Biotechnology : A solution for your everyday problems?

Millions of people worldwide have been helped by more than 200 biotechnology drugs and vaccines

Biotechnology is responsible for hundreds of medical diagnostic tests which keeps the blood supply safe from the AIDS virus and detect other conditions early enough to be successfully treated. Even the home pregnancy test kits are biotechnology diagnostic products.

So who benefits from this multi million dollar industry? If you are with your family right now, you’re looking at people who are benefiting from biotechnology. Has any member of your family ever been vaccinated against hepatitis B?  If so, you have biotechnology to thank for.

Do you know anyone with diabetes? Before the invention of recombinant insulin, there were only few option including animal-derived insulin which would cause allergic reactions. Recombinant insulin is still saving lives today, and the next few years may bring inhaled forms of insulin and other new diabetes drugs which would reduce the devastating impact of this disease.

These improvements in health care is just a small example of the benefits biotechnology has been providing us now and will continue in the future. New products in advanced testing or under consideration for approval at the FDA include medications for cancer, psoriasis, lupus, stroke, HIV (both treatments and vaccines), sickle-cell disease, diabetes, hepatitis, multiple sclerosis, macular degeneration and rare genetic diseases.

Biotechnology is helping to keep all members of the family healthy, including your pet. New veterinary biopharmaceuticals provide better disease treatment, including anti-inflammatory drugs to treat arthritis or musculoskeletal pain in animals. Other biotech products eliminate pets’ internal parasites; antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections etc. So here are 5 benefits of biotechnology that shows us how biotech might just be the solution for all of our problems:

 

1. Safe and Healthy Food

Obesity is rising with popularity of fast foods. So biotechnology is aiming to create a new generation of healthier oils from soybeans, canola and sunflowers.

Other biotechnology products would improve nutritional content. One such product, “golden rice,” would provide vitamin A to millions of people in developing countries who suffer from a deficiency of this vitamin, which is critical for eyesight and anemia prevention. This is just one example of several fortified foods now in development.

Biotech has improvised  food by removing an allergen. People are allergic to common foods like peanuts, shellfish, milk, soy, wheat and eggs etc.  Scientists are working to isolate the specific proteins that trigger allergic reactions and modify the foods so as to eliminate the health risk.

Biotechnology has also focused on making meats safer through innovations in animal health. More then 100 animal biotech products are helping to assure animals are healthy when they leave the farm for processing. They are also developing DNA-based animal identification systems to quickly track future outbreaks of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or mad cow disease) and quickly remove affected meat from grocery stores. Moreover, Korean researchers have cloned cattle which are not susceptible to BSE – pointing the way toward a BSE-free future.

2. Biodefense and Public Safety

Military units face new and dangerous threats from biological and chemical agents. Researchers are producing enzymes that can now break down toxic chemicals, including nerve gases like as sarin and somain, in a way that is effective, convenient and environmentally benign. These enzymes can be added to water and sprayed at the site of attack.

Modified mustard plants have also been an area of interest as it can serve as “sentinel plants” that warn of chemical warfare agents or animal pathogens such as anthrax. Recently, a Danish company announced it had developed a plant which can be used to detect land mines by changing colors when its roots encounter a mine.

3. Food Production

Farmers in 17 countries are growing more than 200 million acres of crops improved through biotechnology. Soybeans, corn, cotton and canola have been enhanced to resist insects and herbicides, allowing farmers to increase productivity.

Feeding the world’s growing population is the most challenging task now but scientists are developing new ways from time to time. New crops which are salt and drought tolerant is said to produce higher yields in marginal cropland soon.

4. Cleaner Manufacturing and Environmental Challenges

Scientists are now looking for ways to use biotechnology to make manufacturing of common products – like plastic and fuel – cleaner, more efficient and more sustainable through the use of renewable resources.

Plastics are coming into your home made with corn and other plants, not petroleum, via a biotechnology process. Think of the impact on the environment: the plants themselves will be taking carbon dioxide out of the air as they grow, while delivering products that do not add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere in their use or disposal. The result is cleaner air, cleaner water and a cleaner planet for your children.

Biodiesel is made by extracting oils from soybeans and other crops. Ethanol can be made from corn or by using agricultural residues such as wheat straw, corn husks, rice straw or even grass clippings. A process called bioremediation uses microorganisms to reduce, eliminate, or contain contaminants.

How does all this affect your everyday life? Such common products as vitamins, paper and faded blue jeans can now be manufactured with less energy and pollution. Plus, every time you take fresh clothes out of the dryer you are benefiting from the detergent enzymes developed by biotechnology to remove deep stains. These enzymes have replaced the phosphates that used to be a serious pollutant for the nation’s rivers and streams.

In developing countries with growing populations, the greatest threat to wildlife habitat and biodiversity is the need to convert these fragile environments to farmland to feed people. By increasing yields on cropland already dedicated to farming, more of these remaining spaces can be preserved.

5. Improving Everyday Life

Sometimes, biotechnology has the biggest impact in places you never notice.When you made coffee this morning, you probably didn’t realize the filter was made with a biotechnology process that uses enzymes to bleach the paper, reducing the amount of chlorine and energy used in manufacturing.The bread your eating contains biotech food enzymes that help the bread rise and keep it fresh. Researchers have also remove lactose from milk to help people who are lactose intolerant. Other enzymes are used in brewing beer or in making flavors like vanilla.

For more than 20 years, the cheese you eat has been created with enzyme,chymosin. The natural enzyme is found in calves and used to curdle milk during cheese production. Biotechnology has now eliminated the need to use animal for this purpose.

What’s Next?

Right now, scientists are developing plants that produce medicines. Think of them as “green drug factories” that will produce all kinds of medical products you and your family may need.

Today, researchers are working with plants such as rice and tobacco to produce proteins for life-saving biotech drugs. One day, rice may be used to make enzymes that can treat iron deficiency, which affects 67 percent of the world population and anemia.

These benefits are just a small sampling of the enormous improvements brought by biotechnology over the past 50+ years, since James Watson and Francis Crick first described the DNA molecule.  Even when you are reading this, researcher around the globe are imagining even more solutions, for the challenging world in which you live.