BIOTECHNOLOGY: APPLICATIONS AND IMPORTANCE

The applications of biotechnology are far-reaching that there is barely any industry or institution that does not utilize one form of biotechnological techniques in their operations. With biotechnological applications, novel products with better quality and higher yield could be produced with high efficiency and flexibility and even under a short period of time and with tremendous speed. Biotechnology combines different technology that work together with living cells and their molecules with the view of producing products and services that will improve the lives of plants and animals and their environment. The prehistoric practices of baking bread, making cheese and yoghurt and wine making exemplify the traditional practices of biotechnology long before the discovery of microbes and their effect in these production processes. The traditional biotechnology that existed in the prehistoric days have now transformed into a modern biotechnology because of the advances in sciences over the years. The advent of molecular biology and recombinant DNA technology have given a boost to the field of biotechnology, and this has allowed scientists to produce several industrial/consumer products, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and systems that ensures a sustainable environment for all. Biotechnology has a wide variety of application in so many fields of life including basic science, medicine, agriculture, the environment, industry and pharmaceutical industries. Some of the applications of biotechnological processes are addressed in this section.

APPLICATIONS OF BIOTECHNOLOGICAL PROCESSES IN MEDICINE

Biotechnology is applied in the field of medicine in the areas of diagnosis and treatment of both infectious diseases and genetic disorders. Gene therapy is one of the areas of biotechnology that is used to alter DNA within the cells of a living organism in order to treat a molecular disease (genetic disorder) including but not limited to Parkinson’s disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Gene therapy is one of the promising areas of biotechnology research that holds the potential to treat such diseases as AIDS and other genetic disorders that currently do not have any form of total treatment. Genetic (DNA) testing is another area in medicine in which biotechnology is applied. Genetic testing is used to determine the paternity of a child, solve crime cases as well as determine possible genetic defects in unborn babies. Enzymes Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA), polymerase chain reaction (PCR) based techniques and radioimmuno assays (RIA) are some examples of biotechnological techniques used for the diagnosis of diseases. Many diagnostic testing kits have been developed through the process of biotechnology. These diagnostic kits are used in the hospitals to diagnosis such diseases as AIDS and cancer. Most of the vaccines used today for the vaccination of animals and even humans are produced through biotechnological techniques. In addition, there are plethora of medications including antibiotics and vitamins/minerals that are being developed by biotechnological techniques. Vaccine development is usually a tedious and lengthy process, but with the help of biotechnological processes, most viral infections can be contained through the research and development of novel genetically-modified viral vaccines with higher efficacy and long-life span.       

APPLICATIONS OF BIOTECHNOLOGICAL PROCESSES IN AGRICULTURE

Agriculture is one area in which biotechnology is largely applied especially in the area of food production.Before the advent of modern biotechnology, traditional biotechnological processes have been applied in the production of food and beverages such as bread, cheese, yoghurt, beer and wine. Today, there are genetically modified (GM) foods produced via genetic engineering techniques. Genetically modified crops and plants are also produced via genetic engineering, and important biotechnological technique. These genetically modified crops/plants are used to produce GM foods. With modern biotechnological processes, more nutritious and better tasting foods and food products can be produced even in larger quantities. And owing to the increasing human population which has seen many farm lands been converted into estates (thereby reducing available farming lands), biotechnology holds the potential to produce large amounts of foods and food products to match the skyrocketing human population in the world. Agricultural biotechnology produces crops or plants with reduced dependence on fertilizers, irrigation, land and pesticides. GM crops have increased crop yield, improved nutritional content, improved nutritional content, and increased resistance to environmental stress and pests. Through agricultural biotechnology, new breeds of plants and animals could be produced by the genetic manipulation of the organism to over-express certain genes to enhance their growth or to remove certain undesired genes. This practice is less-time consuming and efficient unlike the traditional methods of grafting, cross-breeding and cross-pollination that were formerly used to obtain new breeds or species of plants or animals in the past. The availability of pesticide-resistant crops/plants and GM foods holds potential to take care of the current food shortage experienced in some parts of the world today. Golden-rice is one example of GM food that contains beta-carotene, the precursor of vitamin A production in living systems. This brand of rice produced via biotechnological applications takes care of vitamin A deficiency in the consumers. 

