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Shoulder by Shoulder: Urgent Biotechnological and Ethical Issues Part I

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Shoulder by Shoulder: Urgent Biotechnological and Ethical Issues

Part I

Elias Hakalehto, PhD, Adj. Prof.

Microbiologist, Biotechnologist

CEO, Finnoflag Oy

Vice President, International Society of Environmental Indicators

Published on 22nd of April, 2021

Creatures in Nature do not wonder about their position in the order of the ecosystem they live in. Neither do they worry about any other abstract or theoretical problems. Most of their time is essentially and existentially needed for finding food and shelter. For example, at the beginning of times, the marsupials could carry their young ones in their pouches to Australia before cut off the land connection from the Asian continent. The descendants of the kangaroos illustrated in the cave drawings in India were extinct by the tigers and other predators if they stayed there. Meanwhile, hunting their necessary catches, the tigers needed stopovers to nest and to grow their babies. Thus those new generations of marsupials could escape the destruction by moving in their Mother´s pouches to the Australian continent as long as it was possible.

Similarly, maternal protection occurs among all animals. Every species of mammals produces breast milk to give nutrition and molecular protection to the newborn. Even before birth, they are also provided by this supplementation through the placenta. There the blood circulation of the Mother transfers necessary food components and defence molecules, such as antibodies, into the circulation of growing fetuses. The latter is called passive immunization, which produces safety, not like the active protection by the development of immunoreaction due to contagion of the disease or by vaccination, or by other intrusions, but as a present from the parent. - In the birds, no placentas exist. Hence, they have another mechanism for this molecular protection, namely the passive immunization of the egg yolk around the fetus. Oviparous bird´s gift to its young ones is the multitude of IgY molecules in the yolk. The specificities of these antibodies depend on the molecular challenges encountered by the mother hen. Interestingly enough, the IgY molecules closely resemble the human IgA class of antibodies known as mucosal antibodies. As they position themselves on our epithelia, they prevent the entry of viruses or bacteria or other pathogens.

Therefore, we have proposed using IgY products for the prophylaxis of the virus epidemics or for containing antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Such passive immunization, for example, has been used for decades and published by the University Hospital of Uppsala, Sweden, for battling the Pseudomonas aeruginosa infections of cystic fibrosis patients. In fact, our consortium of Finnish, Swedish, Polish and Israeli top scientists proposed European Union the IgY solution for the first-line defence against SARS-CoV-2 viruses and the COVID-19 disease. Although our team had members and support of the nobelist and academician levels, the EU refused to support the project. As the call was designated as an "urgent" one and measuring the time allowed for preparing the applications in weeks, it could have been possible to "see the forest through the trees" in this particular case. In other words, in the ethical sense, we should appreciate the contents of life more than the formalities, which, after all, are human-made abstractedness.

To ensure the seek and find functions for food and shelter, the motile bacteria have a simple but effective system of flagellation associated with the molecular sensors. If a bacterial cell is searching for nutrient, it can find the highest solution by making a 90 degrees turn every time the concentration of the substance is decreasing. Eventually, the cell gets itself into the maximal density of the desired food, or to the "pot", or to the "source". Consequently, this happens as a result of numerous random turns facilitated by the changes in the direction into which the flagellum rotates, either clockwise or counterclockwise. The structures of the bacterial flagellar organs were one of the main topics of my PhD thesis, whose principal supervisor was Professor Jukka Finne. Together with him and the Kuopio chemists, we published an article in 1997 in the European Journal of Biochemistry about some of our findings.

Unfortunately, contrary to the motile bacteria, Mankind seems to lack the capabilities to recognize the correct direction or move accordingly. The sensing systems of our societies have become jammed as the citizens often steal from their state, and the state steals from her citizens, and both rob the ecosystems. The crucial 90 degrees turns are left undone. Thus we eventually get into a more and more disorganised state in our affairs. This makes it increasingly difficult to make the correct decisions or to exercise clever and responsible leadership. This direction is detrimental for us and the global ecosystem if we cannot change our decision-making system, ethical grounds and implications. It is not enough that the most conscious citizens with a well-developed conscience make their choices. We must make them as a society together. As a parallelism, what would be the situation in the microbial community if only a minority of cells could orienteer, make the right choices metabolically, or turn into the right direction in the "municipality of micro-organisms". The Erlenmeyer flask used for their cultivation has its walls in any case, as well as the limited nutrients, substrates and supplementation. Therefore, this absurdism is not prevailing in any microbial community, but they are more conscious of their choices than we humans are. Having the molecular signalling methods, they also recognize the need for joint action and their place in the metabolic network surrounding themselves.

Microbes develop a common sense of direction in real life, whether being motile or swarming cells or non-motile and attached to the biofilms. They always strive for balance. This balance is a dynamic one, as we proved in our article in the Pathophysiology Journal in 2008. - Actually, there are no other choices for the community if it wants to survive, which is for the benefit of all.

