biotechnology Essay: THE DAWN OF A NEW ERA
The Longman dictionary of contemporary English defines biotechnology as the ” technical use in
science and industry of living things such as cells and bacteria, to make drugs or chemical, destroy
waste matter etc.” A common misconception however, is the thought that biotechnology is relatively
new because it only involves working with DNA and genetic engineering. In fact the origins of
biotechnology date back at least to 6000 BC where the ancient Egyptians mastered the process of
fermentation to make beer. Later on, in the middle of the 20th century, two pioneers by the name of
James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid simply known as
DNA. Before their breakthrough little was know about DNA and scientist were convinced that its role
was of minor importance.
Eventually it turns out that they were wrong.
The discovery of DNA’s structure and role along with the accumulated knowledge of cell structure,
biochemistry and heredity opened the door to the multidisciplinary field of biotechnology: a field that
has certainly raised many controversies and skepticism. In fact, many are afraid of biotechnology and
how it might affect the way we live, eat or even behave. Yet on the other hand, most scientists along
with their supporters are convinced of the good that biotechnology will provide mankind with. They
hope that biotechnology will live up to its promise, which is mainly to enhance the quality of life.
Like it or not, biotechnology has already intruded many parts of our daily lives and will definitely
change the way we live as we enter the 21st century.
For a better understanding of how biotechnology will act upon our lives, it is imperative that we look
into the areas in which the science is quickly taking shape. Mainly, these areas include pharmaceutical
companies and the medical field.
Pharmaceutical companies have been around for quite a while now, providing us with daily essentials
like Panadol , Vicks , Maalox Lately these biotech companies are becoming more numerous
and more specialized. ” With the discovery of each disease-causing gene, a new and lucrative market
opens” (Brownlee, Cook and Hardigg p30). In fact, Wall Street is betting quite a lot on genetic
technology. According to Bethany McLean from Fortune Magazine, biotech companies can see their
stock value jump from $2 to $125 in just 5 years like in the case of Idec Pharmaceuticals a San Diego
This clearly shows that more and more people are willing to invest in these companies hoping that one
day they will come up with an effective cure for terminal diseases like most cancers.
One of the first commercial applications of this technology is the production of genetically engineered
human insulin: a protein hormone that regulates the amount of sugar (glucose) in the blood. Normally,
the pancreas should secrete insulin, however people with a certain kind of diabetes cannot produce
insulin and therefor their sugar levels can rise dramatically, a condition that can lead to death.
Nowadays, biotech companies are developing a class of drugs known as monoclonal antibodies (mabs
in biotech jargon) (McLean p 2). They have the potential to treat an astounding range of disease, from
cancer to cardiovascular disease , with fewer side effects than traditional therapies (McLean p 6).
In order to produce these mabs, scientist must first genetically engineer a special mouse that serves
their purpose and this costs quite some time (seven years) and quite some money ($40 million)
(McLean p 20).
This kind of technology is obviously very expensive for the time being and not in everyone’s reach.
Nevertheless, doctors benefit directly from it since biotechnology products ranging from the traditional
Magnetic Resonance Imaging cylinder (MRI) to the newer mabs are suppose to enhance the medical
practice, making the task easier for both physician and patients.
It is undeniable that MRI has done a great deal for doctors allowing them see their patient from the
inside out without having to “open them up”. But can newer technologies pertaining to the domain of
genetics improve doctor’s ability to deal with patients especially the ones bearing a ” heavy genetic
Skeptics say that the availability of genetic test will only make the job harder for doctors and patients
at risk. It is therefor legitimate to question whether or not ” doctors are ready to practice in the genetic
age” (Brownlee, Cook and Hardigg p 25). The extremely delicate information that biotechnology
produces almost .