What is Biotechnology
On the Way to Understand : What is Biotechnology
Applied biology has many fields to be applied at as the name suggests and biotechnology is one of them. Living organisms andbioprocesses in engineering, technology, medicine and other related fields which require bio-products are needed to be used here. These products are also used for the purpose of manufacturing in biotechnology. Genetic engineering and cell and tissue culture technologies are examples of modern use of similar terms. There are various kinds of procedures and history linked to this concept for modification of living organisms according to various purposes of human — it goes way back to animal domestication, plant cultivation, and improving these by breeding programs that have artificial selection and hybridization. In comparison with biotechnology, it is thought in general that bioengineering is a related field that emphasizes more on higher systems approaches to interface with and to utilize living things. But it is not necessarily needed to alter or use biological materials directly.
What is Biotechnology : Defination
The definition of biotechnology given by The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity is:
“Any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use.”
It can also be defined as this: “Application of scientific and technical advances in life science to develop commercial products” is biotechnology.
Pure biological sciences like genetics, microbiology, animal cell culture, molecular biology, biochemistry, embryology and cell biology are needed for working with biotechnology. And many times it also depends on knowledge and methods from fields like chemical engineering, bioprocess engineering, information technology, bio robotics etc. which are not within biological sphere. On the other hand, modern biological sciences, which may comprise of even concepts such as molecular ecology are closely related and depend on the methods which were developed using biotechnology; and also the one which is commonly known as the life sciences industry.
What is Biotechnology : History
Biomedical Engineering includes much biotechnology which is limited only to medical or health applications. But biotechnology is not limited only to these applications unlike this. The broad definition of “using a biotechnological system to make products” makes agriculture fitted into it in such a way that the plant cultivation may be considered as one of the earliest biotechnological enterprise though normally agriculture is not viewed as biotechnology. There is a theory about agriculture which states that it has become the dominant way of food producing since the Neolithic Revolution. Other mechanical and biological sciences have fine-tuned the processes and methods of agriculture since the beginning of it. Throughout the time of early biotechnology, farmers used this to select the crops which suited the best, to have the highest yields of crops and to produce food which would be enough for a population which was growing fast. As the crops and fields became very large and were difficult to be maintained, other uses of biotechnology were needed to come into action. Some specific organisms and organism by-products were used for fertilization, to restore nitrogen and for controlling of pests. Throughout the agricultural use, farmers have unintentionally altered the genetics of their crops. It was done by growing them in new environments and breeding them with other plants. It is one of the first forms of biotechnology.
The process of brewing beer was developed in the cultures in places like Mesopotamia, Egypt and India. The method of doing this brewing was to use malted grains which contain enzymes to convert the starch of the grains into sugar and then to add specific yeasts to produce beer. The same basic method is used still today. The carbohydrates of the grains were broken down into alcohols like ethanol in the process. Afterwards, the process of lactic acid fermentation was created by other cultures. It made the fermentation and preservation of other forms of food possible. Fermentation was also used during this time to make leavened bread. It is still the first use of biotechnology for converting a food source into another form, though the fermentation process was not fully understood until 1857 when Pasteur’s work was done.
People have used selective breeding for thousands of years. It was done to produce improved crops and livestock which were intended to be used as food sources. In the process of selective breeding, samples of more than one kind of organisms which have desirable characteristics are mated to make offspring which would possess the same characteristics of desire. For instance, this very technique was used for the largest and sweetest production of corn.
In the early twentieth century, scientists acquired a greater knowledge of microbiology. And different ways of manufacturing specific products were also explored. In the year 1917, Chaim Weizmann was the first to use a pure microbiological culture in an industrial process. This process was of manufacturing corn starch using Clostridium acetobutylicum to produce acetone. The United Kingdom desperately needed this acetone to make explosives during World War I.
Biotechnology has its contributions also in the field of antibiotics’ development. Alexander Fleming discovered the mold Penicillium in the year 1928. His work was followed by the antibiotic purification performed by Howard Florey, Ernst Boris Chain and Norman Heatley penicillin. Penicillin became available to be used as medicine for the treatment of bacterial infections of humans in the year 1940.
On 16th June, 1980, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a genetically modified microorganism could be patented; in the case of Diamond v. Chakrabarty. The modern biotechnological field is thought to have begun largely on that very date. Indian-born Ananda Chakrabarty was working for General Electric. He had developed a bacterium derived from the genus Pseudomonas which was capable of breaking down crude oil. He proposed to use it in treating oil spills.
It was expected that the industry’s revenue would grow by 12.9% in the year 2008. There was another factor which was influencing the success of biotechnology sector. And that was the improved intellectual property rights legislation and its worldwide enforcement. And with these, a stronger growing demand for medical and pharmaceutical products to cope with an ageing and ailing U.S. population was also playing a role.
