What Is Biotech? Everything that You Need to Know

Biotechnology, also called ‘Biotech’ can be defined as the exploitation of biological processes for industrial and other purposes, especially the genetic manipulation of microorganisms for the production of antibiotics, hormones, etc.

In simple words, you just need to understand that this a branch of study that deals with various forms of life, genetically modifies it and most importantly produces food and medicines. Nonetheless, it does sound complex and we have an ideology of thinking that whatever sounds complex is a rocket-science and has to have been invented in the recent era, but do you think biotech was invented recently?

The Origin of Biotech

Have you ever wondered when was the first booze (alcohol) invented? If you ever did, then you have already raised a question on the origin of Biotech as the process of alcohol making is also one form of biotechnology. Now the production of alcohol dates thousand years back and according to historians, the ancient Egyptian were the first ones to start the use of bacteria for this process.

Moreover,7,000 years ago in Mesopotamia people used bacteria to convert wine into vinegar and also ancient civilizations gained an idea to increase the crop yield by using the tiny organisms in the soil, by rotating the crops in the field. All the ancient civilizations had no idea as to how all these transformations were possible, but Theophrastus, a native of Greek back in 2,300 years ago came up with the theory that broad beans left magic in the soil.

Nonetheless, it was in 1885 when a French Chemist suggested that some soil organisms might be able to ‘fix’ atmospheric nitrogen into a form that plants could use as fertilizer.

The real “Scientific” form of biotech with all the explanations started to originate in the 20th century ever since the DNA was discovered by Francis Crick and James Watson in the early 1950s. Many inventions including the development of interferon, insulin and the high-solids-processing tomato started in the 1970s.

Moreover, nowadays certain companies have got the authority to make products using biotech- from complex medicines like penicillin to simple bakery items like bread and cakes.

Different Types of Biotech

In today’s world of such technology and such smart inventions, it’s no wonder that biotech is developing to its finest level every single day. Similarly, as this field widens up it has left many branches for further researches. The following are the main scopes of biotech:-

1. Medical Biotechnology (Red Biotech)

Mainly to make anti-biotic and vaccines.

2. Agricultural Biotechnology (Green Biotech)

This scope of biotech is used for creating fortified food crops, pest-resistant crops and most importantly, for the breeding of plants and animals.

3. Industrial Biotechnology (White Biotech)

Now, this scope of biotech can be both useful and dangerous based on how we use it. From the making of explosives like nitroglycerine by converting glycerin to the invention of quality wine and alcohol, this scope of biotech is not free form risks.

Likewise, there have been two main additions in the branch of biotech and these are:

4. Blue Biotechnology

This is an essential branch of biotech which deals with marine and underwater environment, whose main motto is to protect the marine life under the sea.

5. Computational Biology (Bioinformatics)

Now, this branch of biotech is one of the most advanced forms which combine both computer and biotechnology together. This branch is very essential in the analysis of drugs for medical purposes, to improve the fertility of crops for agriculture and a lot more interesting works.

The Applications of Biotech

Today’s world has to deal with many crises and all thanks to population growth. The main concern of the 21st century is to provide enough food to all, provide the right medicines when needed, and most of all to save the environment by trying to minimize the damage which has, unfortunately, already been done. The good thing is that this technology has the capacity and the capability to fulfill all the demands of people, only if used wisely.

Here is a list of some of the basic applications of biotech,

  • Fermentation to produce food, like bread, yogurt and non-toxic alcohol
  • Industrial fermentation, to produce chemicals like butanol, acetone, glycerol
  • Food preservation
  • Quarantines and disease prevention
  • Selective Plant breeding and good crop production
  • Fortification of crops, like combining the benefit of wheat or flour with Vitamin A
  • Production of photosynthetically efficient plants
  • Production of trans genic plants and animals
  • Production of Xanthan gum in oil fields for recovery of crude mineral oils
  • Production of pests and biofertilizer
  • Production of vaccines
  • Production of new and efficient antibiotics

Honestly, this list is never going to finish because biotech is so useful and its application in today’s world is infinite. This technology has surely been a boon for mankind in many ways.

