August 28 - September 3, 2022: Issue 552


Be The Boss: I Want To Be A Biotechnologist

Biotechnologists study plants, animals, biological systems and processes to develop new products or solve problems in areas such as pharmaceutical manufacture, agriculture, environmental protection, and improving industrial processes. Their work may incorporate the use of small molecule technologies, nanotechnology, bioinformatics and synthetic biology.

As a biotechnologist, you would:
  • determine the objectives and methods of research
  • collect and analyse data
  • prepare reports based on your findings
  • present the findings or publish reports
  • keep administrative records.
Biotechnologists might work in developing new products or improved processes in areas such as:
  • new vaccines to treat diseases
  • genetically modified plants with resistance to pests
  • improved detection of diseases
  • treatments for human infertility
  • bacteria capable of cleaning up oil spills or polluted land
  • creating biological dyes or biodegradeable plastics
  • environmentally friendly biofuels.
To become a biotechnologist, you would need:
  • a strong interest in science
  • good technical scientific research skills
  • an enquiring mind and good problem-solving skills
  • a high level of accuracy and attention to detail
  • the ability to analyse statistical and technical data
  • good computer skills
  • good written communication skills.
Working hours and conditions
You would usually work a standard number of hours during the week. This might include nights and weekends if you are involved in research which needs continuous monitoring.

You would mainly work in a laboratory, often in sterile conditions. You would normally wear protective clothing such as a lab coat and safety glasses.

How to become an Biotechnologist?
To become a biotechnologist you usually have to complete a degree in biology, biotechnology, biochemistry or a degree in science with a major in one of these areas. You can also become a biotechnologist by completing a degree in chemical engineering with a major in biological engineering. To get into these courses you usually need to gain your senior secondary school certificate or equivalent. English, mathematics, chemistry, biology, earth and environmental science, and physics would be appropriate subjects to study prior to university.

Employment of biotechnologists is projected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations. Greater demand for biotechnology research is expected to increase the need for these workers.

Biotechnologists will be needed to help scientists develop new treatments for diseases, such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. In agriculture, biotechnologists will continue research into genetically engineered crops and improved livestock yields. In addition, biotechnologists will be needed to help develop alternative sources of energy, such as biofuels, and to find new and improved ways to clean up and preserve the natural environment.

University Courses:
Bachelor of Advanced Science (Environmental Biotechnology) 
Bachelor of Advanced Science students explore and specialise in advanced scientific thinking in a specialist field of their choice. Offering advanced courses and an honours year this course is designed innovative and advanced scientific practice. - ​UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY SYDNEY

Bachelor of Advanced Science (Honours - Biology) 
Bachelor of Advanced Science students explore and specialise in advanced scientific thinking in a specialist field of their choice. Offering advanced courses and an honours year this course is designed innovative and advanced scientific practice. - ​UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND

Bachelor of Biomedicine (Biotechnology) 
Bachelor of Biomedical Science students prepare for a role in the rapidly changing industry of healthcare, disease and medical research. Courses often provide a base education with the possibility to specialise. - 

Bachelor of Bionanotechnology (Honours) 
Bachelor of Bionanotechnology students immerse themselves in scientific principles from biology, physics, chemistry, and mathematics in order to explore biological processes at the molecular level. This course provides a pathway into a range of industries including biotechnology, pharmacology, biomedical research, government policy, patent law and other fields. - ​UNIVERSITY OF WOLLONGONG

Bachelor of Biotechnology 
Bachelor of Biotechnology students explore biology and the processes behind it in order to develop technologies and products ranging from biofuels, breeding programs or bionic limbs. - ​UNIVERSITY OF NEWCASTLE


Bachelor of Biotechnology (Computational Biotechnology) 
Bachelor of Biotechnology students explore biology and the processes behind it in order to develop technologies and products ranging from biofuels, breeding programs or bionic limbs. - ​UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY SYDNEY

Bachelor of Biotechnology (Environmental Biotechnology) 
Bachelor of Biotechnology students explore biology and the processes behind it in order to develop technologies and products ranging from biofuels, breeding programs or bionic limbs. - ​UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY SYDNEY

Bachelor of Biotechnology (Honours - Bioinformatics) 
Bachelor of Biotechnology students explore biology and the processes behind it in order to develop technologies and products ranging from biofuels, breeding programs or bionic limbs. - ​UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND

Bachelor of Biotechnology (Honours - Bioprocess Technology) 
Bachelor of Biotechnology students explore biology and the processes behind it in order to develop technologies and products ranging from biofuels, breeding programs or bionic limbs. - ​UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND

Background Notes
Although not normally what first comes to mind, many forms of human-derived agriculture clearly fit the broad definition of "'utilising a biotechnological system to make products". Indeed, the cultivation of plants may be viewed as the earliest biotechnological enterprise.

