Friday, 14 July 2017


The word biotechnology brings into our minds and imagery whereby scientists are busy isolating gene fragments, DNA pieces and fitting them together like a jig-saw puzzle and then inserting them into an organism to get a novel product. While this may be true for genetic engineering, which happens to be a small branch of the subjects, biotechnology in essence is a field much broader than we can imagine.

One of the many facts of biotechnology is the field of bioinformatics. To a layman, it can be explained as the use of computational technology to further enhance our knowledge and approximate ideas about biological material based on its properties, which may not be identified experimentally. For instance, the soft wares developed today can assist in telling us whether a protein will be kept inside the cell or exported outside on the basis of simply the primary sequence of the protein. Similarly, the binding capacity of proteins to other molecules and the position of binding can be visualized using computational techniques. This is a very important tool in drug delivery since it helps to design target specific drugs that can be used to cure fatal diseases like dengue fever and AIDS.

An emerging sub-field of biotechnology in this regard is that of pharmaco-genomics which is also referred to as personalized medicine. This involves the use of drugs for treatment according to the genetic characteristics of patients so as to avoid any complications that may arise as a result of allergic reactions as well as to ensure maximum efficacy of the drug. This is particularly helpful in the treatment of diseases like cancer, diabetes, tuberculosis and cardiovascular disease.

The branch of biotechnology known as, medical biotechnology also aims to find a cure to human suffering and to reduce the potential risk of diseases. While this includes the discovery and use of penicillin that happened centuries ago, and the production of recombinant insulin that originated in the last few decades, medical biotechnology has much more to offer. It deals with the designing of drugs as well as with methods to cure the disease by exploiting the natural body mechanism for it. Tissue grafting, organ transplantation, antibody engineering, vaccine production and many such breakthroughs are a reality in the world today, only because of this field of biotechnology.

Another aspect that governs life and health in particular is the environment and biotechnology with it claim to benefit human life, takes care of this aspect as well. Bio-remediation caters to removal of toxic compounds from soil, water and air using microorganisms or plants. This mechanism of removal exists naturally in some plants and microorganisms. 

Biotechnology has further enhanced the ability of these indigenous life forms to clean the environment. Heavy metals, chlorofluorocarbons, oils and harmful radioactive compounds are among the few toxic materials that can be removed using bio-remediation, and this is by no means that only way biotechnology is helping to clean the environment. The designing of cleaner fuels such as bio-diesel and bio-ethanol is the first step towards reducing the pollution resulting from the use of fuels including petroleum products. The best part is that contrary to the common thought, the production of these fuels, for instance bio-gas, is cheap and can be done in a very easy set up.

Fermentation technology is one of the oldest branches of biotechnology. From enzymes used in detergents, to yeast used in bread making, this one aspect of biotechnology has benefited mankind for centuries. Even this aspect has undergone modification over time making it easy to recover products based on their properties. Affinity chromatography, ion exchange chromatography and size exclusion chromatography are among the few techniques that are used to purify the proteins and enzymes produced by fermentation.

These are thousands of other uses of biotechnology with practical applications that are being used globally to enhance healthcare, disease prevention, clean the environment, increase food safety, and provide safe, purified products. So, it is about time that we get rid of approach towards biotechnology thinking that it only deals with genetic engineering and open our minds and eyes to the magic this field has created around us.

Since the last two decades, the dengue incidences have been increased rapidly which has brought many groups including: The Pediatric Dengue Vaccine Initiative (funded by Bill and Melinda Gates foundation), the WHO, the US military, as well as industry and governments in many different countries to collaborate together in the hopes of accelerating the development of a successful vaccine. With our better understanding of the virus particle several vaccine candidates are now showing promise in clinical studies, with the most advanced candidate having phase 3 testing.

About Author:
Miss Ayesha Maqbool
Department of Microbiology,
University of Agriculture, Faisalabad-38040, Pakistan


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