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Biotechnol Prog. 2000 Jan-Feb;16(1):2-16.

Recent progress in biomolecular engineering.

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Biochemical Engineering Program, University of California, Davis, California 95616, USA. DDYRYU@UCDAVIS.EDU


During the next decade or so, there will be significant and impressive advances in biomolecular engineering, especially in our understanding of the biological roles of various biomolecules inside the cell. The advances in high throughput screening technology for discovery of target molecules and the accumulation of functional genomics and proteomics data at accelerating rates will enable us to design and discover novel biomolecules and proteins on a rational basis in diverse areas of pharmaceutical, agricultural, industrial, and environmental applications. As an applied molecular evolution technology, DNA shuffling will play a key role in biomolecular engineering. In contrast to the point mutation techniques, DNA shuffling exchanges large functional domains of sequences to search for the best candidate molecule, thus mimicking and accelerating the process of sexual recombination in the evolution of life. The phage-display system of combinatorial peptide libraries will be extensively exploited to design and create many novel proteins, as a result of the relative ease of screening and identifying desirable proteins. Even though this system has so far been employed mainly in screening the combinatorial antibody libraries, its application will be extended further into the science of protein-receptor or protein-ligand interactions. The bioinformatics for genome and proteome analyses will contribute substantially toward ever more accelerated advances in the pharmaceutical industry. Biomolecular engineering will no doubt become one of the most important scientific disciplines, because it will enable systematic and comprehensive analyses of gene expression patterns in both normal and diseased cells, as well as the discovery of many new high-value molecules. When the functional genomics database, EST and SAGE techniques, microarray technique, and proteome analysis by 2-dimensional gel electrophoresis or capillary electrophoresis in combination with mass spectrometer are all put to good use, biomolecular engineering research will yield new drug discoveries, improved therapies, and significantly improved or new bioprocess technology. With the advances in biomolecular engineering, the rate of finding new high-value peptides or proteins, including antibodies, vaccines, enzymes, and therapeutic peptides, will continue to accelerate. The targets for the rational design of biomolecules will be broad, diverse, and complex, but many application goals can be achieved through the expansion of knowledge based on biomolecules and their roles and functions in cells and tissues. Some engineered biomolecules, including humanized Mab's, have already entered the clinical trials for therapeutic uses. Early results of the trials and their efficacy are positive and encouraging. Among them, Herceptin, a humanized Mab for breast cancer treatment, became the first drug designed by a biomolecular engineering approach and was approved by the FDA. Soon, new therapeutic drugs and high-value biomolecules will be designed and produced by biomolecular engineering for the treatment or prevention of not-so-easily cured diseases such as cancers, genetic diseases, age-related diseases, and other metabolic diseases. Many more industrial enzymes, which will be engineered to confer desirable properties for the process improvement and manufacturing of high-value biomolecular products at a lower production cost, are also anticipated. New metabolites, including novel antibiotics that are active against resistant strains, will also be produced soon by recombinant organisms having de novo engineered biosynthetic pathway enzyme systems. The biomolecular engineering era is here, and many of benefits will be derived from this field of scientific research for years to come if we are willing to put it to good use.

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