Role of Biotechnology

Biotechnology has been a part of food production history for thousands of years. It includes technology such as fermentation to make alcoholic beverages and bread, as well as selective breeding of animals and plants. More recent food biotechnology relates to genetic engineering that can be harnessed to make more disease-resistant plant crops that help to alleviate food wastage and even be used to develop life-saving medicines.

Role of Biotechnology Role of Biotechnology

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    So, if you are interested in learning more about the role of biotechnology, read on!

    Biotechnology involves the exploitation of biological processes in living organisms for industrial and other purposes for human use. It comes in many forms, some of which have been around for thousands of years, such as selective breeding in agriculture. The modern techniques of biotechnology involve genetic modification and harnessing the ability to create large quantities of food using microorganisms to help feed an increasing human population, more efficiently.

    Examples of biotechnology used for food production include:

    • Yeast for bread: yeast is a type of fungi used to give bread its distinctive rise with pockets of air.

    • Certain bacteria for yoghurt: bacteria are added to milk, producing an enzyme that helps it ferment and turn into yoghurt.

    • Enzymes for food production: lactase (an enzyme that breaks down the sugar lactose into glucose and galactose) can be added to milk to produce lactose-free milk for those who suffer from lactose intolerance; pectinase (an enzyme that breaks down pectin in cell walls) is used to make fruit juice from fruits.

    Learn more about the food industry by reading our article on Food Production!

    Creating food from a fungus - Mycoprotein

    The fungus Fusarium is cultured in large industrial fermenters where the optimum conditions, such as pH and temperature, are able to be controlled. It's provided with oxygen and glucose for food to allow the fungus to respire aerobically. These ideal conditions let the Fusarium reproduce multiple times.

    Role of Biotechnology Industrial fermenters for food production Role of Biotechnology in the Food Industry StudySmarterFig. 1 - An example of an industrial fermenter used to culture microorganisms to produce novel foods such as mycoprotein

    The biomass is then harvested and cleaned to produce mycoprotein. Mycoprotein is a vegetarian-friendly, rich source of protein. A well-known example is Quorn™ products.

    Since the fungi reproduce super quickly and it only needs a cheap food source, it is a very sustainable source of protein compared to meat from livestock.

    Role of Biotechnology in Aquaculture

    Aquaculture, also known as water-based agriculture, includes processes such as fish farming used to achieve sustainable fishing. With the growing demand for farmed fish, biotechnology can help meet those demands.

    Biotechnology plays a massive role in aquaculture, namely ensuring fish:

    • Achieve a substantial growth rate using techniques such as selective breeding

    • Aqua feeds have an increased nutritional value by producing alternative plant-based sources of protein

    • Health is improved by using genetic engineering to select disease-resistant genes and through the administration of vaccines

    It also offers environmental benefits, not only will it help with conserving wild stocks, but it can help to restore and protect the environment.

    Conserving the environment comes as a by-product of using plant-based protein sources which contain far less phosphorus than fish-based protein. Read more about aquaculture by checking our article on Sustainable Fishing and Farming!

    Food security and trying to solve the problems associated with food production have been at the forefront of many scientists working in the agricultural industry by developing both new ways to grow food and new types of foods using techniques from biotechnology. This is carried out in 2 main ways: genetic modification (or engineering) and selective breeding.

    Genetically Modified Crops

    Food crops can be genetically modified or engineered. This is when an identified gene in a different species is removed using enzymes and placed into the DNA of another organism. When this occurs the resulting organism is known as transgenic.

    Transgenic organism - Organism that contains genetic material from another unrelated organism and has been introduced by artificial means.

    Crops that have undergone genetic modification include such alterations to make them:

    • More nutritionally valuable, such as golden rice - which contains a gene from another plant and a bacterium to make the rice grains produce beta-carotene, a chemical which turns into vitamin A in the human body. This variety of rice can help those suffering from disease-related deficiencies.

    • Resistant to insects, such as in wheat and maize - these contain a gene from a bacterium known as Bacillus thuringiensis which naturally produces a toxin that kills pests such as caterpillars.

    • Resistant to some herbicides (a chemical which destroys plants) - some plants contain this gene naturally. But, for those that don’t, this gene can be inserted so that when farmers spray their whole fields with herbicide, only the weeds are killed and not the crop plants.

    • Drought-resistant so they grow better in drier, warmer conditions to increase crop yield.

    Role of Biotechnology Genetically modified maize crops Examples of Biotechnology in Agriculture StudySmarterFig. 2 - Maize (or corn) crops are genetically modified to make them resistant to insects, pixabay.com

    Genetic Engineering techniques play a massive role in biotechnology applications that shape our lives every day. Read more about them by checking the article on Genetic Engineering!

