Biotechnology is simply defined as the use of cellular and biomolecular processes to produce useful products that are of economic importance. It is the use of biological processes (e.g. microorganisms) to solve practical problems that are beneficial to mankind, plants, animals and the environment. Biotechnology is another vital branch of microbiology that is radically transforming the medical, pharmaceutical and biomedical sciences; and this field of biological sciences harnesses the cellular and metabolic profiles or activities of microbes in particular to improve the quality of life such as in novel drug and vaccine development and in the production of sustainable food products.
Beneficial microorganisms have been genetically-engineered through the application of biotechnology to generate medically important products ranging from drugs to diagnostics, human therapeutics and hormones among others; and recombinant human insulin for the treatment of diabetes, a non-infectious disease is also based on the application of biotechnology techniques. A handful of food and other industrial products have also been produced through biotechnological applications or techniques.
Through biotechnology, microorganisms can be manipulated at the molecular or genetic level to be more efficient in the production of environmentally friendly products and services. Several high-throughput techniques (e.g. proteomics and genomics) are now available for the manipulation of microorganisms at the molecular level for improved product yield and the development of novel products which have far-reaching economic importance. Biotechnologists work in government agencies, health institutions, research facilities, hospitals and even in educational institutions where their knowledge of microorganisms at the molecular and genetic level are exploited for the synthesis of desired products (Figure 1).
Biotechnology is a fast growing field of biological sciences, and microbiologists with practical knowledge of this discipline are highly sourced in many fields of life especially in the pharmaceutical, food, medical and chemical industries among others. Yogurt, cheese, chocolate, butter, pickles, sauerkraut, soy sauce, food supplements (such as vitamins and amino acids), foods thickeners (produced from microbial polysaccharides), alcoholic drinks (e.g. beer, whiskeys and wines) sausages and silage for animals are some examples of products of microbial origin or activity. Biotechnology generally involves the industrial application of microbes to produce products that are beneficial to mankind in large quantities.
Biotechnologists play critical roles in the industry during the production of these products especially by identifying the particular microorganisms or strains of microbes that are mainly involved in the production of these industrial products at a larger scale as well as maintaining proper culture collections of such significant microbial strains for future use. Once scientists learned about the genetics of microorganisms, and how microbial cells produce proteins; microorganisms could also be altered especially by biotechnologists and made to function in many new or certain and useful ways that are of immense industrial or economic importance. This knowledge rekindled the application of biotechnology to many industries including agriculture, the energy sector, food processing companies and medicine.
Figure 1: A biotechnologist taking readings from a bioreactor.
Talaro, Kathleen P (2005). Foundations in Microbiology. 5th edition. McGraw-Hill Companies Inc., New York, USA.
Willey J.M, Sherwood L.M and Woolverton C.J (2008). Harley and Klein’s Microbiology. 7th ed. McGraw-Hill Higher Education, USA.
Slonczewski J.L, Foster J.W and Gillen K.M (2011). Microbiology: An Evolving Science. Second edition. W.W. Norton and Company, Inc, New York, USA.
Das H.K (2010). Textbook of Biotechnology. Fourth edition. Wiley edition. Wiley India Pvt, Ltd, New Delhi, India.
Prescott L.M., Harley J.P and Klein D.A (2005). Microbiology. 6th ed. McGraw Hill Publishers, USA. Pp. 296-299.
Pamela R (2011). Plant genetics, sustainable agriculture and global food security. Genetics, 188 (1):11–20.
Nester E.W, Anderson D.G, Roberts C.E and Nester M.T (2009). Microbiology: A Human Perspective. Sixth edition. McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc, New York, USA.
Frazier W.C, Westhoff D.C and Vanitha N.M (2014). Food Microbiology. Fifth edition. McGraw-Hill Education (India) Private Limited, New Delhi, India.