Biotechnology in Industry: Promise of Non-Polluting, Low Cost Manufacture

Biotechnology is promising transformations in healthcare, agriculture, food, pollution control and industry. We have discussed healthcare in another post. In this post we look at biotechnology in industry, which has a strong impact on pollution.

Biotechnology involves working with living organisms. Industrial biotechnology is mostly about microbes. You use micro-organisms to get some product or service. Actually, this is not a modern development. Known as fermentation, it is a process that had been in existence from ancient times, as when the ancients made wine from grapes.

What is new is the sophistication possible now. Research into cells, the basic component of living organisms, has led to an understanding of DNA and genes. This understanding helped technologists to extract enzymes and improve their functioning to act as highly effective industrial catalysts.

Catalysts facilitate and speed up reactions involved in production processes. And bio-catalysts such as enzymes are biodegradable, meaning they do not lead to pollution. The example of using enzymes in laundry illustrates the benefits:

  • Earlier, phosphates were used in laundry to remove stains from clothes
  • Phosphates pollute water, and also need heating the water to a higher temperature to working
  • Biotechnology helped develop enzymes that were effective in removing stains
  • Using enzymes eliminated the water pollution problem
  • Additionally, stain removal was now possible at lower temperatures, meaning savings in energy for heating water

The R&D Process for Biotech Industrial Products

The process of developing enzyme products can be broadly viewed as below:

  • Search for micro-organisms the produce enzymes
  • Use DNA probes to look for genes that produce enzymes with specific catalytic properties
  • Find ways to increase production yields of these enzymes
  • Develop processes to produce the products or deliver the services

The above is a simplified description.

Industrial Applications of Biotechnology

There are many and increasing applications of biotechnology in industry. The most easily understood of these include:

  • Treatment of industrial and organic wastes
  • Bio-control agents such as biological pest control
  • Bio fuels and energy sources
  • Fermentation of food products
  • Here is a compact resource on the applications of biotechnology in industry.

One advantage of biotechnology in industry is that the time from laboratory to the market is much shorter than is the case with biotechnology in healthcare. Biotech drugs have to undergo a process of clinical trials and approvals that could take several more years to complete.

The promise of reducing pollution, reducing costs and improving effectiveness makes biotechnology quite attractive for industry.