Discovering What is Possible in the Lab

Over the course of this week and next, ATETV will be looking more closely at the field of Biotechnology and its work in the lab by answering questions like, “What does a college class look like in this field?” and “What are the jobs like?” According to the Biotechnology Institute, Biotechnology is “the use of living organisms by humans” Biotechnologists look at organisms, their biochemistry, and their genes in order to create commercial products. The demand for this work is large and according to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics “… projected to grow 21 percent over the 2008—18 decade, much faster than the average for all occupations, as biotechnological research and development continues to drive job growth.”

One alluring aspect of a career as a Biotechnologist and more specifically, life in the lab, is the potential to be a part of an exciting discovery! In the future, Biotechnology could produce organisms that would generate enough energy to reduce the need for electricity, medicines to cure diseases like cancer and genetically engineered food to sustain us. Here are some of the great discoveries we found reported:

1) DNA- DNA is perhaps one of the most fundamental discoveries to further the science of Biology. It is the blueprint of biological life from its inception to its growth and till death. It is what supplies the necessary information to cells to get them to reproduce. There are many different ideas about who should get credit for finding this and regarding the circumstances of its discovery. But one thing is for sure, its discovery has not only revolutionized science and medicine but it has affected all walks of life; whether they are medical, social, legal, criminal or related to genetics and inheritance.

2) According to Discovery.com, scientists at Harvard recently discovered a way to genetically engineer an organism to sense magnetic fields. This could be invaluable for the fields of medicine and research. One example of what could be made possible from this includes targeted therapies for diseases like cancer. By delivering magnetism to certain cell types, like cancer cells, researchers could track the cells in the body using MRI, thus making treatments more effective.

3) Imagine the possibilities if bacteria could be used to boost fuel cell power? Also according to Discovery.com, researchers at Newcastle University in the U.K discovered a species of a bacteria that lives in an environment similar to that which exists about 18 miles above the earth’s surface. According to this article, this “bacteria generate current as they eat, by releasing electrons during chemical reactions.” This led scientists to test them for power generation and the results proved positive. While this method doesn’t generate a lot of power, it does produce enough to light a light bulb and presents interesting possibilities for the future of renewable energy!

4) Cloning. According to Wikipedia, “Cloning in Biology is the process of producing similar populations of genetically identical individuals that occurs in nature when organisms such as bacteria, insects or plants reproduce asexually. Cloning in Biotechnology refers to processes used to create copies of DNA fragments (molecular cloning), cells (cell cloning), or organisms.” In 1997 researchers in Scotland achieved the first successful clone of a mammal from an adult cell; a sheep named Dolly. Since that time, other reported successful attempts at cloning include another sheep named Polly, a cat in 2001 at Texas A&M University, cattle, a deer and two goats- just to name a few.

5) What if you could train your immune system to fight cancer? This is a question that researchers have been exploring and doctors have recently begun to apply to treatments. In this article in the New York Times, William Ludwig was successfully treated for Leukemia using a protocol developed from the results of these studies. Doctors “removed a billion of his T-cells — a type of white blood cell that fights viruses and tumors— and gave them new genes that would program the cells to attack his cancer. Then the altered cells were dripped back into Mr. Ludwig’s veins.” Genetically altering T-cells is a concept that was first developed in the 1980s by Dr. Zelig Eshhar at the Weizmann Institute for Science in Rehovot, Israel.

Published Biotechnology timelines like this one, further reveal that there have been many more discoveries made that are of critical importance to solving the problems we face today. It is an exciting field to be a part of not only because the possibilities are endless but also because the work is loaded with the potential to make significant impacts on our future and as a result in demand. When you break down any living organism to its smallest elements of a cell, or a DNA composition and begin to experiment with that, anything is truly possible.

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