What is biotechnology? Biotechnology is the application of scientific and engineering principles to biological agents to produce goods and services. Biotechnology has always been closely linked to the society. This is evident from the relationship between the development of this field and Mendel’s proposal. Here are some of the main events that made biotechnology possible. After all, biotechnology has been around for more than a century. Read on to learn more.
The core of biotechnology lies in genetic information, which was first decoded in plants – specifically, the Pisum sativum, commonly known as the Pea plant. In 1854, Gregor John Mendel, an Austrian Augustinian monk and a member of the Natural Science Society, presented his “Laws of Inheritance.” In this paper, he proposed that observable traits are governed by genetic information, which is passed from parent to child.
Mendel’s work involved the discovery of monogenic traits, or genes containing information that controls only one trait in a particular organism. These traits are stable and passed from cell to cell without changing. However, his research was based on the scientific context of his day, and he questioned the notion of blending inheritance. In other words, his work enriched and reinforced the research of his predecessors.
Mendel’s experiments involved growing 10,000 pea plants between 1857 and 1864. Pea plants are hermaphrodites, with male and female sex cells. This means that they can fertilize themselves, but Mendel was able to cross-breed them by applying his methods to different types of pea plants. Mendel meticulously recorded the traits of each type of plant – height, colour, pod shape, and so on.
Mendel’s research laid the foundations for the development of the modern science of genetics. In addition to making it easier to study the origins of genes, Mendel proposed that the traits in each parent’s gametes determine a person’s character. This concept has since been applied to other types of genetic variation. Mendel’s findings were used to create cheese, alcoholic beverages, and bread.
Human Genome Project
The Human Genome Project had specific goals: to sequence the 3 billion base pairs of the human genome and identify all the genes. It also had to address the ethical and legal issues related to human genetic engineering. To accelerate the process, scientists used model organisms, including yeast and bacteria. But the project was not without setbacks. These problems were addressed in the next chapter of this history. In the meantime, the Human Genome Project forged ahead, identifying genes and developing methods to improve the accuracy of sequences.
Critics of the HGP, citing the fact that the human genome contains 99.9 percent identical DNA, charged the project with ignoring genetic variation. Yet, DNA polymorphisms are so common that the project could not possibly ignore them. Researchers are interested in discovering the locations and frequencies of these differences, and how they might contribute to disease. However, these studies may also be misleading and ultimately skewed.
The human genome was first sequenced in 1993 by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH funding for the project has helped scientists identify the genetic information behind many diseases, including Parkinson’s. The HGP also funded the sequencing of several bacterial genomes, including Escherichia coli. The project has also produced a map of 16,000 genes in humans. A new gene associated with Parkinson’s disease was found and the first location for a prostate cancer gene was determined.
The Human Genome Project was first launched in October 1990. DOE Secretary DeLisi proposed a five-year plan and allocated $4.5 million from its 1987 budget. The DOE’s initial effort to map the human genome generated consternation among biomedical researchers. David Botstein, a scientist at Caltech, characterized the effort as “DOE’s program for unemployed bomb makers.” But NIH president James Wyngaarden and other scientists persuaded the government to support the project.
Genetic engineering is a field in the science of artificially manipulating organisms to produce desired substances or alter preexisting processes. It began with the development of transgenesis, a technique that allows researchers to modify the DNA of an organism by inserting a specific gene. As technology advanced, several other techniques were used to manipulate DNA, including polymerase chain reaction and the discovery of restriction enzymes. This process can be used in plants, animals, and even bacteria. In 1974, Rudo Jaenisch created the first genetically modified mouse.
By the mid-20th century, major advances in genetics dominated research in biotechnology. Scientists Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer discover DNA as the carrier of the genetic code, which they call “the double helix.” A decade later, the Food and Drug Administration approves the first commercially available GMO, human insulin for diabetes. The Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology (CFRB) outlines how the federal government regulates genetically modified organisms.
The development of recombination-based genetic engineering was pioneered in the 1970s by American biochemists. They joined different pieces of DNA and inserted new genes into E. coli bacteria. The bacteria reproduced after this process. The history of genetic engineering is a complex one, spanning centuries and the technological revolution. But it is not all negative. Here’s a look at how the field developed.
In the 1980s, scientists developed sensitive methods for identifying DNA. They invented a technique called polymerase chain reaction, which is able to extract DNA from a very small sample. This technique is now used to identify individuals through DNA. Genetic fingerprinting was first used in a trial in 1985. The American History Museum has a permanent exhibit titled “The Birth of Biotechnology”.
Although Europe is not yet commercializing biotechnology as quickly as the U.S. or Japan, it is catching up fast. Large European pharmaceutical companies are leaning towards biotechnology and are making significant advances in R&D. Several of these companies will become competitors in specific product areas in the future. Europe’s technological advantage will be largely dependent on the availability of skilled labor and funding for basic and applied research. Hence, it is important to invest in biotechnology R&D and commercialization.
Fortunately, there are several policy incentives that can help biotechnology firms succeed in commercializing their discoveries. Many of these incentives are geared toward encouraging R&D and capital formation. However, corporate tax rates are equally important. The overall effective corporate tax rate is the most reliable measure of corporate taxes, as it takes into account different definitions of taxable income and depreciation and enables comparisons between countries. The highest effective corporate tax rates are found in the United States, the Federal Republic of Germany, and France.
Developing biotechnology-based innovations requires training of personnel. There are limited training programs for applied scientists in the United States. Fortunately, the Japanese government has made commercialization of biotechnology a national priority. Besides government funding, most established biotech companies have a major shareholder that provides low-interest loans for R&D. Wealthy individual investors have also provided risk capital for new ventures. In the United States, there are not enough specialized programs for bioprocess engineers.
In addition to pharmaceutical industry, biotechnology also has environmental applications. Environmental applications include mineral leaching, metal concentration, pollution control, and enhanced oil recovery. However, it may take longer for biotechnology products to reach the market. In addition, many of the potentially useful microorganisms are poorly understood and expensive. Moreover, environmental regulations may also deter some firms from entering the market. And this is where regulatory efforts in biotechnology are most needed.
There are several important reasons to consider when patenting biotechnology inventions. One important factor is novelty. If a biotechnology product or process is new, the inventor must demonstrate that it is the first of its kind. This is a complicated question, as some people believe biological materials and processes are mere discoveries, while others contend that they are man-made inventions. To avoid such problems, the inventor should conduct a thorough search of public databases and avoid overlap with other publications.
While patents are intrinsically associated with technological progress, some innovations can be patented without any benefit to the inventor. For example, altering the nucleosides in mRNA can make a vaccine against pathogenic agents safe and effective. Other biotechnology inventions can be patented. The inventor must include a thorough description of the invention in his or her patent application. The inventor must also provide a copy of the invention.
Many biotechnology inventions are based on gene cloning or expression. A patent on such an invention will rely on the nucleotide sequence of the cloned gene or encoded protein. Many biotechnology inventions have incorrect nucleotide sequences, which are often commercially useless. This is why many countries have mechanisms that allow inventors to correct errors and claim nucleic acids without sequences.
In the past, many countries have refused to grant patents for biotechnology inventions, claiming that they were not useful. While the United States has a ‘de minimis’ standard, biotechnology innovations can be life-saving. A recent court case highlighted this problem and outlined steps that can be taken to protect the inventions. In addition to preventing the spread of cancer, patents protect the production of new drugs and diagnostic kits.