Friday, June 11th, 2021 -- There’s a very good chance you have heard of biotechnology, but what is it and what are its uses? In simple terms, biotechnology is a STEM field that uses living organisms or cells to develop or create products and technologies, such as biodiesel (biofuel), synthetic drugs, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Modern biotechnology is used mostly to create medicines that combat diseases, technologies that reduce our global footprint, and bioengineered plants that produce more food in less time.
But there are much simpler things that also fall into the concept of biotechnology, such as using yeast to bake bread, as the general idea is simply to use a living organism to produce your desired product. The concept of biotechnology has been used since the dawn of civilization through Chinese fermentation techniques and Aztec spirulina cakes, though it was only given its proper name in 1919 by Hungarian engineer, Karl Ereky. The global biotech market is growing at an incredible rate and is expected to reach about 2.439 billion US dollars by 2028, making it part of one of the largest global markets.
Within biotechnology, there are five different fields typically talked about, including Animal Biotechnology, Medical Biotechnology, Industrial Biotechnology, Environmental Biotechnology, and Plant Biotechnology. Each of these different fields is vital to increasing the quality of life for billions across the globe, and they will continue to make huge advancements for generations to come.
Medical Biotechnology has already helped cure many rare diseases and extend life expectancies for millions, if not billions, of people, while also lowering the cost of healthcare, allowing more people to have access to it. With similar interests, Animal Biotechnology advancements allow us to modify the genome of animals, making them more suitable for pharmaceutical, industrial, or agricultural applications. Meanwhile, Industrial Biotechnology manipulates microorganisms, enzymes, and plants to produce industrial chemicals, energy, and consumer products efficiently.
The Environmental Biotechnology field mainly deals with environmental problems, such as renewable (not depleted upon usage) energy production or the removal of pollution by exploiting biological processes. The Plant Biotechnology field focuses mostly on adapting plants for specific needs or opportunities, such as engineering a certain crop to grow, even during unfavorable weather conditions.
As it is such a fast-growing field, biotechnology is a major offered at many American universities and there are many jobs and career paths that a biotechnology major can pursue, ranging from software engineering to clinical research, and from business management to regulatory affairs. Many of these jobs have large projected growth rates, such as Biological/clinical technology and medical science, which both have a projected growth rate of 13% by the year 2026.
Biotechnology has always been such a large part of our world and plays a huge role in allowing us to live the way we do. From giving us bread that rises to life-saving medicines, it is obvious that almost everything we have today was influenced by biotechnology, and it will continue to influence the lives of billions of people around the world for generations to come.
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Genetically modified organisms (GMOs): substances that are made up of large molecules, called macromolecules, of smaller, repeating chemical units
Genome: all the genetic material of an organism, consisting of various types of DNA