Applications of biotechnology in the modern world

>> Friday, April 2, 2010


The scientific knowledge which is applied to practical ways in industry for the benefit of human beings is called as technology. The biological sciences have recently passed through more advanced technologies in different spheres of life and activities. One of those advanced technologies is the Bio- technology.The applications of advances made in the techniques and instrumentations in research in biological sciences are called as Bio- technology. Some people define bio- technology as – the manipulation of organisms to make products that benefit human beings.
The characteristics of a living organism are determined by some physical units called as genes that are arranged on chromosomes found inside the nucleus of a cell. A gene is made of molecules of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), which is called as the Genetic Blue Print of each living cell. The characteristics and structure of DNA was studied by Rosalind Franklin, Francis Crick, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins (1953), for which Crick, Watson and Wilkins were awarded Nobel Prize for the year 1962, though the contribution of Rosalind Franklin remained un-noticed and she died four years earlier to the award of the Nobel Prize to these workers. Later, Dr. H.G. Khorana, R.H. Holley and M.W. Nirenberg were awarded Nobel Prize for the year 1968, for their pioneering works related to the synthesis of gene. These studies of gene and DNA formed the basis if development of bio- technological studies in India and abroad. The presentation of double helical model of DNA and discoveries pertaining to gene, mark the beginning of the modern era of Bio- technology.

Rosalind Elsie Franklin (1920- 1958)The Pioneer of the discovery of  DNA

Helical Structure of DNA Molecule    

Double Helix of DNA

Biotechnology: its origin and development
The pioneering achievement in the field of Bio- technology was the production of greater genetic varieties of plants and animals through the techniques of Hybridization in 5000BC. It was through hybridization that present day High Yielding Varieties of plants and animals were evolved. This technique is being continuously used in improved forms in our programmes concerned with food production. Norman E. Borlaug, the American Agriculturist, received the Nobel Prize for the year 1970 for his important contribution of increasing the world food supply through different techniques like hybridization, Selective Breeding and Gene Transfer. Hybridization is the technology or process of crossing individuals of opposite sex of different species so as to produce off springs of combined character. The Indian Scientist Dr. M.S.Swaminathan (1967) initiated and developed technologies for increasing food production in India. Dr.Swaminathan is now being called as the Father of Economic Ecology.

In 1960, Werner Arber discovered specific enzymes called as Restriction Enzyme in bacteria. These enzymes can cut the DNA strand of an organism at a precise point. Further, in 1973, Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer became successful in removing a specific gene from a bacterium and inserting it into another bacterium by the application of the restriction enzyme. This discovery led to the development of the Recombinant DNA Technology which is commonly called as Genetic Engineering.

Another major achievement in the field of bio- technological development was the manipulation of bacteria to produce Human Protein (1977). Afterwards, the American Molecular Biologist Lydia Villa- Komaroff developed basic bio- technology for the production of Rat Insulin with the help of genetically engineered bacteria. By using genetically engineered bacteria, scientists became successful in producing Human Insulin in 1978 and within a period of 5 years the Human Insulin became the first biopharmaceutical product in the market to control Diabetes Mellitus.

Scope of Bio- Technology
Bio- technology has scope in the fields of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, Molecular Medicine, Forensic Science, Microbial Genetics, Environmental Sciences etc.
Agriculture and Animal Husbandry
The scope of bio- technological applications in Agriculture and Animal Husbandry is concerned with- the development of disease and pest resistant varieties of plants and animals; the production of food containing high nutrient value; the production of vaccines and the development of drought resistant crop varieties.

 Molecular Medicine
This field of Bio- technology incorporates- disease diagnosis through cultural and different biotechnological methods and through Gene Therapy (cure of diseases through improvement and modification of genes.

 Forensic Science
This science relates to the identification of criminals and researches pertaining to crime. This field of bio- technology incorporates- the DNA- matching tests; the establishment of genetic relationships; DNA-mapping; DNA- Fingerprinting and Genetic Analysis etc.

Microbial Genetics
  This field of bio- technology incorporates- Study of microorganisms and their genetic make up; the study of genetic behavior and possibilities of genetic alterations; recombination etc.The microbial Genetics is also concerned with the study of bio- weapons; bio-wars and bio- fuels.

 Environmental Science
 This field of bio- technology incorporates- studies pertaining to the detection of microorganisms causing health hazards; environmental pollutions and the monitoring of environmental problems concerned with the living world.

Applications of biotechnology
The application of bio- technology can be categorized as Specific Applications and General Applications.

(a) Genetic Engineering: The experiments of Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer (1973) pertaining to the removal of specific gene from a bacterium and the insertion of the same gene into another bacterium, marks the beginning of the Recombinant DNA- technology which is also called as the Genetic Engineering. In their experiments, the “restriction enzymes” were used for cutting the segments of DNA. The Enzymes are specific proteins which can speed up biochemical processes without being altered in the chemical reactions.

