The impact of biotechnology is found in all domains of society covering health care, environment, energy resources and food products. The field of biotechnology has become leading trend in science education because today’s students are making decisions about the developments and applications of these new technologies. Agriculture, Food, medicine and environmental industries are being revolutionized by new advancements in biotechnology. The training of citizens with advanced technologies has always been welcomed in modern cultures as a desirable goal for prosperous future.
In early 20th century, the sphere of science was classified into physics, chemistry and biology. But later, the science was taken as transdisciplinary collage of different communities of scientists, engineers and technologists from multidisciplinary arenas. Biotechnology is all about embracing the use of living systems, organisms, or parts of organisms to manipulate natural procedures in order to develop products and systems. Traditional practices of biotechnology can be found since the beginning of human civilization. Brewing beverages, baking breads, breeding for food crops and raring of domestic animals were early day’s applications of biotechnology. The developments in molecular biology revolutionized the fields of medicines, industry, food and agriculture. The modern biotechnology has captured attention due to its significant impact on economy and society.
Genetic engineering is the modification and transfer of genes between different organisms to produce proteins of interests. Following this technique, gene modified crops and organisms are developed which are used to produce products of interest. The paradigm of modern biotechnology is far more precise than conventional biotechnology. Advances in genetic engineering techniques resulted many gene therapies, epigenetic patterns, treatment of developmental disorders, cancer cure and genetic variations in autoimmunity. Human genome sequencing and mapping of different genes linked with various complex phenotypes resulted in better cure of many diseases and genetic disorders. In Pharmaceutical industry, recombinant DNA technology is used to produce human growth hormones, vaccines, insulin, monoclonal antibodies, human albumin and many other medicines. All the plants, animals and microbes derived vaccines and hormones are commercially available for human use. Scientists are working on engineering edible foods that contain vaccines. These genetic foods will be used in place of injections in developing countries where it is tough to deliver. With advances in stem cell research, we can imagine a future where patients of heart and kidney disease are able to transplant new organs developed from their own tissues. Deploying stem cells is perhaps one of the most recognizable forms of genetic engineering.
Agriculture plays leading role for the economic development of country. Biotechnology is using cutting edge genomic technologies to improve yield, quality and profitability of crop plants by improving resistance against insects and herbicides. Genome sequencing of model crop species have revolutionized the field of plant genomics. It helps the crop geneticists to identify different genes linked with phenotypes of interests. Strengthening host genome resistance is prime objective of every breeding program in order to minimize pesticide/insecticide use which in turn has drastic effects on environment. Many success stories show the transfer of genes from bacteria to cotton for developing host genome resistance against different insects and herbicides. Similarly, for nitrogen use efficiency, identifying and transferring the bacterial gene segments in to the target crop variety would result the new plants with improved nitrogen use efficiency. Tissue culture is used to produce viral free seeds of many vegetables and cash crops. Similarly, embryo culture is used in wide crossing in order to facilitate outbreeding of different species by putting embryos with transformed genes to develop whole plant. DNA markers based plant breeding has a great potential for crop improvement. Using these techniques, the genetic basis for genes of interest can be discovered and the targeted genes can be tagged and used in breeding new lines. Functional genomic studies for stress tolerance are underway in different crop species to study gene expression and protein interactions for identifying gene networks responsible for trait phenotypes variation in the elite breeding lines.
Environment protection is another important area where biotechnology is playing its role to produce environment friendly plants. Engineered plants are used for treatment of problem soils, water and air under phytoremediation. Similarly, bioremediation use microbes for decontamination of polluted environment. Cloning technique is in practice to preserve endangered species of animals and plants. Bio-fortification of different crops to produce nutritionally enriched food is currently a major area of research that has produced a few promising products. Examples include eggs with low cholesterol, cooking oils with desired fatty acid profiles and corn with enhanced amino acids. Some foods have been engineered to confer nutritional benefits in target regions like “Golden Rice” which contains beta carotene and iron. Scientists are working to produce fruits and vegetables with higher nutrient level such as proteins, minerals and vitamins. The foods with less allergens and high levels of omega fatty acids are preferred choice of consumers worldwide. The best steward of land is to produce more crops on less acreage with significant reduction of fuels, pesticides and other farm inputs. Fermentation process offers a way to preserve essential vitamins and proteins which lost in conventional food processing. Biotechnology also helps to detoxify the foods either by processing or by genetic engineering by increasing the nutritional profile to improve its texture, flavor and appearance.
Forensic science is one of the important aspects of criminal justice system and plays a key role to reach the original criminal by using modern tools of biotechnology. It is all about the applications of modern scientific techniques to law enforcement. DNA Forensic has revolutionized many fields of criminal investigation. If human remains are found at a crime scene, the forensic scientist collects the samples and extracts DNA to narrow down the possibilities to solve a crime. Maternity testing, identification of unknown suspect, cause of death, drug testing, cause of fire, ammunition to firearm relation, gender determination and sex crimes are most common cases a in a forensic laboratory. DNA recovered from a victim’s body can be used as strong evidence to determine who was liable for a physical or sexual assault. Similarly, forensic toxicology determines the level marijuana and other lethal drugs from human blood to sort out the cause of fatal road accidents. All these scientific based evidences are commonly used in courts to let the innocent people free.
Biotechnology is an expanding area of modern science with enormous applications in medical science, agriculture, industry and environment. Practical learning of technology is still a challenge in developing countries in order to use it for sole benefits of mankind. In addition, a scientific collaboration of researchers of developing and developed nations must be established. Strengthening of industry and academia linkage would also play key role to promote the applied research. Biotechnology has promising future in the country and indeed to flourish more by eliminating shortcomings. However, a legislative effort from scientists, researchers and government is required for effective utilization of technology while considering safety and ethical concerns.
THE WRITER IS HEC APPROVED PhD FACULTY MEMBER IN THE FIELD OF BIOTECHNOLOGY AND CAN BE REACHED AT [email protected]