Category Archives: biofuels

What is Biotechnology: Types, Examples and Applications


Biotechnology is the use of biological systems found in organisms or the use of the living organisms themselves to make technological advances and adapt those technologies to various different fields. These include applications in various fields from agricultural practice to the medical sector. It does not only include applications in fields that involve the living, but any other field where the information obtained from the biological aspect of an organism can be applied.

Biotechnology is particularly vital when it comes to the development of miniscule and chemical tools as many on the tools biotechnology uses exist at the cellular level. In a bid to understand more regarding biotechnology, here are its types, examples and its applications.

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According to Biotechnology Innovation Organization,

“Biotechnology is technology based on biology – biotechnology harnesses cellular and biomolecular processes to develop technologies and products that help improve our lives and the health of our planet. We have used the biological processes of microorganisms for more than 6,000 years to make useful food products, such as bread and cheese, and to preserve dairy products.”

Types of Biotechnology

1. Medical Biotechnology

Medical biotechnology is the use of living cells and other cell materials for the purpose of bettering the health of humans. Essentially, it is used for finding cures as well as getting rid of and preventing diseases. The science involved includes the use of these tools for the purpose of research to find different or more efficient ways of maintaining human health, understanding pathogen, and understanding the human cell biology.

Here, the technique is used to produce pharmaceutical drugs as well as other chemicals to combat diseases. It involves the study of bacteria, plant and animal cells to first understand the way they function at a fundamental level.

It heavily involves the study of DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) to get to know how to manipulate the genetic makeup of cells to increase the production of beneficial characteristics that humans might find useful such as the production of insulin. The field usually leads to the development of new drugs and treatments, novel to the field.

Examples

Vaccines are chemicals that stimulate the body’s immune system to better fight pathogens when they attack the body. They achieve this by inserting attenuated (weakened) versions of the disease into the body’s bloodstream. This causes the body to react as if it was under attack from the non-attenuated version of the disease. The body combats the weakened pathogens and through the process takes note of the cell structure of the pathogens and has some cell ‘remember’ the disease and store away the information within the body.

When the individual becomes exposed to the actual disease, the body of the individual immediately recognizes it and quickly forms a defense against it since it already has some information on it. This translates to quicker healing and less time being symptomatic.

The attenuated disease pathogens are extracted using biotechnological techniques such as growing the antigenic proteins in genetically engineered crops. An example is the development of an anti-lymphoma vaccine using genetically engineered tobacco plants made to exhibit RNA (A similar chemical to DNA) from malignant (actively cancerous) B-cells.

Strides have been made in the development of antibiotics that combat pathogens for humans. Many plants are grown and genetically engineered to produce the antibodies. The method is more cost effective than using cells or extracting these antibodies from animals as the plants can produce these antibodies in larger quantities.

2. Agricultural Biotechnology

Agricultural biotechnology focuses on developing genetically modified plants for the purpose of increasing crop yields or introducing characteristics to those plants that provide them with an advantage growing in regions that place some kind of stress factor on the plant namely weather and pests.

In some of the cases, the practice involves scientists identifying a characteristic, finding the gene that causes it, and then putting that gene within another plant so that it gains that desirable characteristic, making it more durable or having it produce larger yields than it previously did.

Examples

Biotechnology has provided techniques for the creation of crops that express anti pest characteristics naturally, making them very resistant to pests, as opposed to having to keep dusting them and spraying them with pesticides. An example of this would be the fungus Bacillus thuringiensis genes being transferred to crops.

The reason for this is that the fungus produces a protein (Bt) which is very effective against pests such as the European corn borer. The Bt protein is the desired characteristic scientist would like the plants to have and for this reason, they identified the gene causing Bt protein to express in the fungus and transferred it to corn. The corn then produces the protein toxin naturally, lowering the cost of production by eliminating the cost of dusting the crop with pesticide.

  • Plant and Animal Breeding

Selective breeding has been a practice humans have engaged in since farming began. The practice involves choosing the animals with the most desirable characteristics to breed with each other so that the resulting offspring would also express these traits. Desirable characteristics included larger animals, animals more resistant to disease and more domicile animals, all geared to making the process of farming as profitable as possible.

