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Biotechnologist: A New Wave Career

26 Dec 2018

Biotechnology is the broad area of biology which involves living systems and living organisms for the development of products, or any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, for making or modifying products or processes for specific use. Depending on the tools and applications, it often overlaps with the related fields of molecular biology, bioengineering, biomedical engineering, biomanufacturing, molecular engineering, etc. Humankind has used biotechnology for thousands of years in agriculture, food production, and medicine. Coined in 1919 by Hungarian engineer Károly Ereky, biotechnology has expanded to include new and diverse sciences such as genomics, recombinant gene techniques, applied immunology, and development of pharmaceutical therapies and diagnostic tests.

Biotechnology is a bundle of techniques applied to living cells. Biotechnologists work on these living cells for producing a particular product of improved quality. This field is the exploitation of natural resources at the microbial and molecular level to produce a product of improved quality for the benefit of mankind. The work Bio- technologists do is in a wide range of sectors like agriculture, pharmaceuticals, medicine, environment etc.

Job Profile of a Biotechnologist

Biotechnologists largely work in laboratories to conduct scientific research. They work in a wide range of sectors like agriculture, pharmaceuticals, medicine, environment, chemical research, energy management, genetic engineering, and industry. This field being an interdisciplinary field involves combined scientific research projects involving disciplines such as microbiology, immunology, molecular biology, genetics, biochemistry, chemistry, food science, agriculture, and engineering. The biotechnologists who work in the sector of agriculture conduct research for the improvement of crops, livestock, forestry, and fishery. Their work involves devising biotechnological techniques for increasing productivity, quality, efficient processing and utilization of products with a lesser reliance on agrochemicals. The development of bioinsecticides, bio-chemicals, and tissue culture has been the contribution of agricultural biotechnologists. They even work in medical and health care sectors. With the application of Biotechnology pharmaceutical research, development of new vaccines, and diagnostic procedures have evolved. Environmental biotechnology is applicable for the treatment of industrial waste to the recycling of sewage and microbial processes using many analytical and diagnostic techniques. They also work in genetic improvement. It is an extensive area of work encompassing agriculture, animal and human genetics.

There are many sectors in which Biotechnology s applicable. Below is the detailed information regarding the same:

Medical sector: In this sector, modern biotechnology has so many applications in different areas including pharmaceutical drug discoveries and production, pharmacogenomics, and genetic testing. Pharmacogenomics is a combination of pharmacology and genomics. It is the technology that analyses how genetic makeup affects an individual's response to drugs. It deals with the influence of genetic variation on drug responses in patients by correlating gene expression or single-nucleotide polymorphisms with a drug's efficacy or toxicity. With the help of this, pharmacogenomics aims to develop rational means for the optimization of drug therapy with respect to the patients' genotype, to ensure maximum efficacy with minimal adverse effects. Such approaches promise the advent of "personalized medicine" in which drugs and drug combinations are optimized for each individual's unique genetic makeup.

Agricultural sector: Genetically modified crops are the plants which are used in agriculture. The DNA of these has been modified with genetic engineering techniques. In most cases, the main aim is to introduce a new trait that does not occur naturally in the species. Examples of food crops include resistance to certain pests, diseases, stressful environmental conditions, resistance to chemical treatments, reduction of spoilage, or improving the nutrient profile of the crop. Farmers have widely adopted GM technology. Between 1996 and 2011, the total surface area of land cultivated with GM crops had increased by a factor of 94, from 17,000 square kilometers to 1,600,000 km2. 10% of the world's crop lands were planted with GM crops in 2010. As of 2011, 11 different transgenic crops were grown commercially on 395 million acres in 29 countries such as the USA, Brazil, Argentina, India, Canada, China, Paraguay, Pakistan, South Africa, Uruguay, Bolivia, Australia, Philippines, Myanmar, Burkina Faso, Mexico, and Spain.

Industrial sector: Industrial biotechnology is the application of biotechnology for industrial purposes, including industrial fermentation. It includes the practice of using cells such as micro-organisms, or components of cells like enzymes, to generate industrially useful products in sectors such as chemicals, food and feed, detergents, paper and pulp, textiles and biofuels. In the recent eras, significant progress has been done in creating genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that enhance the diversity of applications and the economic viability of industrial biotechnology. By using renewable raw materials to produce a variety of chemicals and fuels, industrial biotechnology is actively advancing towards lowering greenhouse gas emissions and moving away from a petrochemical-based economy.

Environmental sector: The environment is also affected by biotechnologies in a positive way. Cleaning up environmental wastes is an example of an application of environmental biotechnology; whereas loss of biodiversity or loss of containment of a harmful microbe is some examples of environmental implications of biotechnology.

Regulation sector: The regulation of genetic engineering concerns approaches taken by governments to assess and manage the risks associated with the use of genetic engineering technology, and the development and release of genetically modified organisms (GMO), including genetically modified crops and genetically modified fish. There are differences in the regulation of GMOs between countries, with some of the most marked differences occurring between the USA and Europe. Regulation varies in a given country depending on the intended use of the products of genetic engineering. 

Each successful application is generally funded for five years then must be competitively renewed. Graduate students, in turn, compete for acceptance into a BTP; if accepted, then stipend, tuition and health insurance support are provided for two or three years during the course of their Ph.D. thesis work. Nineteen institutions offer NIGMS supported BTPs. Biotechnology training is also offered at the undergraduate level and in community colleges.

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By: Preeti Narula

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