Agriculture has been theorized to have become the dominant way of producing food since the Neolithic Revolution. Through early biotechnology, the earliest farmers selected and bred the best-suited crops, having the highest yields, to produce enough food to support a growing population. As crops and fields became increasingly large and difficult to maintain, it was discovered that specific organisms and their by-products could effectively fertilize, restore nitrogen, and control pests. Throughout the history of agriculture, farmers have inadvertently altered the genetics of their crops through introducing them to new environments and breeding them with other plants — one of the first forms of biotechnology.

These processes also were included in early fermentation of beer. These processes were introduced in early Mesopotamia, Egypt, China and India, and still use the same basic biological methods. In brewing, malted grains (containing enzymes) convert starch from grains into sugar and then adding specific yeasts to produce beer. In this process, carbohydrates in the grains broke down into alcohols, such as ethanol.

Brewing was an early application of biotechnology. Image: The Brewer designed and engraved in the Sixteenth Century by J. Amman

Later, other cultures produced the process of lactic acid fermentation, which produced other preserved foods, such as soy sauce. Fermentation was also used in this time period to produce leavened bread. Although the process of fermentation was not fully understood until Louis Pasteur's work in 1857, it is still the first use of biotechnology to convert a food source into another form.

Before the time of Charles Darwin's work and life, animal and plant scientists had already used selective breeding. Darwin added to that body of work with his scientific observations about the ability of science to change species. These accounts contributed to Darwin's theory of natural selection.

A series of derived terms have been coined to identify several branches of biotechnology, for example:
  • Bioinformatics (also called "gold biotechnology") is an interdisciplinary field that addresses biological problems using computational techniques, and makes the rapid organization as well as analysis of biological data possible. The field may also be referred to as computational biology, and can be defined as, "conceptualizing biology in terms of molecules and then applying informatics techniques to understand and organize the information associated with these molecules, on a large scale". Bioinformatics plays a key role in various areas, such as functional genomics, structural genomics, and proteomics, and forms a key component in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sector.
  • Blue biotechnology is based on the exploitation of sea resources to create products and industrial applications. This branch of biotechnology is the most used for the industries of refining and combustion principally on the production of bio-oils with photosynthetic micro-algae.
  • Green biotechnology is biotechnology applied to agricultural processes. An example would be the selection and domestication of plants via micropropagation. Another example is the designing of transgenic plants to grow under specific environments in the presence (or absence) of chemicals. One hope is that green biotechnology might produce more environmentally friendly solutions than traditional industrial agriculture. An example of this is the engineering of a plant to express a pesticide, thereby ending the need of external application of pesticides. An example of this would be Bt corn. Whether or not green biotechnology products such as this are ultimately more environmentally friendly is a topic of considerable debate. It is commonly considered as the next phase of green revolution, which can be seen as a platform to eradicate world hunger by using technologies which enable the production of more fertile and resistant, towards biotic and abiotic stress, plants and ensures application of environmentally friendly fertilizers and the use of biopesticides, it is mainly focused on the development of agriculture. On the other hand, some of the uses of green biotechnology involve microorganisms to clean and reduce waste.
  • Red biotechnology is the use of biotechnology in the medical and pharmaceutical industries, and health preservation. This branch involves the production of vaccines and antibiotics, regenerative therapies, creation of artificial organs and new diagnostics of diseases. As well as the development of hormones, stem cells, antibodies, siRNA and diagnostic tests.
  • White biotechnology, also known as industrial biotechnology, is biotechnology applied to industrial processes. An example is the designing of an organism to produce a useful chemical. Another example is the using of enzymes as industrial catalysts to either produce valuable chemicals or destroy hazardous/polluting chemicals. White biotechnology tends to consume less in resources than traditional processes used to produce industrial goods.
  • Yellow biotechnology refers to the use of biotechnology in food production (food industry), for example in making wine (winemaking), cheese (cheesemaking), and beer (brewing) by fermentation. It has also been used to refer to biotechnology applied to insects. This includes biotechnology-based approaches for the control of harmful insects, the characterisation and utilisation of active ingredients or genes of insects for research, or application in agriculture and medicine and various other approaches.
  • Grey biotechnology is dedicated to environmental applications, and focused on the maintenance of biodiversity and the remotion of pollutants.
  • Brown biotechnology is related to the management of arid lands and deserts. One application is the creation of enhanced seeds that resist extreme environmental conditions of arid regions, which is related to the innovation, creation of agriculture techniques and management of resources.
  • Violet biotechnology is related to law, ethical and philosophical issues around biotechnology.
  • Dark biotechnology is the colour associated with bioterrorism or biological weapons and biowarfare which uses microorganisms, and toxins to cause diseases and death in humans, livestock and crops.
In medicine, modern biotechnology has many applications in areas such as pharmaceutical drug discoveries and production, pharmacogenomics, and genetic testing (or genetic screening).
DNA microarray chip – some can do as many as a million blood tests at once.

