Sunday, April 23, 2006



Bio-chemical engineering and Biotechnology
Until the 1980s chemistry-based medicines were predominant in the markets. Sold as pills, capsules, syrups, and injections, these were manufactured in laboratories from organics and plant extracts. The process of manufacture involved chemical synthesis, recombination, and chemical engineering.

Biotechnology had its roots in biological extracts from plant and animal sources—biological matter like hormones, enzymes, vitamins, antigens, insulin etc. Later these could be manufactured in laboratories through bio-chemical engineering to be sold as injections, unlike chemistry-based products. Cheaper copies of these medicines made through different processes came to be called bio-generics (generics of chemistry-based pharmaceuticals were manufactured early in India due to the government’s decision to grant process patents and not product patents in food and medicines. This was in the 1960s and 70s when India was suffering from acute food shortage).

Manufacturing these biological products in labs naturally requires knowledge of Molecular Biology, which delves deep into the structure of cells and the DNA that is contained in them.

The full set of genes in human beings is called the Human Genome—it contains 3 billion base pairs of DNA. Genomics is the study of the complete sequence of bases in the human genome, which has been on for several years since the Human Genome Project unraveled that complete sequence in the year 2000.

These bases code for protein, which is the building block of life. Studying the role of genes, the proteins they manufacture, and the subtle variations in human beings, aids in the development of bio-chemical drugs. The genome of other animals and plants is the next step in genomics.

The science of unraveling, storing, and studying the complex structures of genes is called bioinformatics—actually this term is used since information technology tools are used for this purpose. That is because amino acid structures are more about mathematics than biology. Hence disciplines like algorithms, database maintenance, and software engineering are essential in bioinformatics. It helps to reduce time for the discovery of new genes or gene variations in different human beings because of these can be quickly compared with the available database using computers.

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