Biotechnology – Applications, Nature, Scope, Biotechnology UPSC

By Balaji

Updated on: May 11th, 2023

Biotechnology, as the name suggests, can be split into two terms – “Bio,” which involves living organisms or biological systems, and “Technology,” which involves the utilization of various biological machinery to produce any desired product. Biotechnology elaborates on the mechanism of operating machines using biological organisms.

Biotechnology has applications in a wide range of fields, including agriculture, medicine, energy, and environmental conservation, among others. The field is constantly evolving, and new breakthroughs and discoveries are being made every day. In this article, we will explore the basics of Biotechnology, its applications, and its impact on society.

What is Biotechnology?

Genetic engineering was developed in 1970, research in Biotechnology (and other interconnected fields such as biology, medicine, etc.) led to the rapid evolution of Biotechnology as it increased the possibility of altering the genetic material (DNA) of various organisms. Biotechnology is responsible for manufacturing any pharmaceutical drug product for industries and biologicals using genetically modified plants, animals, microbes, and fungi.

Biotechnology UPSC Notes PDF

The uses of Biotechnology in enormous and its mechanism are utilized in diagnostics, bioremediation, genetically modified plants for agriculture, therapeutics, processed food, waste management, and energy production.

Department of Biotechnology (DBT) in India

Department of Biotechnology, generally abbreviated as DBT India, mainly focuses on developing human resources, creating appropriate infrastructure, research and development, and a regulatory framework.

There is a continued effort on many public aspects like health care, food and agriculture in India, energy, and environmental security. The Department of Biotechnology comes under the Ministry of Science and Technology and handles most of the programs in the Biotechnology sector in India. Its objectives are:

  • To assist in research, infrastructure, generation of human resources, increasing the popularity of Biotechnology, and advancement of industries.
  • Implementing biosafety policies for GMO or genetically modified organisms, recombinant DNA products, and Biotechnology -based programs for the benefit of society.
  • To establish an information network for the Bioinformatics mission of India in the scientific community, nationally and internationally.
  • Currently, the Society of Biotechnology of India (SBPI) facilitated transformation changes and practices toward research in Biotechnology. This was done so that the outcome yields better products and leads to economic gain.

Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC)

This committee works under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC). The chairman of GEAC is the special or additional Secretary and is co-chairman is a representative from the Department of Biotechnology (DBT). It has the following responsibilities in Biotechnology:

  • It is accountable for the assessment of activities concerning the wide use of dangerous microorganisms, industrial production, and recombinants utilized in research.
  • It is responsible to implement proposals relating to the release of GMO or genetically modified organisms and their by-products into the surroundings.

Branches of Biotechnology

A series of derived terms have been pointed out to identify several branches of Biotechnology such as:

  • Bioinformatics: It is an interdisciplinary field that addresses biological problems using computational techniques and makes rapid organization and analysis of biological data possible.
  • Blue Biotechnology: It is the term that has been used to describe the marine and aquatic applications of Biotechnology, but its use is relatively rare.
  • Green Biotechnology:  Biotechnology in agriculture has proved to be revolutionary and researchers are still in it the process. e.g., BT cotton (micropropagation).
  • Red Biotechnology: Red Biotechnology is applied in the medical process. For example, The development of organisms capable of producing antibiotics and Genetic engineering for genetic manipulation.
  • White Biotechnology: It is also known as industrial Biotechnology or Biotechnology applied to industrial processes.

Tools in Biotechnology

Below we have discussed some key tools in biotechnology and their applications. We have also examined how these tools are used in different areas of biotechnology.

