Biotechnologists play a vital role in health care, engaging in the production of hormones, vaccines, and antibodies.
For example, they use their knowledge of genetics and biochemistry to produce, from genetically modified bacteria, artificial insulin, a hormone deficient in people with diabetes.
They can use their knowledge of genetics to identify and encode the genome of a disease-causing organism in that organism, thereby identifying and encoding a gene that creates particular disease actions, for example by inserting DNA, so that the gene does not produce the proteins necessary to develop the disease.
Biotechnologists also study inherited diseases and identify the genetic factors involved in their development. This allows them to more accurately predict the likelihood that a person will develop pathologies, such as Huntington’s disease or breast cancer.
Knowledge of genetics is very important for agriculture, and an important area of research worldwide is the genetic modification of crops. Biotechnologists can transfer individual genes to a crop from other species, to add or remove specific characteristics of that crop.
This can increase the resistance of the crop to diseases and pests, or its tolerance to drought or extreme temperatures, for example.
Biotechnology offers benefits for food production, especially in developing countries, where large amounts of crops are lost to pests and diseases.
Biotechnologists conduct long-term experiments to investigate the impact of genetically modified crops on human health and the environment.
Biotechnology plays an increasingly important role in protecting the environment, including waste management, recycling, and pollution control. For example, biotechnologists can use microorganisms to break down wastewater.
The use of microorganisms to break down certain types of industrial waste and to remove chemical contaminants is now spreading.
Biotechnologists research and develop biodegradable plastics and have developed bioethanol and biodiesel, fuels produced from certain cereal crops, which could reduce the use of fossil fuels.
Biotechnology has long focused on the food and beverage industry as it is essential for the production of beer, yogurt, bread, and cheese. Today, biotechnologists are developing new additives and preservatives, as well as meat substitutes for vegetarians.
Biotechnologists spend a lot of time performing tests and analyzing results in the laboratory, although they also have contact with a wide range of scientists. For example, in biotechnology applied to the pharmaceutical industry, they work in collaboration with a team with pharmacologists, toxicologists and biochemists.
Biotechnologists are often in charge of managing teams of technicians and the day-to-day work of the laboratory.
The daily work of a biotechnologist can vary depending on the area of biotechnology to which they are dedicated. However, they almost always work in the laboratory with equipment such as microsyringes, automatic pipettes, centrifuges and electron microscopes, and under controlled environments (for example, under sterile conditions, and under specific temperatures and humidities), and are dedicated to the maintenance and storage of cells and tissues.
Biotechnologists design, execute and evaluate experiments, and also write their results, sometimes for publication in scientific journals.
A typical day might include reading specialized scientific journals to keep up with the advances in biotechnology. Biotechnologists can also attend conferences on their specialty, to cooperate with other scientists and to discuss the results of their research.