Opportunities in biotech

Opportunities in biotech

SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION

Opportunities in biotech

S C Mali enumerates the various branches and applications of biotechnology that can be explored further to advance and benefit human lives, establishing how it opens a variety of opportunities for those interested.

Biotechnology is a rapidly developing and revolutionary scientific discipline with its roots in biological and technological sciences. During the past few years, the majority of scientific breakthrough in biological sciences have come from biotechnology, particularly involving genetic engineering. Biotechnology impinges on everyone’s life and is truly regarded as the scientific technology of the 21st century.

Biotechnology is as old as human civilisation and is an integral part of human life. Thus, it is a newly discovered discipline for age-old practices. The records say that wine and beer were prepared as early as in 6000 BC, and bread and curd in 4000 BC. Today, we know that all these involve processes based on the natural capabilities of micro organisms.

The biotechnology revolution began in 1970’s when scientists understood the genetic constitution of living organisms. With a strong foundation of genetic engineering, modern biotechnology was laid down by Cohen and Boyer in 1973 when they could successfully introduce the desired genes of one organism into another, and clone the new genes. It is an acknowledged fact that of all the scientific development, related recombinant DNA technology ( rDNA technology) triggered the most significant and profound advancements in biotechnology. Thus, rDNA technology laid firm foundations for genetic engineering.

There is almost no discipline among science subjects that has not contributed either directly or indirectly toward the growth of biotechnology. About a dozen specialised branches of science such as biotechnology, genetics, molecular biology, chemical engineering and bioinformatics have provided the inputs for biotechnology and are regarded as the roots of biotechnology.

Branches of biotechnology

* Blue biotechnology: It is marine and aquatic applications of biotechnology to protect aquatic members from some of the diseases by increasing their resistance capacity.

* Green biotechnology: It is biotechnology applied to agricultural processes. An example would be the designing of transgenic plants to grow under specific environments in the presence (or absence) of chemicals.

* Red biotechnology: It is applied to medical processes. Examples are the designing of organisms to produce antibiotics, and the engineering of genetic cures through genetic manipulation.

* White biotechnology: It is industrial biotechnology, applied to industrial processes. Example is the using of enzymes as industrial catalysts to either produce valuable chemicals or destroy hazardous/polluting chemicals.

* Bioinformatics: Bioinformatics is an interdisciplinary field which addresses biological problems using computational techniques, and makes the rapid organisation and analysis of biological data possible. The field may also be referred to as computational biology, and can be defined as, "conceptualizing biology in terms of molecules and then applying informatics techniques to understand and organise the information associated with these molecules, on a large scale." Bioinformatics plays a key role in various areas, such as functional genomics, structural genomics, and proteomics, and forms a key component in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sector.

Applications of biotechnology

The fruits of biotechnological research have wide range of applications. Biotechnology has benefited medical and health sciences (diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics, foods), agricultural sciences (improved crop yield, food quality, improved animal health) and environmental sciences (pollution control, environmental monitoring, bioremediation).
Modern biotechnology finds promising applications in such areas as the following.
n Pharmacogenomics: It is the study of how the genetic inheritance of an individual affects his/her body's response to drugs. It is the study of the relationship between pharmaceuticals and genetics. The vision is design and produce drugs that are adapted to each person's genetic makeup.

Pharmacogenomics results in the following benefits:
* Development of tailor-made medicines
* More accurate methods of determining appropriate drug dosages
* Improvements in the drug discovery and approval process
* Safer vaccines can be designed and produced by organisms transformed by means of genetic engineering.

Modern biotechnology is often associated with the use of genetically altered microorganisms such as E. coli or yeast for the production of substances like synthetic insulin or antibiotics. Biotechnology is also commonly associated with landmark breakthroughs in new medical therapies to treat hepatitis B, hepatitis C, cancers, arthritis, haemophilia, bone fractures, multiple sclerosis, and cardiovascular disorders.

Modern biotechnology can be used to manufacture existing medicines easily and cheaply. The first genetically engineered products were medicines designed to treat human diseases. It has evolved, making it possible to produce more easily and relatively cheaply human growth hormone, clotting factors for hemophiliacs, fertility drugs, erythropoietin and other drugs.

n Genetic testing: Genetic testing involves the direct examination of the DNA molecule itself. A scientist scans a patient's DNA sample for mutated sequences. It is now used for; carrier screening, confirmational diagnosis of symptomatic individuals, forensic/identity testing, newborn screening, prenatal diagnostic screening, determining sex, etc.
Recently, tests have been developed to detect mutation for a handful of more complex conditions such as breast, ovarian, and colon cancers.

n Gene therapy: It may be used for treating, or even curing, genetic and acquired diseases like cancer and AIDS by using normal genes to supplement or replace defective genes or to bolster a normal function such as immunity. It can be used to target body cells or egg and sperm cells.

n Agriculture: Using the techniques of modern biotechnology, one or two genes may be transferred to a highly developed crop variety to impart a new character that would increase its yield. Increase in crop yield are the most obvious applications of modern biotechnology in agriculture, they are also the most difficult ones. Therefore, much scientific work is to be done in this area.

It is expected that the development in biotechnology will lead to a new scientific revolution that could change the lives and future of the people. It has happened through industrial revolution and computer revolution. And now, it is the turn of biotechnology revolution that promises major changes in many aspects of modern life.

Humans are the ultimate beneficiaries of biotechnology. The public perceptions of biotechnology will significantly influence the rate and direction of future growth of biotechnology.

(The writer is the head of the department of Biotechnology in an engineering college in Belgaum.)

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