  • Genetic Engineering(Biotechnology): It refers to the direct human manipulation by which a foreign gene is inserted into the DNA of an unrelated organism. Genetic engineering techniques are used in many fields, that includes research, Biotechnology, and medicine.
  • Plant Tissue Culture(Biotechnology): It is a technique for growing tissues or cells of a multicellular organism in an artificial environment. It is beneficial in clonal propagation on a large scale, especially ornamental and horticultural plants, for obtaining disease-free plant material and producing biologically active compounds for the pharmaceutical industry.
  • Cell Cryopreservation: It is a process where cells and whole tissues are preserved by cooling to a low sub-zero temperature, such as minus 196 degrees Celsius, which is the boiling point of liquid nitrogen. At this low temperature, any biological activity, including the biochemical reaction that could lead to cell death, is effectively stopped.
  • Cloning(Biotechnology ): The word clone is derived from the Greek word ‘klon’, which means twig (part of a plant used for reproduction). clone is exact replica of plants or animals replicated sexually it means making an identical copy physically as well as genetically. Dolly was the mammal to have been successfully cloned from an adult cell and was born in 1996 at Roslin Institute in Scotland and lived there until death 7 years later.
  • Stem cells(Biotechnology ): They differ from other kinds of cells found in the body by having two important characteristics that distinguish them from other types of cells. Stem cells are cells that renew themselves for a long period through cell division, and stem cells can be induced to become cells with a special function, such as beating cells of the heart muscle. Insulin cell production in the pancreas can be increased under certain psychological and experimental conditions. There are two kinds of stem cells in animals and human beings – Embryonic stem cells, Adult Stem Cells
  • Microbial Biotechnology: Microbes and microorganisms are organisms that are too small to be seen by the naked eye. They include bacteria, fungi, protozoa, microalgae, viruses, etc. It lives in soil, water, food, and animal intestines. It encompasses the use of microorganisms in the process of manufacturing food or other industrial products—cheese, chocolate, butter, pickles, sauce, and alcohol—all produced by the industrial microbial process.
  • Monoclonal Antibodies(Biotechnology): These are the techniques where pure antibiotics are produced. Technology allows for the production of a large number of pure antibiotics, which have two useful properties: They are extremely specific and bind to and attack one particular antigen, Some antibodies once activated by the occurrence of the disease continue to confer resistance against the disease.

Application of Biotechnology in Medicine

In the scope of healthcare, laboratory methods of genetic recombination have made a tremendous influence. This process of Biotechnology facilitates large products of secure and more efficacious drugs. Specialized medicines made up of recombinant proteins are incapable of generating unwanted immunological reactions.

Genetically Engineered Insulin in Biotechnology

The main role of insulin is to manage the starting phase of diabetes in adults at regular intervals. Insulin comprises two polypeptide chains: A and B, interlinked by disulfide bonds. In mammals, insulin is synthesized as a hormone precursor, for example, in humans. This prohormone [ having an extra stretch of C-peptide ] finally becomes a completely active and mature hormone. The C-peptide is removed during the insulin maturation process. Collecting insulin into a mature form was the main complication in creating insulin using rDNA techniques.

Biotechnology Uses in Gene Therapy

Gene therapy is a correctional therapy to cure a person born with a congenital disease. This technology includes a bunch of strategies wherein gene correction occurs whenever a defect is analyzed in an embryo. Any genetic defect gets modified after a healthy gene is delivered into the embryo, and it takes over the part of the non-functional gene by compensating it.

Curing Deficiency of Adenosine Deaminase (ADA) with Biotechnology

ADA stands for Adenosine deaminase, an enzyme that enables the immune system to work properly. This deficiency occurs because of the gene omission that codes for the adenosine deaminase enzyme. With gene therapy, patients’ lymphocytes are extracted and grown in a laboratory. An active ADA cDNA (complementary DNA) is inserted utilizing a retroviral vector that delivers genetic material into the lymphocytes and returns to the patient’s body.

