNA has also been adopted in agricultural practices, where plants have been genetically modified to grow and reproduce with favorable characteristics to increase their yield and in some cases their nutritional value. These genetically modified plants can have a longer shelf life when harvested into food, be resistant to insects, and have enhanced flavor. This has proven to be especially useful for developing countries.

I believe that without Herbert Boyer’s perseverance and dedication to his craft, the world would have not discovered interspecies cloning or a biotechnology product for some time. Boyer’s and Cohen’s findings were established through a partnership. However, without Boyer’s perseverance to trying to cut and re-latch molecular additions, he would not have sought out Cohen’s assistance. Boyer sought out more commercial work as he saw the implications of what he had discovered and wished to develop more products that would be of great use to the public. Cohen sought out academics more passionately than commercial work. With Boyer’s insight, a company was founded, and an industry was created and because of this, I believe Boyer undoubtedly deserves to be recognized for his outstanding achievements.

11 February 2020

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