This practice has been transferred to the molecular level with the same purpose. Different traits are selected among the animals and once the genetic markers have been pointed out, animals and plants with those traits are selected and bred for those traits to be transferred. A genomic understanding of those traits is what informs the decisions on whether the desired traits will express or get lost as recessive traits which do not express.

This information provides the basis for making informed decisions enhancing the capability of the scientists to predict the expression of those genes. An example is its use in flower production where traits such as color and smell potency are enhanced.

Applications of Biotechnology

1. Nutrient Supplementation

One of the biggest uses of biotechnology is the infusion of nutrients into food in situations such as aid. Therefore, it provides food with heavy nutrients that are necessary in such situations. An example of this application is the production Golden Rice where the rice is infused with beta-carotene. The rice has Vitamin A, which the body can easily synthesise.

2. Abiotic Stress Resistance

There is actually very little land on earth that is arable with some estimates place it at around 20 percent. With an increase in the world’s population, there is a need for the food sources available to be as effective as possible to produce as much food in as little space as possible. There is also need to have the crops grown to be able to make use of the less arable regions of the world.

This means that there is a need to develop crops that can handle these abiotic stresses such as salinity, drought and frost from cold. In Africa and the Middle East, for instance, where the climate can be unforgiving, the practice has played a significant role in the development of crops that can withstand the prevailing harsh climates.

3. Industrial Biotechnology

The industrial applications of biotechnology range from the production of cellular structures to the production of biological elements for numerous uses. Examples include the creation of new materials in the construction industry, and the manufacture of beer and wine, washing detergents, and personal care products.

4. Strength Fibres

One of the materials with the strongest tensile strength is spider webs. Amongst other materials with the same cross sectional width, spider webs can take more tensional force before breaking than even steel. This silk has created a lot of interest with the possible production of materials made from silk including body armour such as bullet proof jackets. Silk is used because it is stronger than Kevlar (the material most commonly used to make body armour).

Biotechnological techniques have been used to pick the genes found in spiders and their infusion in goats to produce the silk proteins in their milk. With this initiative, it make production easier as goats are much easier to handle compared to spiders and the production of silk via milk also help make the processing and handling much easier compared to handling the actual silk strands.

5. Biofuels

One of the biggest applications of biotechnology is in the energy production sector. With fears over the dwindling oil resources in the world and their related environmental impacts, there is a need to protect the globe’s future by finding alternative environmentally friendly fuel sources. Biotechnology is allowing this to happen with advances such as using corn to produce combustible fuel for running car engines. These fuels are good for the environment as they do not produce the greenhouse gases.

6. Healthcare

Biotechnology is applied in the healthcare sector is the development of pharmaceuticals that have proven problematic to produce though other conventional means because of purity concerns.

Image credit: PDP

Rinkesh

Rinkesh is passionate about clean and green energy. He is running this site since 2009 and writes on various environmental and renewable energy related topics. He lives a green lifestyle and is often looking for ways to improve the environment around him.

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Doing the Dishes by Hand – 6 of The Biggest Water-Wasters


Water is something that has a different value wherever you are on the planet. In areas of the earth made up largely of desert, it’s increasingly seen as a valued commodity. In other places, however, it’s regarded as an abundant resource that will always appear at the quick turn of a tap.

The latter attitude is something that needs to change fast. By 2030, it’s estimated that half of the world’s population could be living in areas classed as under high water stress. It’s hardly surprising considering the average human in the developed world goes through 747 gallons a day. With the booming world population, that’s a figure that’s just not sustainable.

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So how do we cut down on our water usage? Well, we’ve come up with a list of six ways you can start to reduce the amount of water you waste today. Some are small changes but all will make a big difference to the future of our planet moving forward.

