Over the last century, notable scientific discoveries have been made at an accelerated rate. Scientists across disciplines continue to draw from the cumulative body of knowledge to inform their studies. This has led to the minimisation and eradication of several diseases, along with an improved quality of life overall. Despite all of these discoveries, many stones still remain unturned. One growing scientific discipline that may help address these yet-to-be-discovered areas is that of biotechnology. In biotechnology, the development of new products is influenced and inspired by existing natural processes.
An Overview of Biotechnology
Biotechnology has existed in one form or another for thousands of years, as natural processes have long influenced medical practices and food production. One of the earliest examples of the use of biotechnology is how ancient civilizations used fermentation to make beer. These civilizations intentionally made use of the unique properties of yeasts and grains, carefully combining them to create new products. The widespread practice of agriculture across time is another example of the historic use of biotechnology.
Over the last century, the applications of biotechnology have expanded rapidly with the advent of newer genetic sciences and more sophisticated diagnostics and pharmaceuticals. Leaders in these disciplines have recognized the significance of biotechnology and are working to grow the field even more. For example, Bruce Eaton obtained his positions of president and CEO of Velocity Science and chairman and CEO of i2 Pharmaceuticals after years as a scientific consultant for various organizations. Armed with a PhD in organic chemistry, Eaton has headed the development of critical tools used in pharmaceutical and life sciences research.
Biotechnology is as vast and diverse as nature itself. From engineering to medicine, researchers have found crucial new information by examining their surroundings.
For example, most plants display waterproof properties to some degree. By delving into the microscopic structure of these plants, scientists have been able to pinpoint some possible ways to manufacture artificial waterproof materials. Lotus leaves have not one but two levels of rough texture that work together to deflect moisture. If scientists could replicate this characteristic, waterproof materials could achieve higher levels of effectiveness. Innovations in the packaging materials industry may also be inspired by plant life. For example, pollen particles are capable of folding and sealing themselves against the elements, enabling their safe journeys to their destinations.
The biofuel industry is one of biotechnology’s most critical branches. As environmental protection becomes a more salient cause for larger numbers of people, scientists are working more urgently to find alternatives to fossil fuels. While existing biofuels such as ethanol are imperfect, there is hope that the ongoing research in this field will lead to the development of renewable and efficient sources of energy.
The pharmaceutical industry is both directly and indirectly influenced by the properties of nature. On the direct level, scientists attempt to pinpoint potential targets for drugs by examining the genes and proteins of various diseases. Once the vulnerabilities of these targets are determined, scientists can develop pharmaceuticals accordingly. On an indirect level, nature can inspire the design of certain drugs. For example, Harvard scientists are examining the possibility of modeling medicines after pollen, because pollen’s structure lends itself to rapid absorption into the systems of those who inhale it.
Bioinformatics is another important player in the biotechnology field. Because genetic information is so complex, it requires a complex level of analysis. The computer technologies used to organize and analyze biological data make up the field of bioinformatics. Bioinformatics programs expedite the process of making critical discoveries about the structures and properties of genes and their proteins.
Biotechnology can also be used to help people enjoy more personalized medical care. Pharmacogenetics is a rising area of study that is attempting to fit patients with the best drugs not only for their conditions, but also for their bodies. The ultimate goal is for doctors to be able to review patients’ genetic profiles in order to determine how effective drugs will be for them on the individual level. Thanks to research in this area, scientists have also been able to provide the public with better information about the role of genetic factors in various diseases.
Why It Matters
As the field of biotechnology continues to develop, its applications are multiplying all the time. Biotechnology is critical on several levels. It keeps the importance of preserving and respecting nature at the forefront of the minds of people who are in a position to bring new products to market. This may influence them to continue to pursue the development of sustainable products and practices. It also encourages innovation and collaboration across research disciplines, leading to a more cohesive scientific community.
Most importantly, biotechnology contributes to improved global health, since its applications have not only been used to create optimal treatment methods, but also to drastically reduce the occurrence of dreaded diseases. A physically healthier public is more equipped to become a more socially and psychologically healthy public. If scientists continue to use biotechnology wisely, they can help create a better future for the earth and all who inhabit it.
Article Submitted By Community Writer