BIOTECHNOLOGY AND GENETIC ENGINEERING: AN ALTERATION TO THE NORMAL BASIS OF LIFE
The term biotechnology is a fusion of biology & technology. Biotechnology can be defined as the controlled and deliberate manipulation of biological systems (whether living cells or cell components) for the efficient manufacture or processing of useful products. It is the controlled use of biological agents such as micro- organisms or cellular components for human’s beneficial use. It harnesses cellular and biomolecule processes to develop technologies and products that help improve our lives and the health of our planet.
Modern biotechnology provides breakthrough products and technologies to combat debilitating and rare diseases, reduce our environmental footprint, feed the hungry, use less and cleaner energy and have safer, cleaner and more efficient industrial manufacturing processes.
Genetic engineering is the direct manipulation of an organism’s genes using biotechnology. It is a set of biotechnologies used to change the genetic make-up of cells, including the transfer of genes within and across species boundaries to produce improved or novel organisms.
BRANCHES OF BIOTECHNOLOGY
Biotechnology is applied in various fields. These includes;
- Bio- informatics: This is also called “Gold biotechnology”. It is an interdisciplinary field that addresses biological problems using computational techniques and makes the rapid organization as well as analysis of biological data possible. It combines biology, computer science, information engineering, mathematics and statistics to analyse and interpret biological data.
- Blue Biotechnology: This is based on the exploitation of sea resources to create products and industrial applications. This branch of biotechnology is the most used for the industries of refining and combustion principally on the production of bio-oils with photosynthetic micro- algae. A bio- fuel is a fuel that is produced through contemporary biological processes, such as agriculture and anaerobic digestion. They can be derived directly from plants, that is, energy crops, or indirectly from agricultural, commercial, domestic and/ or industrial wastes.
- Green Biotechnology: This is biotechnology applied to agricultural processes. Here, it involves the designing of transgenic plants to of chemicals. Green biotechnology also involves the use of micro- organisms to clean and reduce waste. Transgenic organisms can offer a range of benefits including;
- Increased crop productivity.
- Enhanced crop protection.
- Improvement in food processing.
- Improved nutritional value.
- Better flavour.
- Fresher produce.
- Reduced pesticide dependence.
- Red Biotechnology: This is the use of biotechnology in the medical and pharmaceutical industries and health preservation. This branch involves the production of vaccines and antibiotics, regenerative therapies, creation of artificial organs and new diagnostics of diseases. As well as the development of hormones, stem cells, antibodies, siRNA and diagnostic tests.
- White Biotechnology: This is also known as industrial biotechnology. This is the biotechnology applied to industrial processes. An example is the designing of an organism to produce a useful chemical. Another example is the use of enzymes as industrial catalysts to either produce valuable chemicals or destroy hazardous and polluting chemicals.
- Yellow Biotechnology: This refers to the use of biotechnology in food production. For example, in making wine, cheese and beer by fermentation. It is also used to refer to biotechnology applied to insects.
- Grey Biotechnology: This is dedicated to environmental applications and focused on the maintenance of biodiversity and removal of pollutants. It involves the use of microbes to improve environmental quality. The areas covered by grey biotechnology include;
- Environmental remediation
- Pollution prevention, detection and monitoring of environmental agents.
- Waste water treatment.
- Soil treatment.
- Treatment of gaseous pollutants using microbiological processes.
- Brown Biotechnology: This is related to the management of arid lands and deserts. One application is the creation of enhanced seeds that resist extreme environmental conditions of arid regions.
- Violet Biotechnology: This is related to law, ethnical and philosophical issues around biotechnology.
- Dark Biotechnology: This is the colour associated with bioterrorism or biological weapons and bio- warfare which uses micro- organisms and toxins to cause diseases and death in humans, livestock and crops.
HOW WILL GENETIC ENGINEERING AND BIOTECHNOLOGY ALTER LIFE ON EARTH
The normal basis of life could be altered by genetic engineering and biotechnology if not controlled. This could happen if, say, mutant viruses or bacteria, or fish, or reptiles are released into the general environment. New organisms created by genetic engineering could present an ecological problem. The changes that a genetically engineered species would make on an environment are unpredictable. It can cause an imbalance in the ecology of a region. An accident or unknown result could present several problems. An accident in engineering the genetics of a virus or bacteria could lead to a stronger type being produced, which, if released could start a serious, uncontrollable epidemic.
Genetic engineering could create unknown side effects or outcomes. Certain changes in animal or plant could cause unpredictable allergic reactions in some people. Other changes could make an organism toxic. Genetic engineering is aided by techniques such as crisps which allows scientists to swap genes between humans or between humans and animals, though in a very precise and controlled way. Genetic engineering could create crops that grows on desert heat or without fertilizers. Genetic engineering could make fruits which contain vaccines or other medical products.
Genetic engineering has created a chicken with four legs and no wings and created a goat with spider genes that creates silk in it’s milk. Genetic engineering has also inserted human genes into sheep so that they secrete alpha- l- antitrypsin in their milk, a useful substance in treating some cases of lung diseases. While all or some of these are beneficial, there is no telling what the long term effects could be.
Genetic engineering is a two- edged sword while it is beneficial, it is also detrimental. It has raised many concerns ranging from ethical issues to a lack of knowledge on the effects genetic engineering would have. Of a major concern is the fact that once a gene is altered and placed in an organism, it cannot be reversed. Another ethical issue is that scientists are playing God by manipulating what God has created.
The most frightening scenario is the destructive use of genetic engineering. Terrorist groups or armies could develop more powerful biological weaponry. These weapons could be resistant to medicines or even targeted at people who carry certain genes.
Genetic engineering has made the whole digital revolution look like nothing. While digital technology changes what we do, genetic engineering has the power to change who we are.