Biotechnology might be pursued by a minority in the college, but the fact that it is one of the most advanced disciplines of engineering is non-debatable. It is sometimes envious to hear; that our fellow students, in the division of Biotechnology are dealing with topics such as Genetics and Microbiology. However, very few of us have a genuine idea of what this field is all about.
Biotechnology as a field is highly pervasive and is an amalgamation of all sciences. According to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, Biotechnology involves the use of living systems and organisms to develop or make useful products, or any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or biological derivatives. In simplified terms, it is merely manipulating biology with a given set of tools (of genetic engineering) for varied human applications.
Biotechnology emerged from the field of Zymotechnology, which began as a quest for a better understanding of fermentation in Industries. Back then, Biotechnology was simply converting raw materials into more useful products. It gradually evolved to be the solution for major social problems, including world hunger and energy crises. But the origin of Biotechnology was with the birth of genetic engineering. There were two key events that came to be regarded as sci- entific breakthroughs, beginning an era that united Genetics with Biotechnology:
- The discovery of the structure of DNA – by Watson and Crick (in 1953).
- The discovery of a recombinant DNA technique by Co- hen and Boyer. This approach could, in principle, enable bacteria to adopt the genes and produce proteins of other organisms, including humans.
Since then the field has witnessed major advancements and diversified.
The science of Biotechnology can be broken down into sub-disciplines:
- Red Biotechnology (Medical):
Red Biotechnology or Bio-pharmaceutics is concerned with the discovery and development of innovative drugs and treatments. It is dedicated to the development of therapeutic and diagnostic techniques. Some applications of Red Biotechnology are – drug synthesis (using microorganisms) and use of stem cells to regenerate damaged human tissues. Research includes synthesis of diagnostic tools in the fields of immunology, molecular diagnostics, and biochemical diagnostics.The discovery of the molecular structure of the DNA was the most significant boost in this field. This eventually led to the decoding of the human genome. In simpler terms, genetic information is the blueprint for all life processes. Knowledge of these blueprints is extremely important in order to unfold the root cause of diseases and their cure.
Antibiotics are the finest example, but vaccine and genetic engineering are also typical examples of red technology. Treatment of anaemia, leukaemia, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, cellular treatments for age-old diseases such as tuberculosis and resistant strains of malaria or viruses are now possible due to growing research in the field of Red Biotechnology. Research in Biotechnology has made giant advances in tackling cancer, AIDS, and influenza viruses.
- White /Grey Biotechnology (Industrial)
The issue of sustainable development and waste disposal is of utmost importance in today’s time. The fossil fuels and non-renewable energy sources are depleting at an accelerated rate. In addition, the pollutants released into the ecosystem by various industrial processes pose a danger to the globe.White Biotechnology is the application of biotechnology for the processing and production of chemicals, materials and energy. It provides new options (enzymes/catalysts) to the chemical industry by allowing easy access to materials instead of the conventional chemical processes. White Biotechnology specializes in the micro-organisms that breakdown the toxic waste.
Another application of Biotechnology in the Industrial Sector is in providing solutions to the pertaining environmental problems. The chemical processes in factories release toxic pollutants, harming the eco-system. Biotechnological processes facilitate the breakdown of these harmful wastes. This is a reason why it plays an integral role in sustainable development and efficient energy conservation.
- Blue Biotechnology (Aquatic)
Blue Biotechnology is the combination of aquatic and marine organisms with technology to get new sources of energy, develop new drugs, and extract new active ingredients or just to increase seafood production and its safety. Although still at a nascent stage, this field has ample scope for research based on optimization of algae producing oxygen. Currently, many companies are utilizing algae and other marine microorganisms for production of bio-fuels that can serve as sustainable alternatives for dwindling conventional fuel resources.
- Green Biotechnology (Agricultural)
Green Biotechnology is the use of genetically altered plants or animals to produce more environment-friendly farming solutions as an alternative to traditional agriculture, horticulture, and animal breeding processes, by the addition, deletion, or modification of traits. Agriculture in combination with Biotechnology has escalated farming to a whole new level.These plants are also used for generation of bio-energy and for tackling climate changes. An example of this is the designing of transgenic plants that are modified for improved flavor, increased resistance to pests and diseases, enhanced growth in adverse weather conditions, and additional nutritional features.
Biotechnology in NSIT
The Department of Biotechnology came into existence in 2004, with the motive of specializing students in analysing the boundless data that is emerging in the Biotechnology sector, using Biotechnological tools like Bio-informatics and Bio-computation. At the end of four years, a Biotechnology student has a comprehensive understanding in these tools, aiding him/her in the simulation and modelling of data (genomic, DNA, protein structures, molecular biology, etc.) through algorithms, Database Management System (DBMS), and programming languages. Another reason for introducing the course was to create scientific professionals in the fields of White and Red Biotechnology.
