Due to multidisciplinary nature of the field of biotechnology, a wide range of different branches of science have made significant contributions to the fast development of this field. Some of these disciplines are- biochemical engineering, physiology, biochemistry, food science, material science, bioinformatics immunology, molecular biology, chemical engineering etc.
Biotechnology is also improving the lives of people around the world.The most famous example is the production of insulin. Before 1982, insulin required for the treatment of diabetes was obtained from pig and cow pancreas. The procedure used was very costly, tedious and often lead to complications while using the animal insulin. Using biotechnological tools, the human gene for insulin was isolated, cloned and expressed in microorganisms and large scale production of insulin started. Insulin was the first pharmaceutical product of recombinant DNA technology that was approved for human use. Millions of diabetic patients world over benefited by the biotechnological production of insulin.
Biotechnology also has affected economy in a positive way due to the creation and growth of small business, generation of new jobs. Agricultural biotechnology has reduced our dependency on pesticides. Bioremediation technologies are being used to clean our environment by removing toxic substances from contaminated ground water and soils. The biotechnology has contributed in health services (diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics, foods etc), agricultural sciences (improved crop yield, food quality, improved health of livestock and farm animals), and in environmental monitoring, pollution control.
Modern biotechnology products started coming to the market in the late 1980s. Today, about 60% of the biotechnology products in the market are healthcare products and 21% are products used in agriculture and animal husbandry. A considerable amount of efforts in research are on, to use and extract benefit from this interesting and upcoming field for the betterment of human life and the environment.
Many biochemical companies such as National Pituitary Agency (U.S.A), GeneTech Co. (U.S.A), Biogen (Switzerland), E. Lilly (U.S.A) are involved in the production of biotechnological products using genetic engineering techniques. Many countries have developed collaborative networks and relationships on various aspects of biotechnology such as” International Cell Research Organisation “(ICRO), “ Regional Microbiology Network for South-East Asia” (supported by Japan and UNESCO), Microbiological Resource Centres (MICRCENS, supported by UNESCO).
Current status of Biotechnology
There is almost no discipline among the science subjects that has not contributed either directly or indirectly to the growth of biotech. These branches are the roots of the biotech tree.
There are several methods, techniques or procedures that are collectively called as biotechnological tools that have been developed for transforming the scientific foundations into biotechnological applications.
The product or the fruits of this biotechnological tree has wide range of applications e.g in the medical and health sciences, agriculture, environment etc.
The key areas of research in biotechnology can be summarized as following:
- Production of transgenic animals as bioreactors
- Production of fructose using inexpensive forms of glucose
- Genetical improvement of Pharmaceutical microorgainsms
- Human gene therapy
- Production of monoclonal antibodies
- Production of human interferons
- Microbiological upgradation of hydrocarbons
- Production of human insulin
- Production of plants resistant to herbicides, pests, viruses and insects
- Production of photosynthetically efficient plants
- Production of bio-pesticides and biofertilizers
In the field of medicine, biotechnology has made an impressive impact in the area of drug production, gene therapy, pharmagenomics and genetic testing.
Gene therapy is the insertion, alteration, or removal of genes with in an individual’s cells and biological tissue to treat a disease.
Pharmagenomics- Pharmacogenomics is the study of how the genetic inheritance of an individual affects his/her body’s response to drugs. It is a word derived from the words pharmacology and genomics.
Genetic testing involves techniques in molecular biology to detect genetic diseases. e.g to test the developing fetus for congenital diseases using amniocentesis etc.
Another interesting area which is coming up in big way is improvement of crop plants using biotechnology where biofortification method is being used to improve the nutritional value of the crops.
Biofortification is a method of crops to increase their nutritional value. This can be done either through conventional selective breeding, or through genetic engineering. Biofortification differs from ordinary fortification because it focuses on making plant foods more nutritious as the plants are growing, rather than having nutrients added to the foods when they are being processed. This is an improvement on ordinary fortification when it comes to providing nutrients for the rural poor, who rarely have access to commercially fortified foods.
Golden rice is an example of a GM crop developed for its nutritional value. Golden rice contains genes from the soil bacterium Erwinia and either maize or daffodil plants, and contains increased levels of Beta carotene which can be converted by the body into vitamin A. This can help alleviate symptoms of Vit A deficiency. Researchers at the University of Warwick have been looking for ways to boost the low selenium levels in British grains, and have been working to develop a grain to be used in making bread biofortified with selenium as selenium helps to prevent prostrate cancer.Efforts are on to identifyexotic and indigenously identified candidate genes to be exploited to enhance the level of essential nutrients such as iron, zinc, vitamins, balanced proteins etc, in major crops and in specific pulse and oilseed crops.