Life on Earth appeared due to biochemical processes. Phytoplankton living in the ocean started to photosynthesize and after a few billions (!) of years oxygen appeared in the ocean and in the atmosphere as well. The process would have been more quickly for sure, if scientists had lived at that time too, because it is the biotechnology which is capable of doing this. It uses living organisms for such purposes that are important for people. On the top of all this scientists throw in the methods of chemical engineering, biochemistry, microbiology and engineering.
Of course modern biotechnology is able to do much more than the “simple” process of photosynthesis. The appearance of the living modified organisms due to DNA and cell fusion technologies opened up such new prospects for science, which may lead to splendid discoveries in the field of human medicine, agriculture or industry.
One of the most fundamental achievements of biotechnology is that organisms or their parts (tissues, cells etc.) can be used for various detection processes. These biosensors are able to diagnose human diseases fast, such as the flu, or they are capable of monitoring the heart beat and the blood pressure continuously, but for example they can be used for measuring toxic chemical materials and gases of the air too. Biosensors can be used in the food industry in many ways; the “purity” of foods can be checked by them, but they can also revolutionize food packages, in which biosensors detect, if the food goes off.
If you are interested in food packages, read our article!
One of the most important development of biotechnology for medical science (and of course for patients too) can be the growing of organs. At first it sounds unbelievable, but now this is already reality; researchers managed to produce human organs in laboratory conditions several times. For example there was a soldier, who was injured in Afghanistan, and whose remaining thigh muscles were stimulated to grow with proteins extracted from pig cells, so after a long rehabilitation he was able to walk again.
In McGowan Institute, Pittsburgh, scientists have been working on an implantable, so-called extracellular matrix for years, which is able to restore lost tissues. Infect the matrix is a “biological frame”, which is enriched in proteins and collects stem cells to heal injuries and grow cells. Using the same idea, bioengineers of Duke University managed to grow living heart muscle tissues from mouse embryonic stem cells with which they could put a “patch” onto the area where heart muscles died due to heart attack. Besides this, gap-toothed people may also be glad, because Japanese researchers managed to grow enamel tissue cultures and now they are working on the full regrowth of teeth.
It would be a real breakthrough, if due to organ growing regeneration of skeletal muscles, nerves and sinews would be possible, because in this way we could help many handicapped people.
No, don't think of a giant robot! Living machines are nothing more than sewage treatment methods based on biotechnology which are increasingly used, because they are environmentally friendly and cost effective. In conventional wastewater treatment plants activated sludge, in which bacteria consume pollutants, is used anyway. But in living machines not only bacteria but some other 2000-3000 species are also found, such as zoo plankton, algae, snails, shells, crabs, plants and fishes, forming an ecological community. These organisms consume pollutants and build them into their body. Plants grow on the top of the reactor in holders, their root zone hangs down into the sewage, which provide habitat for bacteria and higher organisms as well.
Water purification with algae could also be important for space research, because of two reasons; on the one hand oil can be produced from pollutants consumed by algae, which can be used as fuel, and on the other hand plants produce oxygen during photosynthesis which is essential for astronauts in space. The NASA also does experiments on this; they put semi-permeable “bags” filled with algae and waste water into the sea water along the coast. Algae use sewage water components as sources of food. The clear water may leak into the sea directly, while the algae and the rest of the components stay within the bag. The units’ lifetime is two years, after that the accumulated oil can be extracted from them.
The expression as well as the definition of biotechnology is related to a Hungarian scientist, Károly Ereky. The German Biotecnologie expression was first used in 1918 by him. Since then he has been regarded as the father of biotechnology.
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