Biotechnology seems to have recently emerged as a new and exciting field of modern science. However, the concept it is based on has been around for millennia. In recent years we have seen several vital breakthroughs in the sector, and it is likely that much more is to come from this field. Biotechnology, for example, will likely play a crucial role in preventing future pandemics. Therefore, it is essential that funding continues to be directed towards biotechnology to reach its full potential.
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The biotechnology story began over 6,000 years ago
Biotechnology seemed to have exploded onto the scientific landscape following key breakthroughs such as genome editing. However, although they were not referred to as biotechnology at the time, biotechnology processes have been leveraged by humans since the dawn of civilization. Roughly 6,000 years ago, humans were tapping into the biological processes of microorganisms, which they used to allow them to make bread, cheese, and alcohol. Edward Jenner’s invention of the vaccine and Alexander Fleming’s discovery of antibiotics were two vitally important scientific breakthroughs that were also in the field of biotechnology.
Karl Ereky coined the term ‘biotechnology’ in 1919, using it to describe “all lines of work by which products are produced from raw materials with the aid of living things.” The modern manifestation of biotechnology involves the modification of DNA and proteins to alter the characteristics and capabilities of living things to make them fit for a particular purpose, usually to develop novel therapeutic approaches.
How is Biotechnology Transforming the World We Live in?
Why fund biotechnology?
It is essential to fund biotechnology because research in this field has already led to several vital breakthroughs that are helping to gain a better understanding of living things and develop new, more effective therapies for a wide range of diseases. In the past few decades, there has been an avalanche of important advances, discoveries, inventions, and therapies made possible by work in biotechnology.
Headline-grabbing achievements such as bomb-sniffing plants, resurrecting the wooly mammoth, and creating promising new cancer therapies result from years of biotechnology research. DNA sequencing, recombinant DNA (which allows scientists to explore how specific proteins could be utilized for different purposes, often in health), DNA synthesis, and genome editing are all exciting techniques that have emerged from biotechnology.
Some key breakthroughs in this field include the development of single-cell technologies. These provide scientists with highly detailed views of intracellular environments, which are important for drug discovery and development. It allows scientists to understand the interactions between drug and disease molecules (such as cancer cells). When combined with next-generation sequencing, single-cell technologies are able to reveal an even more in-depth view of cells which offers scientists a window into the tumor microenvironment.
Many of us have used medical equipment that relies on biosensor monitors. Even the humble pregnancy test, which has been on the market since the 1960s, uses a biosensor-based detector. Glucose monitors, such as those used by people with diabetes, also rely on biosensor technology. In more recent years, novel sensor technologies have been established that focus on nucleic acid aptamer-based methods. These technologies have the potential to be more cost-effective, sensitive, and stable than previous tests.
Cell therapies are another major area of biotechnology that has seen many advancements in recent years. Cell therapies allow scientists to deliver the drug directly where needed, resulting in more effective therapies with fewer side effects.
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Funding for biotechnology helped scientists respond to the COVID-19 pandemic
Funding for biotechnology is at an all-time high. In the UK, for example, £2.8 billion of equity was raised in 2020 alone, a figure more than double what it was in 2016 (£1.1 billion). This increase in funding represents the growing awareness of the importance of biotechnology amongst the public, investors, and policymakers. Biotechnology truly is answering today’s science problems, particularly those in healthcare.
It is likely that interest in funding the biotechnology sector, given how the COVID-19 pandemic threw the spotlight on the importance of biotechnology. The vaccines developed for COVID-19 would not have been possible without biotechnology. Additionally, the diagnostic tools and life-saving therapies currently in the pipeline are also made possible thanks to biotechnology.
Therefore, investment in biotechnology is vital to ensure that the field can continue to make life-saving breakthroughs. In a world where we have now experienced a global pandemic and where scientists predict that many more agents currently exist that have the potential to trigger another pandemic, it is important that funding is allocated to scientific fields that can prevent and respond to such global crises.
The field of biotechnology needs to continue to raise funding to reach its full potential. It is evident that there is much more to come from biotechnology, and the flood of recent breakthroughs is just the tip of the iceberg.
- (2021). UK Biotech success continues as sector secures a record year of investment in 2020. [Online]. UK Bioindustry Association. Available at: www.bioindustry.org/.../...es-a-record-year-of-investment-in-2020.html Accessed February 2022
- Bockman, J., 2020. Biotech and Breakthroughs in Immuno-Oncology. Urologic Clinics of North America, 47(4), pp.511-521. www.urologic.theclinics.com/article/S0094-0143(20)30046-X/fulltext
- Tsimberidou, A., Fountzilas, E., Nikanjam, M. and Kurzrock, R., 2020. Review of precision cancer medicine: Evolution of the treatment paradigm. Cancer Treatment Reviews, 86, p.102019. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0305737220300578