Biotechnology Application in Molecular Diagnosis

Early identification and diagnosis of a disease’s pathophysiology are important for effective treatment. It is impossible to detect any disorder using traditional urine and serum analysis methods. Processes that help in the early diagnosis of diseases are:

  • PCR – Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • ELISA – Enzyme-Linked Immuno-sorbent Assay
  • DNA Recombinant technology

Bacteria, viruses, or any other pathogen’s presence is only seen when a symptom of a disease is sensed during the time its concentration is very high in the body. A very less concentration of any pathogen can be easily seen by amplification (creating multiple copies) of their nucleic acid. Their copies are generated using the polymerase chain reaction method, abbreviated as PCR.

HIV Diagnosis In Biotechnology

PCR technique is used to diagnose HIV AIDS in patients. The method can detect mutations/changes in the genes of cancer patients. PCR is an effective procedure that can detect various genetic disorders.

How does PCR work in Biotechnology?

  • s-DNA or s-RNA (“s” stands for single-stranded) is tagged with a probe (a molecule that is radioactive in nature and is able to scatter excess energy by spontaneously ejecting radiation in the form of rays).
  • It is allowed to merge with its complementary DNA, and the process is detected by using a photographic method that detects radioactive materials, known as autoradiography.
  • The clone bearing the transformed gene is not detectable on the film because the probe will not have a complementary bond with the mutated gene.

ELISA works on the mechanism of interaction between antigens and the antibody. Infection by a pathogen is detected either by the existence of antigens (glycoproteins, proteins, etc.) or when the number of antibodies produced against the microbe is seen.

CRISPR Technology

CRISPR is another strong tool that helps in editing genomes. The technology lets researchers modify the sequences of the DNA and alter the gene’s function. Bacteria contain a naturally available editing system of the genome from which CRISPR-Cas9 is adapted.

Application of Biotechnology in Producing Transgenic Animals

Transgenic animals have altered DNA to retain and represent an additional (alien) gene. This application of Biotechnology produces transgenic sheep, rabbits, pigs, fish, cows, and rats. However, transgenic mice have more utility and constitute 95% of transgenic animals.

Physiology and Normal Development

In Biotechnology, transgenic animals are designed to study how genes are controlled and how they impact the body’s normal functions and growth. For instance, they help study growth factors like insulin, which are complex elements for growth. The biological role and effects of the factor in the transgenic animal’s body are obtained by introducing other species’ genes that alter the formation.

Study of Disease with Biotechnology

The creation of transgenic animals improves our knowledge of the contribution of genes in any disease development. These animals act as models to investigate unexplored treatments for human diseases. Many deadly diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and cystic fibrosis now utilize transgenic models for their study and treatment.

Vaccine safety

As mice comprise the majority of transgenic animals, they are being created to be used in testing the safety and efficacy of any newly launched vaccines before being applied to humans. Earlier, mice were useful to test the polio vaccine safety and will replace the use of monkeys if they are found to be more reliable in testing the vaccine batches.

Chemical safety testing with Biotechnology

The use of transgenic animals in toxicity/safety testing tests the toxicity of any drug. They carry genes that make them more sensitive to harmful substances. These animals are exposed to toxicity, and the results are analyzed in a very short time.

Applications of Biotechnology in Agriculture

Biotechnology in Agriculture plays a very significant role. Biotechnology was able to beat conventional farming methods soon after genetically modified crops came into the limelight. Understanding genetics helped farmers in the following ways:

  • They were able to obtain maximum yields from farming ground
  • Genetically modified crops reduced the use of fertilizers and chemicals
  • The environmental pollution is lesser.

The technology created Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), Genetically modified biopesticides, and Pest resistant plants, which have contributed to improving the quality of the plants.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) in Biotechnology

GMO or genetically modified organisms comprise those fungi, plants, bacteria, and animals whose genes have been transformed. GM plants have been beneficial in the following ways:

  • Crops became more resistant to environmental stresses (salt, cold, drought, heat).
  • With the help of GMOs in Biotechnology, Pest-resistant crops lessened the dependence on synthetic pesticides, which impact the environment.
  • It resulted in reduced losses due to post-harvest.
  • The efficient usage of minerals by plants increased drastically.
  • The nutritional quality of food was enhanced as there was the introduction of golden rice, i.e., Vitamin ‘A’ enriched rice.

