Biotechnology, put simply, is a field that makes use of biological organisms and systems to engineering new products. These products can help in improving our lifestyles and in maintaining a healthy environment around us, thus protecting our planet.
Here’s what we’ll look at today
- Biotech and COVID-19
- Challenges faced by Biotech during the pandemic
- Career options in Biotech
While recently Biotechnology has assumed greater importance, it isn’t a new field. It’s really been around for thousands of years. One of the most popular usages of biotechnology, which dates back to ancient times, is the production of beer using fermentation techniques. This process involves the use of living organisms such as yeast, in its natural form, to induce a biochemical reaction in food products. In fact, the process has remained unchanged till date.
Most modern biotechnologically engineered products make use of scientifically modified versions of living systems. As researchers learned how the genetic material of organisms could be modified, the field of biotechnology began to advance with new disciplines including genomics, immunology, etc. It has found applications in healthcare, agriculture, environmental usage, and other products (biofuels, and plastic among others).
And, like with so much else, the pandemic has highlighted the scope and importance of biotechnology.
Biotechnology has been playing a vital role in understanding how diseases spread and how fatal they can potentially be to humans. Tools that can accurately predict diseases and can change the course a disease takes can easily be created using biotechnology. Scientists are able to understand where a disease originated from, based on scientific tracing methods. Due to biotechnology’s collaboration with other fields, it is possible to arrive at solutions for problems using inter-field research, which generally cannot be solved by one particular field. For instance, it was found that AI tools could be used to associate existing drugs to the pathogens that cause COVID-19. Drugs were also repurposed by a method known as drug-repositioning. Through drug repurposing, approved drugs that were used in the treatment of other diseases were used for the treatment of COVID-19.
Biotechnological devices have helped in the various stages involved during the development of vaccines. Vaccines are essentially weakened versions of the viruses or copies of the proteins that form the outer covering of the viruses. They are used to protect humans from possible infections caused by bacteria and viruses by improving our immunity against a particular disease. In the case of the current pandemic, biotechnology has helped to understand how vaccines work on the SARS-C0V-2 virus. This has helped in the accelerated development of vaccines that can be provided to the public for protection from COVID-19.
Biotechnological organisations have been pivotal in designing and developing medical kits that help front-line workers such as physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals. These kits are designed to protect the wearers as well as the patients that are being treated. Life support systems that sustain the lives of patients have been designed. Bulky, immobile devices have made way for mobile, inexpensive medical devices that are even more efficient than the former.
Although many breakthroughs have been produced by biotechnology, laboratory activities were brought to a standstill during the initial days of the pandemic as no one was quite clear about the situation. Research that requires a lot of data analysis and documentation has been progressing due to most researchers being confined to their homes. However, as most of the organizations have opted to work remotely and meet online for work-related discussions, the research that requires scientists to work out of laboratories has been halted, leading to stagnation in certain disciplines of biotechnology.
Although biotechnology is an important sector for any country’s scientific development, it is restrained by the lack of financial aid and budgetary allocation. However, the pandemic has changed this for the better with most countries allocating twice as much as the actual budget for scientific activities. Many private firms have begun to provide funding to biotechnological companies that focus on producing environmentally friendly products. Another issue faced by pharmaceutical companies is to manufacture a certain product on a large scale. The delivery of drugs to the regions that require it is yet another challenge. Biotechnology not only deals with what kind of drugs to be manufactured and how, but also with its logistics.
However, the most challenging issue of all is the inability of people to place trust in science. There are quite a few who even believe that vaccines will have microchips embedded in them to control the human population. It is therefore important for Governments to encourage scientific research and practices while staging rigourous public campaigns to improve awareness among the masses.
Biotechnology engineering is a course with specialisations in biostatistics, biophysics, microbiology, molecular biology, biochemistry, immunology. Graduates of biotechnological courses get into varying scientific roles including microbiologist, immunologist, virologist, epidemiologist, biochemist, etc. Biostatistics deals with developing statistical methods for different biological processes. Biophysics makes use of methods in physics to understand and study biological mechanisms. Immunologists study the immune systems of organisms and try to find the connection between disease-causing pathogens and diseases. Virologists study the various viruses and manage the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of infectious diseases. Virologists are one of the most sought-after medical professionals during the current pandemic as their experience provides valuable insights into how COVID-19 can be brought under control.
The top universities of 2021 that offer bachelor, master, and Ph.D. programmes in biological sciences according to QS rankings are listed below.
Most graduates of biotechnology prefer to continue in the field through research. Through research, it is possible to design and develop products that can improve lifestyle. Remember, if you work in the field of biotechnology, it is more than just a job – it is a service to society.
Read more about the future of biotechnology.