Pharmacogenomics (a combination of pharmacology and genomics) is the technology that analyses how genetic makeup affects an individual's response to drugs. Researchers in the field investigate the influence of genetic variation on drug responses in patients by correlating gene expression or single-nucleotide polymorphisms with a drug's efficacy or toxicity. The purpose of pharmacogenomics is to develop rational means to optimize drug therapy, with respect to the patients' genotype, to ensure maximum efficacy with minimal adverse effects. Such approaches promise the advent of "personalized medicine"; in which drugs and drug combinations are optimized for each individual's unique genetic makeup.

Biotechnology has contributed to the discovery and manufacturing of traditional small molecule pharmaceutical drugs as well as drugs that are the product of biotechnology – biopharmaceutics. Modern biotechnology can be used to manufacture existing medicines relatively easily and cheaply. The first genetically engineered products were medicines designed to treat human diseases. To cite one example, in 1978 Genentech developed synthetic humanized insulin by joining its gene with a plasmid vector inserted into the bacterium Escherichia coli. Insulin, widely used for the treatment of diabetes, was previously extracted from the pancreas of abattoir animals (cattle or pigs). The genetically engineered bacteria are able to produce large quantities of synthetic human insulin at relatively low cost. Biotechnology has also enabled emerging therapeutics like gene therapy. The application of biotechnology to basic science (for example through the Human Genome Project) has also dramatically improved our understanding of biology and as our scientific knowledge of normal and disease biology has increased, our ability to develop new medicines to treat previously untreatable diseases has increased as well.

Genetic testing allows the genetic diagnosis of vulnerabilities to inherited diseases, and can also be used to determine a child's parentage (genetic mother and father) or in general a person's ancestry. In addition to studying chromosomes to the level of individual genes, genetic testing in a broader sense includes biochemical tests for the possible presence of genetic diseases, or mutant forms of genes associated with increased risk of developing genetic disorders. Genetic testing identifies changes in chromosomes, genes, or proteins. Most of the time, testing is used to find changes that are associated with inherited disorders. The results of a genetic test can confirm or rule out a suspected genetic condition or help determine a person's chance of developing or passing on a genetic disorder. As of 2011 several hundred genetic tests were in use. Since genetic testing may open up ethical or psychological problems, genetic testing is often accompanied by genetic counselling.

Genetically modified crops ("GM crops", or "biotech crops") are plants used in agriculture, the DNA of which has been modified with genetic engineering techniques. In most cases, the main aim is to introduce a new trait that does not occur naturally in the species. Biotechnology firms can contribute to future food security by improving the nutrition and viability of urban agriculture. Furthermore, the protection of intellectual property rights encourages private sector investment in agrobiotechnology.

Examples in food crops include resistance to certain pests, diseases, stressful environmental conditions, resistance to chemical treatments (e.g. resistance to a herbicide), reduction of spoilage, or improving the nutrient profile of the crop. Examples in non-food crops include production of pharmaceutical agents, biofuels, and other industrially useful goods, as well as for bioremediation.

Farmers have widely adopted GM technology. Between 1996 and 2011, the total surface area of land cultivated with GM crops had increased by a factor of 94, from 17,000 square kilometres (4,200,000 acres) to 1,600,000 km2 (395 million acres). 10% of the world's crop lands were planted with GM crops in 2010. As of 2011, 11 different transgenic crops were grown commercially on 395 million acres (160 million hectares) in 29 countries such as the US, Brazil, Argentina, India, Canada, China, Paraguay, Pakistan, South Africa, Uruguay, Bolivia, Australia, Philippines, Myanmar, Burkina Faso, Mexico and Spain.

