How will biotechnology change our health?

1 November

Biotech will have a big impact. Right now, for example, it’s being used to swap genes, taking the fluorescent gene from a firefly to a plant so that the plant glows in the dark.

A more useful future application of biotech will be to improve health foods to deal with ailments. There will be more customised food with healthy things added, just as now we add vitamin A to rice. Biotech will make food healthier but still make it taste nice. It will reduce the amount of fat in beef, for example.

Biotechnology will link technology straight to the body. The fitness trackers we wear now, which nag you if you have not done enough miles or press-ups, are fairly basic technology. The next generation of biotech will include devices small enough to fit in between human skin cells. They will measure glucose and insulin levels to monitor diabetes, oxygen levels for fitness, or bacteria levels for disease. This will happen in five to ten years.

Now, people are using tiny membranes on skin. In future, you will be able to use compressed air to blast tiny particles of drugs, transistors and devices into the skin. You can fit a million transistors inside the volume of a skin cell – your clinic or doctor may do it. If you put these things inside a titanium coating, your body will be quite happy with them.

You can also record and replicate the signals running up and down your nerves. If you’re playing a computer game, you could record real sensations and replay them later in virtual reality. If you touch an icicle during a game you’ll feel the cold, or if you step out of a building you’ll experience the heat of the sun on your face.

Genetically modified (GM) plants, animals or micro-organisms, are one part of biotechnology. GM is still controversial but if properly regulated, the advantages of biotech should outweigh the disadvantages. For example, biotech has already been used to develop chemotherapy that uses tiny particles containing chemical markers that lock on to the cancer’s location and destroy it, while avoiding harming healthy cells.

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