Biotechnology was introduced in NSIT relatively recently and hence, the syllabus of Biotechnology is updated and the elective subjects in the final year leave room for introducing the latest developments in the field, which may not have been originally a part of the syllabus. The course is holistic in terms of its structure and covers Biochemistry, Microbiology, Genetics, Structural Biology, Immunology, and Recombinant Biotechnology. In addition, the biology-based subjects are backed with Applied Sciences, Business entrepreneurship, and Finance. The curriculum consists of exhaustive courses on programming that help students in placements (technical and non-technical) as well as taking up projects, and higher studies.
Moreover, the Biotechnology division of NSIT showcases an idealized student-faculty ratio. This is the prime reason for the high quality of teaching, as there is individual attention given to the students.
During the four years:
The unanimous advice of alumni and professors, for any student is, that one ought to earnestly follow their passion. Being a vast field, it is essential that a student should realize his interest and focus on it with tenacity. Along with academics, one must make the most of his/her time at NSIT and be involved in internships, projects, competitions, fests, and societies; so that one can learn and interact with people from different backgrounds, which helps immensely in figuring out what to do after graduation.
There is scope of international internships, as NSIT has MoUs with certain universities abroad, and can attend national/international conferences presenting academic research papers. Research experience can be obtained through internships at pharmaceutical companies or through research fellowships at premier institutes such as the Indian National Science Academy (INSA), IISc, The National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), AIIMS, and others.
For foreign internships in industries there is a long list of companies –
- Bio-analytical Systems, Inc.
- Cardiovascular Systems, Inc.
- Baxter Healthcare
For further exposure, students can supplement their theoretical knowledge by attending workshops like the Bangalore India Bio (India’s Biggest Biotech Show) and Biosciences’ Excellence Training Programs (Molecular and Genomic workshop, and Protein and Proteomic workshop). In such work- shops students carry out hands-on experiments and deal with the latest techniques. Bioinformatics Institute of India, Bioinformatics Centre, International Center for Stem Cells, Cancer and Biotechnology (ICSCCB),IISc,Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), etc. organize such workshops from time to time.
The faculty of NSIT has always been supportive in the endeavors of its students. The laboratories of NSIT are highly advanced with research and experiments going on in collaboration with JNU. Projects are of immense consideration everywhere. Surprisingly, Biotechnological projects are not just limited to the Biotechnology students but are interdisciplinary too. For example, Bio-computation projects are availed by COE students, analysis of Biological data as signal inputs and its further processing are projects which might fascinate the ECE students. Some of the projects, with a little brevity are:-
- Study on the e.m.f generation by living organisms and its applications in sensing.
- Evolution of bacteria and its resistance to drugs.
- Evolution of dengue virus as a vector borne disease and studying the trends of spread of dengue in India.
On the basis of GRE score, statement of purpose, letters of recommendation, a balanced academic and research profile, students can start looking towards a career in Biotechnology by pursuing a masters/PhD/research fellowship in India and Ivy League universities. The top non-technical firms visiting the campus, which hire Biotechnology students as analysts, are ZS Associates, JP Morgan Chase, The Smart Cube, EXL, PwC, Aricent, MuSigma, IMS Health, EVS, etc.
The Biotechnology sector in India is rapidly growing at a compounded annual growth rate of 22%, according to a recent report by Ernst &Young. Currently, a significant por- tion of the sector’s growth is being contributed by the pharmaceutical sector. Although very few novel drugs have been discovered, more and more global pharmaceutical companies are seeking India to set up their research and development centres. The other mushrooming areas are bio-services, bio-agriculture, bioindustrial, and bio-informatics.
A Biotechnology professional can venture into myriads of arenas such as –
- Drug and pharmaceutical research
- Production of Chemicals
- Environment control
- Waste management
- Sustainable Energy
- Food processing
- Stem cell research
The Department of Biotechnology has undertaken a slew of initiatives to ensure a conducive environment for the growth of the Biotechnology industry in India by supporting budding entrepreneurs and funding research projects. The Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India, has signed memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with foreign research organizations and companies, for joint research programs. The Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology and Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) are trying to bridge the industry-academia void by providing a multitude of projects to promote Research and Development. The Biotechnology Industry Partnership Program (BIPP) is an example of an advanced technology scheme, for providing support in futuristic areas, transformational technology, and product development for public good.
Public and Private Sector:
In the public and private sector, there are tremendous job openings for Biotechnologists. Some of the premier companies that offer Biotechnology professionals with handsome pay-packages are:
- Biocon Ltd
- Pfizer Ltd
- Hindustan Unilever Ltd
- Sun pharma
- Dr. Reddy’s Laboratory
- Serum Institute of India
- Panacea Biotec Ltd.