    Selective breeding

    This type of breeding with regard to agriculture has been going on for thousands of years. Selective breeding is when an organism with desirable traits is bred with an organism of the same species, generally containing desirable traits too. It is used in food crops, livestock rearing and fish farming too.

    When compared with genetic modification, selective breeding doesn’t come with some of the ethical concerns laid out with the latter biotechnology technique. For some, genetic modification veers too far from natural processes.

    Selective Breeding

    Genetic Modification

    Definition

    The artificial selection of breeding partners with desired characteristics to produce offspring with those characteristics

    The artificial manipulation of an organism's genome to achieve the desired characteristics

    Number of generations needed to achieve change

    Many generations

    One

    Organism involved

    Individuals have to be from the same species

    Foreign DNA is introduced from a non-related species

    Human intervention

    Humans intervene with mating by selecting breeding partners, the genes combine on their own

    Humans intervene by introducing genes to the host organism to create new genetic combinations.

    Selective breeding has been around for a long time! Check out "Selective Breeding" article to learn why.

    As we have explored, genetic modification can be used to produce food, GM crops and used in various forms of agriculture. This type of biotechnology can be harnessed in microorganisms such as bacteria to create necessary healthcare products and medicines.

    Recombinant DNA makes it possible for bacteria to produce human insulin. This is when an organism (bacteria in this case) contains DNA from another organism (gene for human insulin). The bacteria produce the human insulin which is then collected and purified to be used for medical purposes to treat those with diabetes.

    The gene for insulin production is located in the human chromosome and isolated using restriction enzymes to create a section of unpaired bases, known as ‘sticky ends’. A similar process is carried out in the bacterial plasmid, where corresponding sticky ends are created by the same restriction enzymes.

    Plasmids are circular DNA strands found in the cytoplasm of a bacterial cell

    Using DNA ligase, the plasmid and isolated insulin gene are joined together to form a single molecule of DNA. This recombinant plasmid is then inserted back into the bacterial cell. The genetically engineered bacteria or transgenic organism is placed into a fermenter where it speeds up reproduction in a more controlled environment, allowing there to be more bacteria expressing the human insulin gene and therefore produce the insulin protein.

    Role of Biotechnology in Waste Management

    Biotechnology can be harnessed to help improve environmental factors such as waste management. Throughout this article, we have touched on some of these technologies. Genetic engineering plays an important role in the efficiency of producing less wastage.

    Genetically modified crops can help to reduce unnecessary food waste by helping farmers minimise crop loss while also conserving resources. It allows farmers to have higher yields while using less land, helping to conserve biodiversity. Additionally, growing some genetically modified crops has actually helped to reduce carbon dioxide emissions produced by agriculture since less heavy machinery is required.

    Some crops which have been modified to reduce the need for fertilisers, and fish farms which use plant-based sources of food (usually from genetically modified crops) have less waste run-off which tends to lead to eutrophication (a process which reduces biodiversity due to the increase in aquatic plant and algae growth).

    Role of Biotechnology - Key takeaways

    • Biotechnology is the exploitation of biological processes in living organisms for industrial and other purposes for human use.
    • Modern food biotechnology harnesses the ability to create large quantities of food using microorganisms.
    • The fungus Fusarium is cultured with glucose and oxygen to produce mycoprotein, where it is harvested and processed. Mycoprotein is a protein-rich vegetarian food.
    • Genetically modified bacteria can be used in the healthcare industry to produce medicines like insulin.
    • All forms of agriculture (livestock, plant crops and aquaculture) use biotechnology techniques like selective breeding to produce food that has higher yields and nutritional content.
    Role of Biotechnology Role of Biotechnology
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    Frequently Asked Questions about Role of Biotechnology

    What is the role of biotechnology in society?

    Biotechnology involves the exploitation of biological processes in living organisms for industrial and other purposes for human use

    What are 3 benefits of biotechnology?

    The 3 main benefits of biotechnology are higher food production, better healthcare and increased sustainability.

    What are some types of biotechnology?

    Some types of biotechnology include fermentation, selective breeding, genetic modification or engineering, use of microorganisms for food production or medicines.

    How does biotechnology help improve human life?

    Its major advances come from the use of biotechnology to improve access to and produce complicated medicines such as insulin.

    What is the role of biotechnology in agriculture?

    Biotechnology provides farmers with techniques to help with higher yields and improved crop and animal quality while allowing cheaper, more manageable production.

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