Biotechnology, Covid-19

COVID-19 affecting people with a prevailing ailment and a window of opportunities for future biotechnologists

Student Contributors:

Nirsanka Roy (UG-VI B.Sc. Biotechnology) & Soumili Sen (UG-VI B.Sc. Biotechnology)

Coronavirus also is known as COVID-19(Corona Virus Disease 2019) originating in the city of Wuhan in 2019 has created a pandemic all over the world, shutting down all kinds of business around the world bringing it to a standstill. As of 29th April 2020, COVID-19 has affected over 213 countries affecting 2,959,929 people and the confirmed number of deaths recorded is 202,733. COVID-19 is not sparing anyone and affecting whoever is coming in contact with it. Now the question arises is that whether people who are suffering from chronic diseases or any kind of disease are at greater risk of getting affected by this virus or the threat is equal for all?

People with a chronic metabolic condition such as diabetes may be under a higher level of risk of severe illness from the COVID-19 virus. Cases of coronavirus in diabetic people are more serious than other people. A good immune system is required to fight the virus but a diabetic patient has a weak immune system which makes it more difficult to fight the virus if one is affected. The novel coronavirus “may thrive in an environment of elevated blood glucose.” Diabetes also slows the rate of healing response to any disease as it keeps the body in a low-level state of inflammation. A high level of glucose and constant state of inflammation makes it way more difficult to recover from COVID-19 infection.

In this modern age, one of the most common health issues is obesity. Obese people usually have other related medical problems. Abdominal obesity compresses the diaphragm, lungs, and capacity of the chest. Obesity is also known to cause chronic, inflammation in a low-grade scale and an increase in the circulation of pro-inflammatory cytokines, this may play a pivotal role in outcomes of COVID-19. Although the link between obesity and COVID-19 is still a hypothesis, however, if it turns out to be true then a great deal of world population is in danger. One of the severe chronic diseases is kidney failure or malfunction. Patients suffering from kidney failure have to undergo dialysis which can, in turn, weaken the patient’s immune system thus making it harder to fight against any infections. People who need kidney transplants usually need to take anti-rejection medicines which are basic immunosuppressive medicines. These medicines suppress the immune response towards any infection. Hence people taking this type of medicine are at more risk than normal healthy people. So, it is advised to stock up on supplies and maintain social distancing and limit going outside.

In this current pandemic situation, it is a unique opportunity for biotechnologists to flex their muscles and get to work. As biotechnologists, we can develop solutions that will help the human race to get back on their feet. In developing testing kits a biotechnologist plays a major role and in developing the vaccine many biotechnologists are in constant working mode. Advancements in genetic technology have helped in fighting the coronavirus, which is now easier, faster, and cheaper. As soon as the outbreak of the virus was reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) it took only two weeks to isolate the virus and understand the entire sequence of its genome. Once the genome was mapped and made public biotechnologists began creating synthetic copies of the virus that is being used in research and creating a vaccine. According to Wetsman “this all happened much faster than it ever has before”, during the outbreak of the SARS virus (2002) creating a synthetic copy of the virus took months and hence delayed the process of vaccine making. “Speed is important because the outbreak is unlike anything public health experts have seen before”, she writes.

Fight against the invisible enemy is getting intense day by day affecting our daily lives. COVID-19 has shattered our social life and trapped us within the four walls of our house so that we can stay safe and healthy. So, in this pandemic, we as future biotechnologists need to think about what we can do to help the fight against the invisible enemy. We need to think of innovative technologies, new types of drugs and vaccines, better and cheap testing kits, or at least designing some new protective gear for the workers who are working on the field.COVID-19 has affected the world economy the most, many countries have faced their worst economic quarter in years. This economic turmoil has led to many people losing their job but there is a silver lining to this dark cloud for biotechnologists. COVID-19 has opened a window of opportunities for people pursuing a career in the field of biotechnology, microbiology, virology, and related subjects. Job opportunities have opened up in different sectors of industry such as:

  • Research Lab:As soon as the virus was reported by WHO research labs all around the lab started working to understand the working of the virus and how to find a cure and prevent the spread of the virus. For this reason, research labs would require more employees to have a biotechnology background so that they can help in the prevention of the virus.
  • Biotech IndustryBiomolecular and cellular processes are used by medical biotechnologists to develop new technologies and products that are used in the field of medicine and other related fields. The biotech industry recruits people temporarily from the medical biotechnological background and relative subject specialists to design medical devices, diagnostic kits, etc.
  • Drug IndustryA person working in the drug industry needs to know subjects like microbiology, molecular biology, genetics, recombinant DNA technology, and bioinformatics. A biotechnologist, having a blend of all these subjects can more efficiently design new drugs and vaccines. Now in this COVID-19 situation once a drug or vaccine for this virus is created, the drug industry will have to produce the drug on a large scale to meet the demand of the world. Huge demand for quality control and production management will open new opportunities for skilled biotechnologists.
  • Hospitals and Diagnostic CentresTwo types of tests are done for detection of COVID-19 first type is testing for infection and the second type is testing of antibodies. These both types of tests require various steps of using high tech equipment for detection of the virus for example in case of testing for infection first a nasal or throat swab is collected then the sample is developed using an RTPCR so that the amount of viral genetic material is increased and it can be detected. One must have proper knowledge and training to use such sophisticated equipment, so in this sector also there is a great scope for biotechnologists.

Research studies have shown that SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV both originated from bats. Since the SARS outbreak in 2002 research has started on coronavirus, different kinds of strains their effects, how they can spread, etc. In 2013 research showed that bat feces had a virus which was 96% similar to SARS-CoV 2. Later studies began by altering parts of coronavirus to find out whether that can transmit to humans or not. The answer is YES. This was back in 2015 but still, there is no cure. Now, among this outbreak, various researches should be conducted with coronavirus and identify the possible threats to humans and possible ways to nullify them. 

 

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