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Areas of Biotechnology Research

Industrial Biotechnology

Industrial biotechnology is also known as microbial biotechnology and industrial microbiology. This area of biotechnology puts microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi to work making products for humans. Researchers use recombinant DNA technologies to put new genes in the microorganisms. Scientists can also insert stretches of DNA that tell the cells to produce lots of the protein made from the new gene. This turns a bacterium into a tiny factory for making a particular protein or a material that is derived from certain proteins. The protein or other chemical can then be collected from the microorganism and sold.

Insulin was the first protein to be made this way. Insulin helps adjust the amount of sugar in the blood. Cells in the human pancreas normally produce insulin, but people who have diabetes do not make enough of it. For many years, diabetics were injected with insulin taken from the pancreases of pigs or cows. In the 1970s, researchers used recombinant DNA technology to insert the gene for human insulin into a bacterium. The bacterium then produces insulin, which diabetics can inject into their bloodstream.

Bacteria and fungi now produce many proteins for human use. Many of these are products that are important in health care, like antibiotics and vaccines. Drugs used to be made with chemicals, and some still are. But using microorganisms to make drugs is often less expensive and produces less waste.

Microorganisms have even been used to produce medicines and other treatments for pets and livestock. For example, bovine growth hormone is a chemical that naturally occurs in cows and is important to their milk production. Researchers have used bacteria to make supplemental bovine growth hormone. When injected into cows, it increases the amount of milk they produce. This allows dairy farmers to create more product and derive more profit from each cow.

Microorganisms also produce many other materials. These include flavorings and other food additives, chemicals, and enzymes. Enzymes are proteins that speed up chemical reactions. These enzymes are used in many products, including laundry detergent and dishwashing soap.

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