Introduction of Biotechnology
INTRODUCTION (BIOTECHNOLOGY INTRODUCTION)
Biotechnology in one form or another has flourished since prehistoric times. When the first human beings realized that they could plant their own crops and breed their own animals, they learned to use biotechnology.
The discovery that fruit juices fermented into wine, or that milk could be converted into cheese or yogurt began the study of biotechnology. When the first bakers found that they could make a soft, spongy tad rather than a firm, thin cracker, they were acting as fledgling biotechnologists.
The first animal breeders, realizing that different physical traits could be either magnified or lost by mating appropriate pairs of animals, engaged in the manipulations of biotechnology.
The term “biotechnology” refers to the use of living organisms or their products to modify human health and the human environment. The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity defines biotechnology as: Any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make I or modify products or processes for specific use.
The marked increase in our understanding of these organisms and their cell products gains us the ability to control the many functions of various cells and organisms.
Using the techniques of gene splicing and recombinant IDNA technology, we can now actually combine the genetic elements of two or more living cells. Functioning lengths of DNA can be taken from one organism and placed into the cells of another organism. As a result, for example, we can cause bacterial cells to produce human molecules. Cows can produce more milk for the same amount of feed. And we can synthesize therapeutic molecules that have never before existed.
NEED FOR BIOTECHNOLOGY
Breeding for crop productivity, sustainability and nutritional quality in marginal areas requires an integrated multidisciplinary approach. Conventional approaches to germplasm enhancement and crop breeding have had dramatic impacts on food productivity, particularly in systems that can afford high inputs of fertilizer, water and pesticides.
However, in order to reduce rural poverty and achieve a sustainable development of farming systems, there is a need to address the more complex issues of productivity under marginal cropping environments.
Crops for these production systems must have drought tolerance, host plant resistance to pest and diseases, enhanced nutrition, resilience to changing climatic patterns, and offer an adequate balance of production for multipurpose demands including feed and fodder.
It helps in deriving tailor-made vaccines for the complicated diseases. It helps in animal husbandry for producing high yield variety of catties which can be used in multifarious ways. It helps in protecting the environment in a friendly way through bioprocessing of wastes increasing the dramatic use of biofuels and abandoning the use of chemicals. It also leads to complete study of human origin and evolution.
BIOTECHNOLOGY IN HEALTH AND MEDICINE
Biotechnology has found a wide range of applications in medicine. While dealing with diseases, application of biotechnology includes prevention, diagnosis and cure of diseases.
Through human genetics, it has found use in genetic counselling, antenatal diagnosis and gene therapy. In forensic medicine, it has already been used for identification of individuals who could be criminal.
Vaccines: Vaccines against several pathogens including the following pathogens have either been produced or are expected to be produced in near future,
(i) rabies virus
(ii) foot and mouth disease virus
(iii) Salmonella typhimurium causing typhoid
(iv) Vibrio cholerae causing cholera
(v) Hepatitis B virus causing hepatitis
(vi) Plasmodium falciparum, causing malaria
(vii) Feline Leukaemia virus causing cancer; and
(viii) Taenia solium causing cysticerosis.
BIOTECHNOLOGY IN INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTS
Industrial microbiology is also receiving major attention of biotechnologists. A number of pharmaceutical drugs and chemicals are being produced, or will be produced in future utilizing techniques of biotechnology to increase substantially both the quality and quantity of the product.
Enzyme biotechnology technique have allowed the production of a variety of substances e.g. production of high fructose corn syrup (as a sweetening agent for soft drink industry) using glucose isomerase.
The other applications of biotechnology in industry are: production of chemicals from agricultural wastes, production of antibiotics, vitamins, amino-acids, steroids, biofuel employing microbial transformation and prevention of industrial products from spoilage.
BIOTECHNOLOGY AND ENVIRONMENT
Biotechnology is also being used for dealing with environmental problems. Fears are also being expressed about the implication of advances in biotechnology in terms of release of harmful organisms developed through recombinant DNA technology.
Biotechnological methods have been devised for some environmental problems like:
(i) pollution control
(ii) depletion of natural resources for non-renewable energy
(iii) restoration of degraded lands; and
(iv) biodiversity conservation.
For instance, microbes are being developed to be used as bio-pesticides, biofertilizers, biosensors, etc. and for recovery of metals (which are harmful) from industrial effluents, biodegradation of xenobiotics (waste from nonbiological systems) and toxic wastes, cleaning of spilled oils, mining industries to prevent pollution and for a variety of other purposes.
They are also used for biomonitoring in industries, where employees are exposed to a variety of risks. Biomass is being produced and used as a renewable source of energy, by capturing solar energy. (For more details of ‘biotechnology for renewable energy’ see topics biomass, biogas, hydrogen as a fuel and hydrocarbon in the chapter ‘Energy’).
Tissue culture and genetic engineering, mycorrhizae (VAM fungi), root nodulation (both in legume, and non-legumes, using bacteria like rhizobia and actinomycetes fungus like Frankia) are also being used for reclamation of degraded lands.
BIOTECHNOLOGY AND INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS
Recently there have been discussions on the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR) emanating from the use of biotechnology. The protection of these rights may also affect the development of biotechnology.
The IPR includes patents, trade secrets, trademarks and copyrights, which can be protected through a variety of laws. However not all developments in biotechnology can be protected as IPR. For example techniques used in medicine like bypass surgery, organ transplant, artificial limbs, use of drugs, antibiotics and vaccines etc., are not patentable. Similarly in plant biotechnology, a variety of culture methods, biological control of pests and weeds are not patented.
Products of biotechnology which can be patented include modified antibiotics, hormones and enzymes, synthetic steroids, immobilized enzymes, organ specific drug delivery, heart valves, artificial teeth, plastic bags for blood storage, etc. A variety of products in the field of agriculture and animal husbandry are also patentable. There are also international agreements made to enforce protection of IPR generated in one country and needing protection in other countries.
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