Correspondingly, there was a balance in the communities of the Native Americans living in the prairies. They maintained their culture in balance and togetherness with the buffaloes and other living things, not forgetting the microbes. Those invisible organisms circulate the matter by the power of the solar energy harnessed by the plants and photosynthetic algae and bacteria. The American bison has a body mass of up to circa 1000 kilos. This living biomass consists of bones and flesh, hides, internal organs, and at least 50 kilograms of rumen contents plus manure with their microbiomes. The succession of micro-organisms in the digestion of these vast ruminants makes it possible for these beautiful animals to grow by eating just cellulosic hay of the prairie. Their manure then continues the ecological succession by adding the leftover nutrients and microbes into the soil. And hence these make the growth of hay and other plants possible, together with sunlight.

The famous Suquamish and Duwamish chieftain Seattle or See-ahth (1786-1866) wrote in his purported letter to the US president Franklin Pierce in 1854 also these sentences: "... But how can you buy or sell the sky? The land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?... We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are a part of the earth, and it is part of us...". In a wider sense, it is the microbes that associate us with the soil. We have them forming an internal ecosystem in our bodies, the balance of which is crucial for our health and well-being, as demonstrated, e.g. in the above-mentioned Pathophysiology article.

When the English physicist and inventor Michael Faraday (1791-1867) introduced his ground-breaking discovery of electromagnetic induction and the concept of the electromagnetic field to the politician born from Scottish parents, William E. Gladstone (1809-1898), later to become the British Chancellor of the Exchequer responsible for the national budget, and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1868-94, the latter impugned the value of the invention. These innovations, later on, facilitated the development of electric devices from light bulbs to mobile phones. Gladstone asked Faraday where his discoveries could be used, however interesting they were. "But after all, what use is it?" The reply he got was: "Why, Sir, there is every probability that you will soon be able to tax it!".

So, are the natural resources' sole purpose of producing income and then income tax?  Economic thinking could also be associated with the recycled materials, the side streams and wastes. But with ethics. - In the microbial world, every asset is used for the survival of future generations. This survival strategy includes the potential for all since the diversified genetic pool is the number one prerequisite for the microbial society to live on. The interactions of microbial strains and the microbiomes formed by them with humans are described in the books of my edition and principal authorship, "Microbiological Industrial hygiene" (2016) and "Microbial Environmental Hygiene" (2018).

As all the birds have the IgY antibodies in their eggs, they all get protection for their young ones. This type of antibodies could be applied as a molecular barrier on the human epithelium, too. In 2021, besides the EU fund application participated by several universities and companies in four countries, including also Finnoflag Oy and LedFuture Oy, for establishing pilot production and molecular solutions for the manufacturing of "superimmunized" prophylactic IgY products, there also were articles in the Finnish "Kemia" magazine plus other media describing the technology and attempts to get it accepted (including also, e.g. YLE main TV News on the 3rd of July). The general public well received the idea of using birds (in this case, chicken). It also understood the urgency of implementing such technologies to complement the vaccines and to make possible a faster reactivity against emerging new pandemics, virus variants, or antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

In an Australian-American company Spark, this IgY idea is promoted by crowd-funding. During this week, an Estonian nasal spray BioBlock got permission to be sold in pharmacies in Estonia. It could be used according to the company, also for protecting, e.g. the passengers crossing the Gulf of Finland by car ferries. This Estonian prophylactic product is based on the use of colostrum milk of the immunized cows for establishing protection for human use. A similar type of product was planned and designed in Finland a year earlier by our Finnish team of companies and by the international group of scientists and specialists, but this was turned down by the EU and later not supported by several of the Finnish ministries.

On the United Nations Health Day on the 7th of April, there were my interviews about these issues and potentials of passive immunization in about 80 UK radio stations broadcasting in various locations in Britain. These included big stations and local ones, hospital radio, and the UK Health Radio in such locations as London, Birmingham, Oldham, Wolverhampton, Derbyshire, Peterhead, St Albans and many more. Two weeks later 21st of April, there was also my interview on the third-most circulated morning paper in our country, and probably the only expanding one during this era of electronic media, "Maaseudun Tulevaisuus" ("Future of Country-Side"). The paper summed up my opinions about the Estonian product and the frustrating case of the struggling of our consortium for the IgY product in Finland.

With the novel technologies getting into the "field of resistance" is familiar to many working in the R&D fields. It is also difficult to avoid misunderstandings and misconceptions in these matters. In Finland, the eggs are the most hygienic globally, and modern technologies could readily survey rare occasional microbial contaminations. Also, UVC radiation could be used for hygienisation of the production lines. We seriously need to fight against the potential risks of prolonged or extended pandemics. Vaccinations are not enough alone to eradicate COVID-19 disease.

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