The fusion of technology with knowledge creates what the world once assumed as miracles and biotechnology can be considered as a perfect example where the knowledge of biology when blended with technology is making the world a better place by enhancing the quality of life and alleviating the human sufferings.
What is Biotechnology?
‘Biotechnology’, the term was coined by a Hungarian engineer, Karl Ereky and is defined as per the UN convention on biological diversity as, “Any technological application that uses biological system or living organisms to make or modify the process or products for specific use.”
Effusing life to life, through life, is what biotechnology is about. The idea of modifying products to suit specific applications and engineer them to make more viable, inspired man to reach the pinnacle where Biotechnology stands today.
Biotechnology has touched almost every aspect of human life and has carved its niche too. Biotechnology dealing with medical and health care is termed as Red biotechnology. It is Green biotechnology, when it concerns about agricultural processes and White biotechnology when comes to industrial processes.
‘Dolly’, the cloned sheep, human genome project, genetically modified crops, medical science breakthroughs, drew the attraction of the world towards biotechnology and thus it carries a misconception of being a recent advent. However, the fact is that it is as old as our civilisation. If you clearly understood the definition of biotechnology given above, you can figure out that when you convert milk to yogurt or cheese it is nothing but biotechnology, where a living organism (bacteria), makes the product. Agriculture, in a way is biotechnology too. Selective planting of crops and breeding of animals, has been practiced since Neolithic revolution. Sumerians and Babylonians in 6000 BC used yeast to make beer. The process of fermentation, a natural process based on biological activity of single celled microorganism was first used by Egyptians to bake breads and make wine.
The progress of biotechnology in late eighteenth century and dawn of nineteenth century include some crucial discoveries like vaccination, crop rotation to increase yield and land use. Discovery of microorganisms, Mendel’s work on genetics, Darwin’s theory of natural selection, Pasteur’s work on communicable diseases dates back to the late nineteenth century.
Biotechnology made its industrial and agricultural presence at the beginning of twentieth century. Production and use of Bio fuel was encouraged during World Wars. In 1928, Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. In 1953, structure of DNA was proposed, that stirred the research in molecular biology and genetics. With the discovery of restricted enzyme, it became possible to insert foreign genes to bacteria in 1973. This paved way for the revolutionary technique ‘Recombinant DNA’. This technique enabled production of human insulin from bacteria and is also considered as the birth of modern biotechnology.
This legacy of biotechnological breakthroughs, capable of changing lives, is continuing till date.
The world of Biotechnology:
Biotechnology has marked its presence in medical, industrial, environmental, agricultural, forensics and many more areas directly touching the lives of human beings and is making a significant difference too.
Biotechnology applied to the medical and health care field is termed as ‘Red Biotechnology’. Intensive research in this field has not only assured a ray of hope for various life threatening diseases but has also enhanced the quality of life. Red biotechnology deals with pharmacogenomics, designing organisms to produce antibiotics and vaccines, clinical research and trials, gene therapy and diagnostics. The technology is useful in veterinary science and poultry farming as well.
This application of biotechnology is not less than a boon for health care. It cures by altering the genetic material of an individual. DNA, the genetic material, is manipulated by Gene therapy either to replace the defective genes or to supplement normal genes using treatments like Ex-vivo (from outside body) or In-vivo (inside the body).
Gene splicing, a tool of genetic engineering allows scientists to transfer gene from one organism to another. This alteration of genetic make-up of organism led to the development of recombinant DNA, which proved a milestone for production of insulin needed for type-2 diabetes. Some genes of human insulin are transferred to E-coli bacteria, from which further production of insulin is achieved.
Red biotechnology has played vital role in the development of vaccines too. Genetically altered cowpox is used against influenza, herpes and hepatitis. HGP
Pharmacogenomics and Medicines:
The study of pharmaceuticals and genetics, Pharmacogenomics, makes it possible to design and produce drugs to suit the specific genetic requirements of specific patients. With this technology it is also possible to determine the dosage of drugs appropriate to a patient as genetic information enables to know the response of body to the drug. It helps pharmaceutical industry to develop better quality medicines.
Biotech drugs, known as biologics or biotherapeuticals are derived from genetic engineering or manipulation of proteins in organisms. Unlike conventional drugs, that treat symptoms in a broad way, the biologics are used specifically.
The credit of popularization of this novel field goes to ‘Dolly’, the cloned sheep at Roslin institute in1997. This also triggered hopes of success in developing human clone, which then was just a part of farfetched scientific fictions. In this technique, a nucleus is removed from one cell and is placed inside an unfertilized egg and can be allowed to grow identical to the donor of original nucleus.
Stem cell Therapy:
This new face of advancement in technology has some truly enormous potential. It can completely change the way of treating deadly diseases like cancer. Stem cells are cells in their initial stage, when they are not yet specialized to develop into some particular cell. These unspecialized cells can renew themselves for long periods of time through cell division and under certain biochemical conditions can be made to differentiate, i.e. grow into specific cell. Thus new cells can be inserted in place of damaged ones to treat the injury and the characteristic self renewal property allows generation of tissues to replace tissues in affected areas.
Recently scientists succeeded in production of stem cells from endangered species, a breakthrough that could save animals in danger of extinction.