Raise a frothy mug to Biotech in Babylon

Let’s return to the first ideas and events that laid the foundations of biotechnology.

The ancient Babylonians were some of the first pioneers to use biotechnology for economic growth.  They harnessed the power of microorganisms, such as yeast, to develop the fermentation process used to turn grain into beer.  The fermentation process was discovered by complete accident thousands of years before but, nonetheless, this process revolutionized the world of gastronomy.  The newfound biotechnology practice of fermentation brought about the ability to make cheese, yogurt, bread, and wine.  The Babylonians were among the first to use these biological processes to increase their Gross Domestic Product.  The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic reveals that they were known for exporting 20 different types of beers throughout Upper and Lower Egypt.

In the following post, we will explore in more detail the structure and function of microorganism to cultivate biotechnology products of the ancient world and the modern innovations being developed presently.

George, Andrew R., trans. & edit. (2003). The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic: Critical Edition and Cuneiform Texts. England: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-814922-0.

Biotech: Bridging the Gap to Understanding

Biotechnology.

For some, the mind shuts down when the word biotechnology or bioscience is mentioned in passing.  They don’t know what it is, nor do they feel they will be able to understand what it encompasses.  Some have a general idea of what the biotech industry entails, and others haven’t heard of it at all.  The field of Biotechnology is an important subject for everyone to be able to understand.  It is the future of science and research, and it will provide us with treatments that could heal diseases that you or a family member may be faced with in this lifetime.  The biotech industry plays an important part in the advancement of our nation as well as the quality of life we lead.

So what is biotechnology?  How does it affect our future?

Let’s begin with the simplest approach by exploring the ideas that led to what we now call biotechnology.  Thousands of years ago humans learned to cultivate crops that were more desirable by selecting seeds of plants that produced a better harvest.  Wheat, barley, and rice are some of the first crops cultivated 8000 years ago.    If you’ve ever found yourself thinking, that Yorkiepoo is so darn cute or York Shire Terriers and Poodles are such a good mix, then you’ve toyed with some of the first ideas that contribute to biotechnology as we know it today.

The Concise Encyclopedia definition of Biotechnology:  The use of biology to solve problems and make useful products. Biotechnology merges biological information with computer technology to advance research in other areas, including nanotechnology and regenerative medicine. Today there are numerous commercial biotechnology firms that manufacture genetically engineered substances for a variety of mostly medical, agricultural, and ecological uses.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of Biotechnology:  The manipulation (as through genetic engineering) of living organisms or their components to produce useful usually commercial products (as pest resistant crops, new bacterial strains, or novel pharmaceuticals); also : any of various applications of biological science used in such manipulation.

Today I had a conversation with my mother about how much better she felt when she took the biologic treatment for arthritis, Humira, instead of taking the originally recommended  pharmaceutical drugMethotrexate, which is also used for the treatment of cancer.  The doctor was required to first prescribe my mother Methotrexate, a pharmaceutical drug that functions via chemical synthesis, when she was initially diagnosed with arthritis.  This is a direct result to insurance regulations, which require that doctors first prescribe medicines or therapies that cost less.  Biologics are a product of biotechnology derived from natural plant or animal DNA; they target specific sights within the immune system using antibodies and proteins.  Manufacturing and storage of the fragile DNA used in biologics are factors that contribute to the higher cost.  They are beneficial in treating autoimmune disorders such as Arthritis, Diabetes, and Multiple Sclerosis.  Many people have experienced a very positive response to treatment with biologics as well as fewer side effects when compared to more traditionally prescribed pharmaceuticals drugs.  Biologics are a perfect example of the benefits of research in biotechnology.  The future of biotechnology is wide ranging and biologics are just one positive innovation.  More biotech innovations and products will be reviewed, along with the pros and cons of these innovations, in the next blog.