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January 29, 2024 - 7 minutes

Biotechnology Breakthroughs: How Tech is Transforming the Life Sciences

Learn how the sciences have benefited from technological advances. 

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When some people think of tech, they think of computers and robots and their mental picture ends there. Tech is just good for making fast computers and cool programs that mimic how you think, right? While tech does make our lives easier, bringing our bank to our fingertips or letting us track the number of steps we take in a day, it’s also breaking into a wide range of diverse sectors, such as the sciences. 

Science and tech have been closely intertwined for quite some time, but new developments in tech and the worldwide adoption of daily use tech such as smartwatches or heart rate trackers has led to more and more industries taking all that tech can offer and transforming it into something that revolutionizes the industry. 

In this article, we’ll cover the basics of biotech, its different areas, and how technology has transformed the life sciences. 

What is Biotech? 

Biotech is a term used to describe the combination of natural sciences and engineering science to create innovative products and practices that highlight the latest technological advances. This way of looking at biology through the lens of technology helps find new ways of solving problems, advancing society one step at a time. 

As you can imagine, using technology to improve both human lives and the life of the planet has resulted in some incredible outcomes, but the main benefits of biotechnology are the following: 

  • Improving medical treatments: technology has allowed scientists to identify diseases and recommend proper treatment much faster and more accurately than before, changing survival odds for life-threatening diseases and expanding doctors’ reach when sharing research and treatment options.

  • Improving the environment: to better the environment and create more sustainable practices, technology has helped decrease waste and streamline operations, using up less valuable resources, in addition to raising awareness about the environmental problems the world is facing. 

  • Improving food production: with the help of technology, food production has become more effective and sustainable, allowing farmers to have higher crop yields with fewer inputs, removing the need for pesticides, and producing more allergen and toxic-free foods.

The Four Areas of Biotech

The life sciences is quite a broad field and therefore we can break up biotechnology into four main fields with colors assigned: industrial biotechnology (white), medical biotechnology (red), agriculture biotechnology (green), and marine biotechnology (blue). To fully understand how technology has transformed the field of biotech, let’s dive into each. 

Industrial biotechnology (white)

Probably the largest area of biotechnology, industrial biotechnology encompasses the industrial-scale production and processing of products, always trying to have the smallest possible environmental impact. Some of the most common applications of industrial biotechnology have been:

  • Producing energy from renewable biomasses: finding sources of energy in new and unexpected places is a key pillar of industrial biotechnology and scientists have been able to find biomasses that create energy, also known as biopower technologies. By using these kinds of renewable energy sources, we are both using the earth more efficiently and using up less non-renewable resources.

  • Producing biodegradable plastics: our use of plastic is arguably one of the most common talking points when it comes to sustainability and there’s a reason why: we use a lot of plastic and it does have a large impact on the environment. Industrial biotechnology has focused on finding alternatives to one use plastics that just end up in wastelands and finding biodegradable plastics has had a tremendous effect. 

  • Producing bio-based fuel and energy: energy usage, especially at the rates we use it, sucks up lots of the world’s resources fast and scientists were tasked with finding an environmentally and renewable solution for energy that produces sustainable fuel sources and alternative energy sources. 

  • Protecting resources and controlling pests: pesticides play a crucial role in controlling the growth of organisms that are not good for humans, but finding ones that don’t damage the overall ecosystem has been a responsibility taken on by industrial biotechnology. 

Medical biotechnology (red)

This branch of biotechnology focuses primarily on the application of technology in the medical field with the goal of treating, investigating, and preventing human diseases. Thanks to technological advances in the biotechnology field, doctors are better informed about the human body and better suited to treat patients. The reach of medical biotechnology is vast, but here are some examples that may ring a bell: 

  • Vaccine creation and release: vaccines transformed human life at their first introduction in the past, but more recent advancements, such as mRNA-based vaccines like those released to combat 2020’s COVID-19 pandemic, helped us combat widespread illnesses rapidly and tackle global health crises faster. 