1. Doing the Dishes by Hand

The majority of taps in the developed world are able to deliver between two to five gallons of water per minute. Leaving the tap running while you’re doing the washing up can, therefore, see you use as much water as a dishwasher after just two minutes. Washing dishes by hand uses an average of 14 gallons of water, but if those dishes are also rinsed, that figure can reach as high as 33 gallons. To put that into some context, the average American uses 17.2 gallons of water every time they have a shower.

The Solution: a dishwasher. A modern-day machine rarely uses above 10 gallons of water per load. When you think about how much cutlery, bowls, and plates you can wash in one go, the savings become substantial.

2. Fixing the Dripping Tap

Have you ever had an annoying leaking tap around your home? The constant sound of dripping is enough to drive any sane person insane. Yet despite this, getting a leaking tap fixed is rarely seen as a priority.

One plumbing service in North Carolina has done the math and found out that an average faucet drip could be wasting around 347 gallons a year. Times that figure by seven billion and it suddenly becomes very clear why the world could be running out of fresh water.

The solution: get leaking taps fixed as quickly as possible. The longer you leave it, the more water – and money – you’ll waste.

3. Washing the Car at Home

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Let’s face it – most of us choose to wash our vehicles at home because we think it will work out cheaper than going to the car wash. A study by Kaady Car Washes, however, has proven that theory could in some respects be wrong. Using a hose to wash down your vehicle can see you go through 80 to 140 gallons of water. A car wash, on the other hand, only uses 30 to 45 gallons.

Stats from the construction engineering company Colas show that the price per gallon of water in the United States is approximately $0.005 per gallon. So, if you’re someone that washes their car at home every weekend, you’re likely spending around $3 a month for the pleasure.

The Solution: a car wash. Professional car washes recycle waste water. It’s often sent to treatment plants to help prevent the pollution of the environment. Home car wash wastewater, however, is usually lost down drains or contaminates soil.

4. Watering the Garden With Sprinklers

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Keeping the garden looking its best is never easy over the summer months. A sudden heatwave can turn a luscious, green lawn into something of a barren land in just a matter of weeks if left unwatered.

One solution that many all over the world turn to is garden sprinklers. They’re reasonably inexpensive, easy to set up, and save you an unmeasurable amount of watering time. There is, however, worries over just how much water they use. In certain areas of California, for example, sprinklers are only allowed to be used once a week by law. It’s somewhat understandable considering an average sprinkler system uses around 265 gallons per hour. In more human terms, that’s approximately three and a half bathtubs of water.

The Solution: Unfortunately, not all of us have the time to water our gardens, so sprinklers still serve an important purpose. A good tip to avoid overuse is to set them so they go off first thing in the morning or last thing at night. This helps to guarantee that none of the water evaporates due to the warm temperatures.

5. Making Biofuels

While biofuels are usually an environmentally friendly way of producing power, they do have one major downside: they require a lot of water. Powerplants which make biofuels typically use far more gallons of water in comparison with carbon dioxide emitting fossil fuels. Take corn ethanol as an example. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers estimates that the process involved in making less than a gallon of corn ethanol requires 170 gallons of water. That’s bad math in anybody’s book.

The Solution: using more sustainable waste and renewable electric power will help to keep the world’s vehicles, machinery, and technology moving forward in a greener fashion.

6. Drinking Beer

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The first sip of an ice-cold beer is one of life’s simples pleasure. You’d think that such a refreshing taste would be something that helps to keep you hydrated, but the truth is the exact opposite.

All alcohol acts as a suppressant to the hormone yasopressin, which is responsible for letting the kidneys know when to and when not to absorb and hold onto water. As alcohol is also a diuretic, it means going to the toilet becomes a frequent occurrence on a night out. When these two factors combine, your body is essentially throwing away water. The end result of feeling dehydrated is one of the leading causes of a sore head the next morning.

The solution: if the taste of beer is something you’re just not willing to give up, think about trying an alcoholic-free version instead.

Rinkesh

Rinkesh is passionate about clean and green energy. He is running this site since 2009 and writes on various environmental and renewable energy related topics. He lives a green lifestyle and is often looking for ways to improve the environment around him. Follow him on Facebook here.

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