How far will biology go?

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While biology is not – and happily will never be – an exact science, advances are being made every day, something dogs are benefiting from.

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Development of the “-omic” sciences

© Diffomédia/Royal Canin
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Metabolites are small substances, most of which can be measured (urea, glucose, hormones); some are known but some are unknown or unexplored.

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Metabolomics is a recently coined term that refers to the qualitative and quantitative analysis of metabolites (substances formed in or necessary to metabolism) in a biological tissue (organs or parts of organs) or a medium (blood, cerebrospinal fluid) at a given moment. Metabolites are small substances, most of which can be measured (urea, glucose, hormones); some are known but some are unknown or unexplored. The particularity of this new science lies in the simultaneous analysis of a very large number of substances in the body using some of the most sophisticated technologies, such as nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and mass spectrophotometry.

Metabolomics is one of a series of “-omic” sciences alongside genomics (concerned with genomes and thus DNA), transcriptomics (concerned with RNA, which conveys instructions from the DNA in chromosomes to every cell) and proteomics (the study of proteins such as enzymes). The metabolites explored by metabolomics are the final step in this most complex of processes, resulting from the action of the genes that are acted on by the environment, and of nutrients from food. Interactions between genes and nutrients are the field of study of nutrigenomics. Given that a drug can be part of the gene environment when an animal is undergoing treatment, we also speak of pharmacogenomics.

While this terminology can appear complicated, it is essential if we are to improve our understanding of how genes express themselves and their qualitative and quantitative variations depending on the absence or presence, and in what concentration, of a given nutrient or drug. Whatever the impact point or the target of a substance (be it nutritive or therapeutic), to produce beneficial or toxic effects it will modify in some way the metabolites detected in this type of study.

These explorations, which are the future of biology and a good part of medicine, will be undertaken in dogs. Although currently difficult or rare, the continual advancement in analysis and information techniques gives great hope.

They are actually simply the logical continuation of decades of work in medical and veterinary biology to find the markers of diseases (to enable their screening as early as possible) and understand the effects of nutrients and drugs so as to produce better preventive nutrition and medically curative therapeutics.

Nanotechnologies and nanomedicine

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Nanosciences, nanotechnologies, nanomedicine – words that entered the biological vocabulary at the turn of the century – are expressions of the development and deployment of very small objects and tools, less than or equal to 100 nanometers. With advances in materials, including microelectronics, in the long run we can envisage nanotechnology and nanomedicine applications in the following areas:

• Diagnosis and medical imaging at the molecular scale

• Production of “structures” enabling the body to manufacture new tissue (repair, ‘replacement’ of organ parts)

• Delivery in contact with target cells of an essential nutrient or drug.

These aspects do raise a number of ethical questions of course, as well as questions about the toxicology of the materials used. No one can answer them until they are one day used on dogs.

No one can say how far this will go or what applications will be introduced for dogs. What is certain is that around a quarter of related biological and medical knowledge is challenged every five years. As a consequence, professionals, especially veterinarians, are forced to constantly question their knowledge. But what appeared impossible in terms of screening, nutritional prevention, diagnostic precision and treatment 20 years ago has become possible. It is now customary to believe that this progressive advancement will continue.

© Diffomédia/Royal Canin

That it will lead to the eradication of genetic disease (both hereditary and acquired), the early screening for many others, total control of parentage in dogs (it is already possible by genetic analysis to identify which breeds are included in the genetic makeup of a mongrel; some businesses offer this service) and improved genetic selection, especially for working dogs (several teams around the world are currently working on the genomics of olfaction in dogs).

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How far will biology go?
    How far will biology go?

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