  • Gene editing: recent breakthroughs in scientists’ understanding of genes and genetic diseases have allowed gene editing to become a possibility, which quite literally edits the genetic sequence of a person to treat genetic diseases and better understand where they come from. 

  • Personalized treatments: many biotechnology advances allow doctors to know more about a person’s specific genetic makeup, leading to personalized treatments that are suited for their exact situation. In addition, sharing information, research, and patient files confidentially has become more widespread thanks to technology, and doctors can use previous cases to recommend the appropriate steps for treatment. 

  • The introduction of antibodies: the introduction of antibodies in the late 1990s absolutely transformed modern medicine, allowing doctors to specifically treat specific diseases and providing increasingly personalized treatment for each patient. Today, antibody treatments are used to treat autoimmune diseases, infectious diseases, and neurological disorders. 

Agricultural biotechnology (green)

In addition to dealing with the general nature of farming and using the earth for food, agricultural biotechnology focuses on increasing food production while still respecting the world’s natural resources and finding renewable ways to harvest food without damaging the land through harmful fertilizers and biopesticides. Agricultural biotechnology has seen significant advances in the following areas: 

  • Genetically-modified crops: through the ability to alter the genes of crops, scientists are able to make them disease-resistant and healthier, which in addition to helping farmers avoid the use of potentially damaging fertilizers or pesticides, helps produce high-quality products with less waste. This GMO technology has also led to a better quality of life for farmers, lower costs, and increased efficiency.

  • Biofuels: similarly to their application in industrial biotechnology, the introduction of biofuels to the agricultural industry reduces greenhouse gas emissions through using natural resources like sugarcane or algae to create fuel, instead of harmful and scarce petroleum sources. In addition, this provides more fuel options which diversifies the market, leading to the potential for lower prices. 

  • Better plant growth: farmers have long been working with their plants to get a richer flavor, eliminate diseases, or yield more crops and thanks to biotechnology, this is becoming a possibility. Sustainable plant growth has led to many developments in this field, modifying the genetic makeup of plants in labs to quickly create the optimized product for farmers. 

  • Better animal breeding: similarly to how plants are being bred for a richer taste and resistance to disease, scientists have made significant advances in livestock production, both improving the quality of meat and the health of the animal. As this study continues to advance, we can expect this to increase the amount of food production and improve animal resistance to disease. 

Marine biotechnology (blue)

The ocean is huge and we still don’t know a ton about it, but thanks to marine biotechnology, scientists are learning more and more about what lives in the ocean and what the ocean can provide to help advance humanity. And since much of marine life still remains unexplored, the potential for future advancements is major. Here are some of the most significant applications of biotechnical in the marine world: 

  • Algae: algae was recently discovered to be a possible renewable energy source and one that scientists are exploring to see its potential. It also serves as a source for food additives or cosmetic products, which could reduce waste in other areas. 

  • Studying fish genes: just like with animals and farmland, scientists are studying different kinds of fish to improve the quality of the fish, their growth, and resistance to disease or other threats. Marine biotechnology has also focused on making fish farming more sustainable and humane. 

  • Wellness: lots of cosmetic and beauty companies have discovered the use of marine elements for wellness, sustainably using these resources to deliver certain molecules or oils that have a positive effect on people’s health or skin. Collagen, algae, and sea sponges are common examples of marine biotechnology in our daily lives. 

As you can see, the applications of biotechnology in various life science fields have been transformative and completely altered the way we function. And as the world continues to prioritize sustainability and the use of renewable resources, we’ll see even more need for skilled tech experts who are willing to take on these challenges and transform the sciences. 

If a future in biotech is of interest to you, an Ironhack bootcamp can set you up for success, teaching you what you need to know about data sets in our Data Analytics Bootcamp to analyze test results or designing captivating and well-functioning designs to raise awareness about sustainability efforts in our UX/UI Bootcamp. 

No matter what you choose, biotech is an incredible choice. And we can’t wait to see all you’ll accomplish. 

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