The science of changing the pattern of development and behavior of an organism by making alterations in its genes is called as genetic engineering. The organisms produced by altering their genetic make up through DNA recombinant technology or through genetic engineering are called as Genetically Modified Organisms or GMOs. In agriculture, GM-crops are also being produced through genetic engineering. The food produced from genetically modified crops is called as GM- food.

The genetically engineered organism in which a foreign gene has been introduced to obtain desired results is called as a Transgenic Organism. Such an organism may be a plant, an animal, bacteria or fungi. These organisms are developed by injecting a foreign gene into the embryo or the fertilized egg of an organism.

Importance of genetic engineering
. Through genetic engineering the alterations in the genetic make up of an organism can be done successfully,
. Genetic engineering can be employed in increasing food production from plants and animals,
. It is applied in the diagnosis of diseases and improvements in the medical treatment.

(b) Plant Tissue Culture: The technique of growing plant tissues on artificial nutrient medium under laboratory conditions, so as to produce new plants, is called as plant tissue culture. These may be the Meristem Culture, Embryo Culture and Anther Culture and so on.

(c) Monoclonal Antibody: The specialized types of protein molecules produced in the laboratory are called as monoclonal antibodies. These are produced naturally in our bodies when any bacteria or virus invades it. Monoclonal antibodies are produced in our blood and protect us from different types pf diseases. These bodies are used in identifying different types of cells. These are also employed in many diagnostic tests for bacteria and viruses. The experiments on using monoclonal antibodies for fighting against cancer are also going on across the world.

The genetic engineers have engineered the bacterial species E. coli to synthesize a specific protein called as Interferon. These proteins are produced naturally by body cells to oppose viral infections. The biologically synthesized interferon has been tested and found successful.

(d) Synthesis of Enzymes: The Proteinaceous chemical substances of biological origin that accelerate biochemical reactions without undergoing any change are called as enzymes. The term “enzyme” was coined by William Kuhne in 1867 on the basis of his studies on yeast.

Specific enzymes can be synthesized through the application of bio- technology. These enzymes are used in various processes like removal of stains, softening of fabrics, preparation of digestible foods, processing of meat and, even the treatment of cancer.

(e). Synthesis of Biodegradable Plastics: Bio- technology is currently employed in the synthesis of plastic which is biodegradable i.e. unlike other plastics; this plastic can be broken down into simpler substances by microorganisms.

The biodegradable plastic is made from lactic acid which is produced at the time of bacterial fermentation of plant materials like discarded stalks of corn. In the process, molecules of Lactic Acid are chemically grouped to form the biodegradable plastic. In fact, the biodegradable plastic is a material which has most of the properties of plastic except the property of being non- biodegradable.

(f) Blood Substitute: Today the number of people needing blood transfusion is increasing due to frequent accidents and diseases. In view of these facts, biotechnologists are trying to synthesize artificial blood through bio- technology. The biotechnologists like Mary   L. Nucci and Abraham Abuchowski (1998) are likely to get success in their experiments in this regard.

(g). Bio- technology and Mining: Different types of bacteria are being currently employed in the extraction of different metals like copper, zinc, lead and other metals. These bacteria act on the metallic compounds available inside the earth and help in the isolation of respective metals.

(h).Bio- technology and Blood Clotting Protein: Bio- technology has many types of dramatic applications in the field of medicine. It has produced Factor- VIII (1986), which is a blood clotting protein and which is not produced in haemophilic persons. Under these conditions the haemophilic people are always at the risk of bleeding to death. In the process of synthesis of Factor VIII, the human genes having codes of production of blood clotting protein are transplanted into the haemophilic person. The factor VIII is being produced commercially since 1992.

(i). Cloning: The bio- technology of production of cells or organisms that are originally derived from a single original cell or organism by asexual method under laboratory conditions is called as cloning. The copies of organisms produced during cloning have identical genetic make up and are known as clones. We can define a clone as an individual cell or organism which has been grown by a single body cell and which is genetically identical to its parent cell.

During 1950s, scientists cloned frogs and by 1980s they cloned mice. During 1996, Ian Wilmot and his team of researchers achieved success for the first time in cloning an adult sheep. They named the clone as Dolly. Scientists at Texas A & M University in College Station produced the first cloned cat on Dec. 22, 2001 through the Nuclear Transfer Technique. They named the clone – cc or the carbon copy. It is hoped that scientists may one day become successful in cloning extinct animals also.

 (j).Applications in food and beverage industry: A number of food products are produced on industrial scale through the fermentation technology. Some of those products are wine, idlis, yoghurt, cheese, mycoproteins, quorn, bread etc. Besides this bio- technology helps in the production of different vitamins, amino acids and vinegar etc.