It is expected that rising demand for biofuels is good news for the biotechnology sector. The Department of Energy estimated that ethanol usage could reduce U.S. petroleum-derived fuel consumption by up to 30% by the year 2030. The biotechnology sector developed genetically modified seeds which are resistant to pests and drought. This development has allowed the U.S. farming industry to increase rapidly its supply of corns and soybeans which are the main inputs into biofuels. Biotechnology plays a crucial role to ensure that the targets for biofuel production are met by boosting farm productivity.
What is Biotechnology : Applications
Biotechnology can be applied in four main industrial areas which are:
- Health care or medical,
- Producing crop and agriculture,
- Non-food or industrial uses of crops and other products like biodegradable plastics, vegetable oil, bio-fuels
- Environmental uses.
The directed use of organisms for manufacturing organic products like beer and milk products is one of the applications of biotechnology which can be taken as an example. Using naturally present bacteria by the mining industry in bioleaching can be considered as another example. Biotechnology is also used for recycling, treating waste; clean up the sites which are contaminated by industrial activities which is called bioremediation. And it is also used to produce biological weapons.
There is a long list of derived terms which can be used to identify several branches of biotechnology; some of them are as follows:
It is an interdisciplinary field. It addresses biological problems using computational techniques. And it makes possible for the rapid organization and analysis of biological data. This field may also be called as computational biology. It can be defined as, “Conceptualizing biology in terms of molecules and then applying informatics techniques to understand and organize the information associated with these molecules, on a large scale.” Bioinformatics plays a key role in many areas like functional genomics, structural genomics and proteomics. It forms a key component in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sector.
It is a term that is used to indicate biotechnology’s marine and aquatic applications, but the use of this is relatively rare.
It is that biotechnology which is applied to agricultural processes. The selection and domestication of plants via micro propagation would be an example. To design the transgenic plants to grow under certain environments in the presence and/or absence of chemicals is another example. There is this hope that the green biotechnology might produce more environment-friendly solutions than the traditional industrial agriculture does. As an example, the engineering of a plant to express a pesticide can end the need of external application of pesticides. Bt corn would be an example of this. It is considerably debatable that whether or not products of green biotechnology such as these are more environment-friendly at the end.
It is applied to medical processes. Some examples of red biotechnology are the designing of organisms for producing antibiotics and the engineering of genetic cures by genetic manipulation.
It is also known as industrial biotechnology. It is that biotechnology which is applied to industrial processes. An example of this is the designing of organisms for producing useful chemicals. Another example would be to use enzymes as industrial catalysts to either produce valuable chemicals or to destroy hazardous and/or polluting ones. White biotechnology usually needs smaller amount of resources than the traditional processes that are used to produce industrial goods. The investments and economic outputs of all of these kinds of applied biotechnologies altogether are termed as bio economy.
In the domain of medicine, modern biotechnology can be applied in many areas such as-
- Production of drugs
- Gene therapy
- Genetic testing or genetic screening: there are techniques in molecular biology that are used to detect genetic diseases. This testing or screening can be used to test the developing fetus for down syndrome, amniocentesis and chorionic villi identification.
Pharmacogenomics is the study of affects of the genetic inheritance of an individual to his/her body’s response to drugs. Pharmacogenomics is a combination of two words -“pharmacology” and “genomics”. So, it is the study of the relationship between pharmaceuticals and genetics. The vision of pharmacogenomics is to become able for designing and producing drugs that are compatible to each person’s genetic makeup.
Pharmacogenomics can be used for these purposes:
Developing customized medicines:
Pharmaceutical companies can manufacture drugs which are based on the proteins, enzymes and RNA molecules that are linked with specific genes and diseases with the use of pharmacogenomics. These customized drugs give hopes not only to increase the therapeutic effects to the highest possible level but also to decrease damaging the nearby healthy cells.
More accuracy in the methods to determine appropriate dosages of drugs:
If the doctors become able to know the patient’s genetics, it’ll help them to understand and decide how well his/her (the patient’s) body can process and metabolize a medicine. Thus the value of the medicine will be increased and the likelihood of overdose will be decreased.
Improvements in the discovery of drugs and the process of approval:
Use of genome targets will make the discovery of potential therapies a lot easier. Genes have been linked with a lot of diseases and disorders. By using modern biotechnology, these genes can be used as targets for developing effective new therapies by which the drug discovery process could be significantly shorten.
Organisms transformed by using genetic engineering can be used to design and produce safer vaccines. These vaccines will exert such immune response which will not have the risks of infection unlike some similar vaccines made with unaltered organisms. These will be cheap, stable, easy for storage and capable of being engineered for carrying more than one strain of pathogen at a single time.