What is biotechnology? If you only listen to the news, it's a big, scary
science that is going to create all kinds of things we're not sure we want
to exist. But the simplest explanation is that it's a combination of biology
and technology. It's the science of changing or using living things to come
up with new or better things.
In some form or another, biotechnology has been around for a very long
time. It includes historical discoveries ranging from the development of antibiotics
to modern day stem cell research and cloning. Its diversity is one of the
reasons it's so well covered in the news. It's also what makes it a great
People who work in biotechnology can work in many different areas. These
include health care, industry, agriculture, the military and other fields.
And the men and women in these fields are usually not even called biotechnologists.
"Due to the diversity and scope of the biotechnology industry the specific
position of biotechnologist does not exist," explains Siobhan Williams. She
works with a biotechnology firm. "People working in the bio-economy can be
researchers working in a lab, business development people working in an office,
manufacturing staff in a manufacturing facility, etc."
"Biotechnologist is a general term that covers all aspects of developing
biological products and services for consumer health, agriculture, biodefense,
etc.," confirms Kristina Obom. She is associate program chair in biotechnology
at Johns Hopkins University.
Consider Catherine Rodriguez, a microbiologist with the U.S. Army. She
graduated with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry. "I accepted a
position with the U.S. Army in 2005 starting out as a laboratory technician,"
she says. "I worked my way up to become a research microbiologist."
Beth Biederman is also working as a microbiologist, and has performed many
different tasks in her career. "When I was in manufacturing, my role was
more supportive," she explains. "I tested the air for microorganisms and particles
that could affect the drug products. I tested the water used in production
to ensure it was clean. All incoming samples of the drugs were tested for
quality before they were added to the drugs and all completed drugs were tested
before they were released.
"Now that I'm in an R&D (research and development) capacity, my roles
are different. I am working in the microbiology group. I grow up the different
organisms needed by other groups for various testing. I keep track of where
they are located in the different freezers and hand them out when requested."
Clearly, what you can do in the field of biotechnology is limited only
by your imagination. Some people work standard hours, while others may work
extended or flexible hours. The opportunities are equal for both genders,
and people with special physical needs can also find suitable positions somewhere
within the profession.
Then there is the work itself. From DNA research and solving human health
problems to creating better food products and alternative energy resources,
biotechnology has it all covered. And with the field's continuing growth,
even your imagination may not be able to keep up with the opportunities.
"Health is a large part of biotechnology," says Williams. "But bioenergy,
the environment and agriculture are emerging sub-sectors. Biotechnology is
a field of constant innovation and discovery." And that's what makes its
future both promising and exciting.