Biotechnology Has Made Its Way to the Forefront of Science
Biotechnology is the use of biology applied to develop products and to conduct research in the fields of medicine, food science and agriculture. Biological concepts are used to produce services and products as in the manipulation of organisms to produce milk products and alcoholic beverages.
Man learnt to ferment fruit to make it into alcoholic beverages as far back as a period extending eight thousand years ago. It was then considered an art, but has transformed itself into a science after scientists established in the 1970s that plant and other living organism genes had information that could help in the synthesis of some particular proteins. The ability to transfer DNA from one organism to another distantly related one was an advance in the field of molecular biology that led to great advances in biotechnology. Further research confirmed that it was possible to modify the genetic structure of animals and plants. This helped them to develop a resistance to disease and an increased productivity rate for both plants and animals. This has allowed microorganisms to be altered to produce antibiotics and insulin. Biotechnology has also allowed plant made pharmaceuticals to be specially engineered.
There are sub-fields in biotechnology such as:
– Red biotechnology
– White or Grey biotechnology
– Green biotechnology
– Blue biotechnology
Red biotechnology is mainly related to medical processes of which genomic manipulation is the latest. In this sub-field microorganisms are genetically altered to help produce proteins, vaccines, vitamins, antibiotics and insulin for use in the field of medicine.
White or Grey biotechnology is mainly used in the industrial sector to produce chemicals by designing organisms like enzymes, bacteria, yeast and moulds. This is use in the food processing industry and has greatly helped in developing this industry to extend shelf life and other required characteristics.
Green biotechnology is obviously used in the field of agriculture. This has helped to create species of plants that are more resistant to disease, are environmentally friendly and give more production. This has greatly helped to increase crop yields and helped to resolve hunger problems for many under developed countries. This is possible because the new varieties of plants developed by manipulating genes after cross breeding different plant types.
Blue biotechnology refers to advances made to understand aquatic plant and animal life, and help to understand how these can be better protected and harvested for the use of mankind.
The Future Of Biotechnology
Biotechnological advances over the past few years have concentrated heavily on the field of genetics. Mapping of the genome in living organisms, even human beings, has led to a better understanding of the way the organisms function. This has led to development of plants specially engineered to prosper in certain environments. Ethics in biotechnology have also created concern in people, as with the present biological advances it is possible to clone life forms, and successes have been made in cloning sheep and other animals. Can it and should be applied to human life, is a question that keeps social thinkers in a quandary. Stem cell research is another aspect of biotechnology that shows a lot of promise in helping to cure many human ailments and even help to grow body parts.
Biotechnology embraces fields like bioinformatics, immunology, embryology, cell biology, biochemistry, bioprocessing, cryopreservation, cytogenetics, molecular biology, microbiology, plant cell culture, animal cell culture and genetic engineering. The ability of scientists to look at and manipulate the smallest of structures that are measured in microns has greatly helped in its development in all these various fields. One recent use which gives man great advantages, is in the field of environment sciences. This has helped industrial and other waste to be analyzed, and organisms developed to break it down into inert and other by products that are no more a threat to the environment.
Biotechnology has not been free of controversies and dilemmas. Some results produced through these technologies have produced residues and resistant organisms which the world would have been better off without. Cloning has always been controversial and raises moral concerns. On the plus side, the technology has helped mankind understand growing mechanisms better, and been of great assistance in improved agriculture, better medicines and cleaner environments. It is the technology of the future.