Advancement of Biotech in Today’s world

From making just simple booze to making laboratory prepared plants, biotech is way ahead of our times. Ever since humans have discovered the use of micro-organisms (i.e. with or without knowing the science behind it) the growth of biotech has escalated to a fantastic level.

1. Stem Cell Research

This technology uses normal somatic stem cells to regenerate a specific organ or a tissue in a laboratory setting and helps to implant it on humans. Well, it might sound a bit like a Sci-fi thing but the preliminary results have been promising. Let’s take an example of a baby born with a spina bifida or severe spinal disorder. He/ she will have no choice but to live life as it in such horrible conditions with severe impairment. However, biotech promises otherwise! Through technology like this, we can create a well functioning spinal cord through stem cells and replace it with the defected one, and improve the life of such individuals.

2. Targeted Cancer Therapy

We cannot deny the fact that chemotherapies for cancer are so damaging and detrimental to health, but we have to use it anyways as there seem to no better alternatives. But what if I told you that better alternatives are coming up and these alternatives are directly targeting the cancer cells instead of killing both healthy cells and cancer cells. According to the National Cancer Institute of United States, “Eventually, treatments may be individualized based on the unique set of molecular targets produced by the patient’s tumor.” So this invention could be a revolutionary change in the days to come.

3. Vaccines

Talking about vaccines, we cannot forget the HPV (Human Papilloma Vaccine). We all know the fact that Hep B is also produced by recombinant DNA technology, but the recently produced HPV vaccine is revolutionary as Papilloma Virus is responsible for about 275,000 cervical cancer deaths among women. So, this vaccine could prevent the chance of developing such deadly cancer and could save millions from losing their lives.

4. Brain signals to audible speech

Well, scientists are working on it, but hey it’s a good start towards something that is far advance. This technology is supposed to help transmit the brain signals to audible speech, so people who have a problem in the Wernicke area or the Broca’s area of the brain or any other speech disorder related to the higher center can communicate easily.

5. Fortification of Crops

Now wouldn’t it be great if the single staple food that we eat could provide us all the vitamins and minerals that we need? This idea could save time, crop production would spare us from making choices about the so-called- a balanced diet and most importantly could supply nutrients in malnourished areas of the world, which have only a few food resources. And yes, Biotech is making this idea possible.

Promises and Challenges of Biotech

Biotech has shown many miracles in today’s world and has promised further possibilities in the future. However, these blessings of biotech have come with many challenges, which if not addressed with a careful strategy can put humanity in danger.

Firstly, biotech has given a chance to humankind to act like God that is they can create certain organisms using this technology by collecting some somatic cells of their parent organism. Well, this is an advantage when it comes to preserving endangered animals; however, the organism created by the scientist becomes solely his property, due to which he might misuse it or mistreat it as there is no law for the protection of such organisms created with help of biotechnology.

Secondly, in today’s world, there are about 400 pharmaceutical companies that are conducting these researches and about 1,000 genetically engineered products are in the market. In this vast majority of the generation of biotech products, we cannot assure that mistakes might not occur. Any powerful and uncontrollable mistake, if made, can result in profound and wide range disaster to humankind in general.

Thirdly, we as human beings have the responsibility to preserve the whole earth in general and making inventions just for the sake of humans is nothing but stupidity. Nonetheless, biotech is doing exactly everything against nature but in favor of humanity. Many experiments are still been done on animals and no one seems to be bothered about it. Well, if such massive experiments keep happening, we cannot assure the protection of the ecosystem in the future.

Nevertheless, biotech has shown many positive sides and has promised a better future too.  In the 1st World War, for example, the bacteria which convert corn or molasses into acetone were used for making the explosive kill millions; however, biotech also cured the living wounded at the same time as Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin which proved highly successful in treating wounded soldiers.

In Conclusion

It’s very true that biotech has become such boon to mankind but its also true that, if not used properly, this technology can lead to some massive destruction. So, let’s use this boon by bearing the risk factors in mind, so the upcoming generation doesn’t have to face damage and the human race doesn’t extinct altogether.

Reference: Newint | Explorebiotech | Conserve Energy Future | Biology Discussion