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Community College of Rhode Island — Biotechnology

The Field
What is Biotechnology?

Biotechnology is the use of living organisms to produce food, medicine, or other products that provide a benefit to humans. Most people don't realize biotechnology is thousands of years old! Making cheese, wine, bread, and the selective breeding of plants and animals are all examples of using living organisms for our benefit.

Modern day biotechnology takes this a step further. We can now take the genes of one organism and transfer them directly into another. For example, human insulin for managing diabetes is manufactured in this way: the insulin gene is introduced into bacteria which then produce insulin on a large scale. Sometimes, we can actually alter the gene itself and reinsert it into the organism to produce a completely new product. This can be seen in plants that contain a "knockout" gene that make crops resistant to a specific herbicide, resulting in greater crop yield.

Important Topics and Issues

We are now faced with some of the greatest challenges ever to modern society. Developing alternative fuel sources, increasing food production, and discovering medicines to fight outbreaks of deadly disease are, and will continue to be, our top priorities.

Biotechnology has been instrumental in making great strides for curing disease, treating illness, creating drought/pest resistant plants, and decreasing our dependence on a dwindling supply of fossil fuels.

Biotechnology is also helping advance the fields of forensic science and criminalisitcs, as seen in the news and popularized on television. We are now able to obtain trace samples of DNA and amplify them using the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) technique. These samples can then be compared to known DNA sequences to help solve once unsolvable crimes.

The biotechnology field is vast and rapidly expanding. Whether producing new drugs in a petri dish or a huge two-story tank, growing improved varieties of plants to feed the world or to be used as bio-fuel, there are many opportunities for a rewarding career and ways for individuals to make a difference now and in the future.