Genetically modified foods are foods produced from organisms that have had specific changes introduced into their DNA with the methods of genetic engineering. These techniques have allowed for the introduction of new crop traits as well as a far greater control over a food's genetic structure than previously afforded by methods such as selective breeding and mutation breeding. Commercial sale of genetically modified foods began in 1994, when Calgene first marketed its Flavr Savr delayed ripening tomato. To date most genetic modification of foods have primarily focused on cash crops in high demand by farmers such as soybean, corn, canola, and cotton seed oil. These have been engineered for resistance to pathogens and herbicides and better nutrient profiles. GM livestock have also been experimentally developed; in November 2013 none were available on the market, but in 2015 the FDA approved the first GM salmon for commercial production and consumption.

There is a scientific consensus that currently available food derived from GM crops poses no greater risk to human health than conventional food, but that each GM food needs to be tested on a case-by-case basis before introduction. Nonetheless, members of the public are much less likely than scientists to perceive GM foods as safe. The legal and regulatory status of GM foods varies by country, with some nations banning or restricting them, and others permitting them with widely differing degrees of regulation.

GM crops also provide a number of ecological benefits, if not used in excess. However, opponents have objected to GM crops per sae on several grounds, including environmental concerns, whether food produced from GM crops is safe, whether GM crops are needed to address the world's food needs, and economic concerns raised by the fact these organisms are subject to intellectual property law.

Industrial biotechnology (known mainly in Europe as white biotechnology) is the application of biotechnology for industrial purposes, including industrial fermentation. It includes the practice of using cells such as microorganisms, or components of cells like enzymes, to generate industrially useful products in sectors such as chemicals, food and feed, detergents, paper and pulp, textiles and biofuels. In the current decades, significant progress has been done in creating genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that enhance the diversity of applications and economical viability of industrial biotechnology. By using renewable raw materials to produce a variety of chemicals and fuels, industrial biotechnology is actively advancing towards lowering greenhouse gas emissions and moving away from a petrochemical-based economy.
Synthetic biology is considered one of the essential cornerstones in industrial biotechnology due to its financial and sustainable contribution to the manufacturing sector. Jointly biotechnology and synthetic biology play a crucial role in generating cost-effective products with nature-friendly features by using bio-based production instead of fossil-based.[83] Synthetic biology can be used to engineer model microorganisms, such as Escherichia coli, by genome editing tools to enhance their ability to produce bio-based products, such as bioproduction of medicines and biofuels. For instance, E. coli and Saccharomyces cerevisiae in a consortium could be used as industrial microbes to produce precursors of the chemotherapeutic agent paclitaxel by applying the metabolic engineering in a co-culture approach to exploit the benefits from the two microbes.

Another example of synthetic biology applications in industrial biotechnology is the re-engineering of the metabolic pathways of E. coli by CRISPR and CRISPRi systems toward the production of a chemical known as 1,4-butanediol, which is used in fiber manufacturing. In order to produce 1,4-butanediol, the authors alter the metabolic regulation of the Escherichia coli by CRISPR to induce point mutation in the gltA gene, knockout of the sad gene, and knock-in six genes (cat1, sucD, 4hbd, cat2, bld, and bdh). Whereas CRISPRi system used to knockdown the three competing genes (gabD, ybgC, and tesB) that affect the biosynthesis pathway of 1,4-butanediol. Consequently, the yield of 1,4-butanediol significantly increased from 0.9 to 1.8 g/L.

Environmental biotechnology includes various disciplines that play an essential role in reducing environmental waste and providing environmentally safe processes, such as biofiltration and biodegradation. The environment can be affected by biotechnologies, both positively and adversely. Vallero and others have argued that the difference between beneficial biotechnology (e.g., bioremediation is to clean up an oil spill or hazard chemical leak) versus the adverse effects stemming from biotechnological enterprises (e.g., flow of genetic material from transgenic organisms into wild strains) can be seen as applications and implications, respectively. Cleaning up environmental wastes is an example of an application of environmental biotechnology; whereas loss of biodiversity or loss of containment of a harmful microbe are examples of environmental implications of biotechnology. 
- Background Notes sourced from Wikipedia.

Technician Brandy Jones examines a rose plant that began as cells grown in a tissue culture. Image: This image was released by the Agricultural Research Service, the research agency of the United States Department of Agriculture, with the ID K9608-1

Information courtesy Australian Government Apprenticeships Guide (Your Career), Australian Open Colleges,  Australian Careers HQ and The Good Universities Guide, Australia.

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