APPLICATIONS OF BIOTECHNOLOGICAL PROCESSES IN INDUSTRY

Biotechnology is applied in different industries including the food and biopharmaceutical industries to produce industrial and consumable products in larger quantities.Industrial biotechnology applies the techniques of molecular biology and/or recombinant DNA technology to improve the efficiency and reduce the environmental impacts of several industrial processes like textile production, paper and pulp production, production of household products, and the production of some important chemicals such as enzymes and acids or industrial alcohols. Biotechnology is also used for the production of organic acids including lactic acid, citric acid, and acetic acids. With industrial biotechnology, important biocatalysts such as enzymes (substances that speed up the rate of reaction in living systems) can be synthesized in commercial quantities at a high efficiency and speed. Biotechnology is also used in the textile industry for the finishing of fabrics and garments; and this has led to the production of improved garments and fabrics that are biotechnologically-derived. Biotechnology has been applied in the biopharmaceutical industry to produce antibiotics, vaccines and other therapeutic proteins such as human insulin used to treat diabetic patients. The application of biotechnology in industrial processes is enabling most industries across the world to make novel and better products, with greater speed, efficiency and flexibility.

APPLICATIONS IN WASTE MANAGEMENT

Environmental biotechnology is defined as theapplication of biotechnology to solve environmental problems in the environment and in the ecosystems including but not limited to solid waste management, sewage management, waste recycling and pollution control. Biotechnology is applied in pollution control, oil spillage control and management of solid and liquid wastes. Biotechnology is the use of organisms, usually microorganisms, to break down pollutants in the environment including soil and groundwater. Bioremediation is one key aspect that employs biotechnological techniques to clean up wastes in the environment in a more efficient approach.

Mycoremediation and phytoremediation are two areas of bioremediation that utilizes fungi and green plants respectively to decontaminate contaminated soil or land. Waste-degrading microorganisms (bacteria in particular) already live in the soil and feed on the chemical components of some wastes products in the environment. Environmental biotechnologists introduce nutrients into polluted soil or land in order to stimulate the activities of microbes present in the contaminated soil. Once this is done, the microbes are stimulated to grow at an exponential rate. As they grow, the bacteria digest or breakdown the wastes in the soil and then convert them into harmless byproducts. The bacteria return to their normal population level in the soil or die off once they are done with the digestion of the wastes. New microbes with the ability to degrade wastes can also be introduced into the contaminated sites without necessarily depending on the naturally-occurring microbes to do the cleanup.

Environmental biotechnology can also be employed in the production of biofuels and organic fertilizers or manure through the microbial conversion of industrial and domestic wastes. Organisms including plants, animals, bacteria, fungi and algae could be genetically engineered to produce renewable energy through biotechnological processes. The need for clean and renewable energy owing to the current climate change makes this aspect of environmental biotechnology an alternative way of finding clean energy for the future. Environmental biotechnology helps to keep the environment clean and safe for the future generation.       

Further reading

Cooper G.M and Hausman R.E (2004). The cell: A Molecular Approach. Third edition. ASM Press.

Das H.K (2010). Textbook of Biotechnology. Fourth edition. Wiley edition. Wiley India Pvt, Ltd, New Delhi, India.

Davis J.M (2002). Basic Cell Culture, A Practical Approach. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK. 

Mather J and Barnes D (1998). Animal cell culture methods, Methods in cell biology. 2rd eds, Academic press, San Diego.

Noguchi P (2003).  Risks and benefits of gene therapy.  N  Engl J Med, 348:193-194.

Sambrook, J., Russell, D.W. (2001). Molecular Cloning: a Laboratory Manual, 3rd edn. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, New York.

Tamarin Robert H (2002). Principles of Genetics. Seventh edition. Tata McGraw-Hill Publishing Co Ltd, Delhi.     

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