Biotechnology as a major field within science has led to many new companies copying the Genentech blueprint: having a small company creating commercially viable products to earn profits. This movement from a purely academic scope of research to a company thriving in an industrial market has become a popular choice for those interested in the sciences, offering more career opportunities. From the 1970s on, a number of companies would emerge to follow the example set by Genentech. This would result in a major growth of the field, located in California.
California has become the true center of biotechnology in the U.S, as the birth place of the industry as well as having numerous companies making products in a multitude of fields. Because of this environment, being surrounded by other biotech companies, a sense of innovation is greatly encouraged, as competition will enable a surge of creativity. This anthology details several examples of how California has become the epicenter of biotech, ranging from peculiar facts about the history of Californian biotech to present companies developing new products within the biotech field. The hotbed of innovation exhibited by the California environment is shown through the amount of diverse companies and novel products.
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A major component of this chapter was the structure of insulin, and if the Genentech team would be able to synthetically synthesize each aspect of its structure. The different chains are the protein chains encoded by the DNA, the specific gene. The process was complicated by contamination and difficulties with removing the isolated chains from the different bacterial plasmids. The amino acid sequence of each chain is unique, with the A chain having 21 amino acids and the B chain having 30 amino acids. Without a protein chemist, the Genentech team struggled in this part of the project, but were able to succeed in the end. Protein structure is very important when understanding the genetic code that produces it, such as the presence of factors like disulfide bonds, which are not fully detailed in the DNA, but affect the stability of the protein.
After reading Chapter 3 of Pointing From The Grave, I thought it was very interested that Weinberg devoted this chapter to focusing on the development of DNA, its base pairing, and eventual uses. One part that really stuck out to me was the discussion of running DNA on an agarose gel. Specifically, Weinberg stated that,
“Using a restriction enzyme – a protein that cleaves the DNA strands at designated positions. These lengths would be immobilized by dropping them on one end of the dish of agarose gel to which an electric current would be applied” (p 41).
This discussion of using DNA on a gel in order to discover the sequence stood out to me because it related back to my time in Synthetic Biology. Today, we use gel electrophoresis, similar to the one described in the novel as a southern blot, to detect the sequences of DNA in our whole fragment. In Synthetic biology specifically we used restriction enzymes to cut as specific points in order to understand banding pattern and sequences present in yeast. In addition, this correlates to what I learned in Cancer Biology and what I am doing in my independent research of breast cancer cells. Essentially, we used Western blot to understand protein expression to characterize cancer cells and their aggression. Overall, it is very interesting to see the development of DNA and the technologies associated with it in different types of labs, whether it was synthetic or cancer related.