The pandemic has led to a sudden interest in the subject thus increasing its scope in academics and as a career
Although the term ‘Biotechnology’ was coined by Hungarian Engineer Karoly Ereky in 1919, its applications have been around for thousands of years. It only emerged as a separate field of study in the late 20th century. The improvements in agricultural production by developing high-yield crops or the development of better breeds of domesticated animals were all done in early times by the knowledge gained from experimentation. Further, the discovery of fermentation, medicinal properties of plants, how to reduce food wastage, etc., were all associated with applications of Biotechnology.
Then the discovery of microorganisms, early concepts of vaccination, pasteurisation procedure, genetic studies, antibiotics, and the DNA structure opens up a spectrum of new fields in Biotechnology. Today Biotechnology emerges as an interdisciplinary field that combines knowledge of Biology, Medicine, Pharmacy, Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Engineering, Management, Law, and others to develop new knowledge or products by using living organisms for the betterment of humanity and to protect the environment.
The many uses of Biotech
The applications of Biotechnology can be utilised in various fields, for example, medical and diagnostic, agriculture and food, industrial, and environment. The fundamental research to find the root cause of various diseases led to the discovery of drugs and vaccines. Various diagnostic procedures were developed to identify and prevent diseases. With the advancement of the field, various new avenues have opened up recently, for example, the development of personalised medicine, the use of artificial intelligence to predict diseases, gene therapy, etc.
The agricultural sector reaps its benefits through the development of high quality and disease-resistant varieties of food crops, fruits, and vegetables. On the other hand, production of biofuels, nutrient supplements, reduction of food spoilage, increase of shelf-life of packaged food, etc. were done with the help of Biotechnology. Industrial productions of enzymes, chemicals, fermented products, milk, milk-based products, etc. were immensely benefitted from the advancement of Biotechnology. Biotechnological inventions are also helping in reducing pollution from the environment and in the production of renewable energy.
Biotech in India
The Biotechnology industry is steadily growing in India, and ranks 12th globally and 3rd in the Asia-Pacific region. It is currently valued at $65 billion and is predicted to touch $150 billion by 20205. In fact, globally it captures about 3% of the market share and is expected to reach 19% in the next five years. Therefore, the growth of the sector is going to be tremendous for the next 5 years in India.
There are more than 2500 Biotech companies and close to 3000 Biotech start-ups operating in India and by 2025 the number of start-ups is expected to reach more than 10000. The government is offering help to the Biotechnology industry by providing funding and regulatory supports. With all the help, the Biotech industry is expected to thrive well in the next several years.
The Covid-19 impact
The recent COVID-19 pandemic has increased awareness in the Biotechnology and allied subjects. Even though the Biotech sector in India is growing rapidly, the awareness about the sector was largely obscure to the general population. After completion of the class 12 exams when a student wants to pursue Biotechnology or allied subjects, they were mostly advised to pursue either medicine or engineering as a profession. A medical professional or an engineer is well known to the general population and the visibility about these professions is very clear to the society. The contrary is true for Biotechnology as a profession. Most of the general population has a vague idea of a Biotechnologist and they are unsure whether this is a viable option for a student in India or not and therefore it’s generally not recommended. However, with the pandemic, all eyes are on biotech now.
Biotechnology as a career
Biotechnology is not only about the development of vaccines or drugs, or only about the improvement of diagnostic procedures and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) equipment. A Biotechnologist uses living organisms to develop products that are beneficial for humankind and the environment. Both academic and industry jobs are available in India after pursuing Biotechnology as a subject for study. The industry jobs in the Biotech sector can be roughly divided into three major branches – Research and Development (R&D), Operations, and Services.
As a sector, the Biotechnology industry is going to expand rapidly in the next few years in India and a student who is going to pursue a career in Biotechnology is expected to have a fulfilling career ahead. Today the world is a very different one than it was six months ago. COVID-19 has forced us to do things differently and it has affected every sector including Biotechnology, but it has also provided opportunities for the specific sector.
Professor (Dr) Rudra Prasad Saha is the Associate Dean and Head of the Department of Life Science and Biotechnology at Adamas University. He has also published several peer-reviewed research papers in high-impact international journals.
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