Have you ever been vaccinated for measles? Have you eaten foods marked as GMO? Do you regularly enjoy a slice of bread or an ear of corn? Then, you’ve already benefited from the innovative influence of biotechnology. From the food you eat to the medicines that promise to heal, biotechnology plays a huge role in people’s day-to-day lives. It plays an even bigger role in developing innovations that will help humans live better, more comfortable lives in the future.
As a field of the future, biotech is poised to affect business industries as diverse as food companies, pharmaceutical testing, and green technology. Below, explore the field’s history and some of its many uses.
What Is Biotechnology?
It may surprise you, but biotechnology is as old as wine, beer, and bread! People of the days gone by harnessed the power of living organisms (in this case, microorganisms, like yeast) to make revolutionary and tasty new products. While biotechnology has come a long way since the days of the ancient Egyptians, at its core, it remains the same.
Biotechnology, therefore, is the use of living organisms, such as genes, either as a system or as individual parts, to develop new technology. The term was initially coined in 1919 by Hungarian scientist Karl Ereky, but, at that point, biotechnology had already been in sue for millennia as humans crossbred and selectively altered food crops to be more productive, nutritious, and hardy. The field took off following the discovery of microorganisms in the 19th century and entered the medical field with the discovery of penicillin in the 1940s.
As people’s understanding of microorganisms and genetic structures continued to develop through the latter half of the 20th century, the use of biotechnology led to the development of vaccines to treat conditions, such as mumps, measles, cancer, and hepatitis B, as well as the mapping of the human genome.
Today, biotech companies, like Biotech Health, continue to fill an important innovative role in the medical field, as well as the industrial, agriculture and environmental sectors of the economy. Read on to know how biotechnology is used in different business industries.
Over the past few decades, biotechnology has become instrumental in pharmaceutical research and development. Instead of using the conventional chemical approach, biotech drug development involves identifying the genes and protein ‘targets’ that seem to play a key role in a particular disease. These targets are, then, used to screen the effectiveness of new drugs created to treat the disease. Most major pharmaceutical companies have a biotechnology arm to help test new medicines.
Much of the sector is centered in biotech startups in Silicon Valley and around the world. The annual revenue for medical biotech currently exceeds USD$150 billion, and the sector continues to grow by leaps and bounds as new technology is implemented.
Even AI is helping scientists unlock the secrets of gene activation, a key aspect of medical biotech. In general, biotech companies are more nimble than larger, chemical-based pharmaceutical companies, allowing them to drive faster innovation and product development. While profit isn’t a sure thing for emerging medical biotech firms, those that do succeed make astonishing returns.
Biotechnology in agriculture hasn’t sparked the rise of dynamic startups as it has in medicine. Instead, it has helped large industrial agricultural companies, such as Monsanto, improve food crops for farmers around the world.
Biotechnology has allowed genes spliced into corn and other crops to protect harvests from diseases and pests. The first GMO corn was introduced in 1994, and, currently, 90% of the corn, soybeans, and cotton grown in the US are bioengineered. Bioengineering is helping companies figure out how to make farming possible in new areas, whether this is through developing potatoes that can be watered by sea water or corn that can survive fires.
Crops can also be engineered to be more nutritious and, therefore, more advantageous to poorer populations. Bioengineered farm animals are also becoming a more important aspect of agricultural biotech, with the FDA recently approving the raising of genetically modified salmon for the US market by AquaBounty.
Biotech has been used for centuries on an industrial scale in brewing and cheese production. More recently, businesses have begun utilizing biotech to create entirely new materials and chemicals. Industrial biotech companies are some of the fastest growing biotechnology companies due to the relatively quick turnover of their innovations.
Some of the most common products to be developed via biotech include:
- Dietary supplements
Both consumers and manufacturers alike are looking for sustainable alternatives to plastics and other fossil fuel-derived products. Biotech has provided the answer for this search by developing a wide variety of sustainable manufacturing materials.
The future of industrial biotechnology in creating more environmentally friendly manufacturing is sure to be a dynamic one! Manufacturing companies are working on developing new textiles and plastics, especially with the use of fungi and algae. The quest for planet-friendly materials has led to the use of microorganisms in developing biofuels, which, in turn, can be used to make biodegradable plastics. Biofuels are generated from excess agricultural products, such as corn and sugar cane, and provide a low carbon alternative to fossil fuels.
In addition, other companies are working on ways to use microorganisms to break down heavy metals and other harmful waste products. Enzymes developed via bioengineering are also present in cleaning products, cosmetics, and food processing.
The Future Is Within Reach
From a wide range of practical applications to a dynamic and quickly evolving startup scene, there are many ways that biotechnology could play a role in your business in the near future. Biotechnology is making crops hardier and more disease-resistant, while helping develop new drugs and vaccines, as well as generating environment-friendly fuels of tomorrow, providing a solution for any sector.
Learning how biotechnology might soon influence your field will give you a chance to get ahead of the game and apply this innovative approach today. Whether it’s in medicine, agriculture, or green technologies, biotechnologies are providing key answers for the ever-changing world.