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CHALLENGES OF CONTEMPORARY BIOLOGY
by Academician Alexander SPIRIN Humankind has moved into the third millennium with an immense knowledge in the life sciences and a colossal potential of its practical uses. By manipulating DNA molecules biologists are now able to modify heredity of the ambient world, and this applies to bacteria, plants, animals and even man. All that has become possible owing to the unprecedented possibilities of technological progress (biotechnology), revolutionary breakthroughs in medicine (gene therapy) and farming (transgene plants and animals). Hence the vital importance of biological safety. But the present situation of Russia - specifically, in the life sciences and biotechnology, and in biological safety for that matter - is lackluster. Neither our public nor our government has realized yet: humanity is already in a biological era. THE BIRTH OF MOLECULAR BIOLOGY The mid-20th century saw a real revolution in the life sciences. At first it touched basic knowledge and afterwards, decades later, spread to hands-on fields to give rise to what is now known as biotechnology. The heart of the matter is that the molecular mechanism of reproduction, i.e. the molecular mechanism of heredity, was uncovered. It became clear by the 1950s: heredity and the main process of its realization - the biosynthesis of proteins - depend on a definite group of biological polymers, or nucleic acids. Two types of them were discovered - RNA (ribonucleic acid) and DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). DNA was regarded as "the substance of heredity", while RNA was assigned the role of a heredity effector in the form of synthesizing proteins which determine the structure, metabolism and other characters of an organism. In 1953 Francis Harry Crick and James Dewey Watson (who were subsequently awarded a Nobel Prize) published a work in which they set out the main principles of the DNA molecular structure: two long, loosely bonded polymer strands that wind around each other in a spiral manner to form what is kno ... Read more
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