Genetically Modified Biopesticides in Biotechnology

In Biotechnology, Genetically modified biopesticides have been quite useful in creating eco-friendly pesticides. One of the examples is Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) toxin produced by a bacterium. Some examples of GM biopesticides are Bt cotton, Bt corn, rice, tomato, potato, soybean, etc.

  • The copies of the Bt toxin gene from the bacteria were made and expressed in plants. This gene offers the plant resistance to insects without the necessity of insecticides.
  • Bacillus thuringiensis strains were able to secrete proteins that kill specific insects such as armyworms, beetles, tobacco budworms, flies, and mosquitoes).

Pest-resistant plants in Biotechnology

Pest-resistant plants are produced by a novel strategy based on the process of RNA interference (RNAi). RNAi is a cellular defense system in all eukaryotic cells [ containing a nucleus within a nuclear envelope ]. This method silences a specific mRNA due to a complementary dsRNA molecule that attaches to and prevents the making of mRNA proteins (silencing). Several nematodes parasitize a wide variety of plants and animals, including human beings. A nematode Meloidogyne incognita contaminates the roots of tobacco plants and causes a considerable decrease in yield.

Recent Advancement In Biotechnology

Below we have mentioned some recent advancements in biotechnology that hold immense promise for the future and examine their potential impact on various sectors of the economy.

Miniature eyes: Hyderabad researchers have successfully grown miniature eye-like organs that resembled the developing eyes of early-stage embryos, so they are produced using induced pluripotent stem cells, which are types of stem cells that can be generated directly from adult skin cells by genetically manipulating human skin cells via epigenetic reprogramming.

Human Antibodies In the Laboratory: For the first time, scientists have produced human antibodies in the laboratory. This will help in developing new vaccines for a wide range of diseases. It shows how much Biotechnology evolved in the last few years.

Flink (Functional Ink): Functional living ink is a new printing material developed by scientists in Switzerland with the help of Biotechnology. It contains different bacteria as ink, so it is possible to print or develop objects with biochemical properties (3D printing). Different species of bacteria are used in different concentrations, so it allows printing using different inks and produces objects with several properties.

Plants That Glow: Scientists have successfully found a way to embed specialized nanoparticles into the leaves of plants with the help of Biotechnology. The plant will glow, giving dim light illuminating the workplace, indoor lighting, trees as self-covering street lights, etc.

Phantom-3d (Model Of Human Finger Printing): Anil Jain and a team of computer scientists at Michigan State University led by Anil Jain built the first 3D model of the fingerprint with the help of Biotechnology.

Heat Shock Protein: Scientists have discovered the potential silencing mechanism has-90. In normal circumstances, HSP 90 keeps genetic mutations under check. This has been possible with the help of Biotechnology.

Biotechnology UPSC

In the context of the Civil Services exam, biotechnology is an important topic from the Science and Technology UPSC syllabus. Understanding these concepts is essential for aspirants as various questions have been asked related to this topic in previous year’s question papers.  Therefore, having a good grasp of biotechnology and its applications in various fields like agriculture, medicine, etc would be crucial for the aspirants to answer the related questions successfully. To be fully prepared candidates can refer to  Biotech notes and some highly recommended books by UPSC Toppers.

Biotechnology UPSC Questions

Question: Which of the following techniques is used for DNA amplification? a) Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) b) Southern blotting c) Northern blotting d) Western blotting

Answer: a) Polymerase chain reaction (PCR)

Question: Which of the following is not a commonly used technique in biotechnology? a) Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) b) Gel Electrophoresis c) DNA Sequencing d) Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy

Answer: d) Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy

Question: Which of the following is an application of biotechnology in medicine? a) Gene therapy b) Production of biofuels c) Industrial enzymes d) Bioremediation

Answer: a) Gene therapy

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