(K). Application of Bio- technology in Pharmaceuticals: Modification of microorganisms, animals and plants so as to get maximum yield of medicinally useful substances is called as pharmaceutical bio- technology. Some important examples are being given below-
  (I) Production of human insulin from non- human sources.
 (ii) Production of hormones like Interferon, Cytokinins, Steroids and human growth hormones.
 (iii)Gene-therapy for prevention and control of diseases.
 (iv) Development of vaccines and antibodies. 

(l)Application of bio- technology in Agriculture: Tissue culture, cloning and hybridization are important bio- technologies that are being developed in agriculture today. Tissue culture is important for the propagation of high yielding varieties of plants for agriculture and floriculture. Hybridization is the technique of combining properties of two plants or animals to produce one better hybrid plant or animal. Though this process frequently occurs in nature, the adoption of this technology has supported the agriculture to produce more food to feed growing population in many countries. Similarly, hybridization technology has supported animal husbandry to produce more milk and meat.

The application of bio- technology in agriculture can make it more sustainable. The introduction of bio-fertilizers in soil can improve it’s composition besides making it fertile in a natural way. Similarly, the introduction of bio-pesticides can control pests through natural ways without contaminating the natural environment. The development of disease resistant and pest resistant crop varieties through bio- technological methods has further supported the agriculture.

Scientists are continuously experimenting for the improvement of crop plants like potato, tomato, cabbage and other vegetables and fruits as well as other crop plants like sugarcane, wheat, maize etc. to obtain better yield. Some new crop varieties like Triticale (a man made cereal) have also been developed to add nutrients in our food and increase food production.

(m) Application of bio- technology in Pollution Control: The natural tendency of microorganisms can be exploited through bio- technology for solving the problem of wastes in the environment. The crop residues and animal waste are used in making manure by the activity of aerobic and anaerobic bacteria. The bacterial species Pseudomonas aeruginosa has been developed to eat away the oil spilled on the sea surface. Solid wastes like crop residues can be put inside a biogas digester to produce biogas, a most suitable source of rural energy.

In nature, green plants control atmospheric carbon dioxide by utilizing it in photosynthesis. Hence, plantation of more and more fast growing trees may be an important bio- technological method of controlling carbon dioxide level of atmosphere. Plants fix carbon dioxide by the help of specific enzyme Ribulose- bi- phosphate Carboxilase. The function of this enzyme is controlled genetically. Hence, scientists are trying to manipulate this enzyme to increase the rate of photosynthesis for greater reduction of atmospheric carbon dioxide level.

(n) Application of bio- technology in Waste Water Treatment: The treatment of waste water comprises three major steps- the Primary Treatment, the Secondary Treatment and the Tertiary Treatment.     
The primary treatment comprises many sub- steps like sedimentation, chemical coagulation and precipitation. These sub- steps remove most of the physical impurities or pollutants. The secondary treatment comprises biological process involving bio- technology of employing bacteria, fungi, algae etc. for the breaking down of complex pollutants. In this process, the effluent is passed through a microbial slime layer. The microbes present in this layer break down the organic and nitrogenous waste liberating carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide.

(o) Application of bio- technology in the degradation of pesticides: Different species of bacteria and fungi tend to degrade pesticides. These microorganisms can be genetically manipulated to degrade more and more of them. Some species of bacteria like Pseudomonas sp., Flavobacterium, Azotobacter, E. coli and Acromobacter tend to degrade different pesticides. It has been reported that a mixture of Phenerocheate (a fungus) and enzyme peroxidase in suitable proportion can degrade DDT.

(p) Bioremediation: The application of biotic agents like microorganisms in the correction and recovery of environmental damage is called as bioremediation. The removal of oil spilled on sea water by the help of bacteria is one example of bioremediation.

(q) Industrial Applications of bio- technology: Bio- technology is currently being applied in many areas of industry like the production of stain remover, detergents, bread, biotech-polyester, vitamins; stone washed jeans, bleached paper etc. Here are some examples-
(i) Detergents containing protease enzyme can remove stains of proteinaceous nature both on fabrics and lenses,
(ii) Detergents containing lipase enzyme can remove stains of oil and grease, and those containing amylase can remove starch grains stuck with fabrics.Now a day, polyesters are being synthesized from corn starch feed stock through the application of bio- technology. The enzyme cellulose is used for fading of jeans.
Key Words : Recombinant DNA Technology,deoxyribonucleic acid,Bio- technology,Dr. H.G. Khorana, R.H. Holley and M.W. Nirenberg ,Hybridization ,Ribulose- bi- phosphate Carboxilase,Nucci and Abraham Abuchowski,agriculture,Molecular Medicine, Forensic Science, Microbial Genetics, Environmental Sciences ,Detergents, pesticides, Human Insulin

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