Biotechnology (biotech) involves the study and use of living organisms or cell processes to make useful products. The first person to produce beer by using the process of fermentation could be described as an amateur biotechnologist. Over time, the term evolved as biotechnology advanced in areas such as drug development, human and animal nutrition, agricultural improvements, and environmental protection. The cloning of insulin, used to treat diabetics, was one of the earliest modern breakthroughs in biotechnology.
The practice of biotechnology has been used by humans for centuries, it wasn’t until 1996 that the first biologics (the products of biotechnology) were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and over 120 biologics have been approved since then. Biotech companies are integrating the sciences and bringing new perspectives from various fields such as chemistry, biochemistry, and genetics to tackle biomedical questions. Success in
developing a new biotechnology product requires years of work and successful interaction among chemists, biologists, crystallographers, molecular modeling specialists, and other scientists to develop effective solutions to today’s complex problems.
- Biotechnologists use critical thinking, careful observation, problem-solving, deductive reasoning, and analytical skills to design experiments and make sense of the results.
- Specific laboratory skills, such as DNA manipulation, care of laboratory animals, cell cultures, etc., may be required for different jobs in this field.
- An awareness of and ability to follow Good Laboratory Practices (GLPs), as well as Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and Department of Agriculture regulations.
- Teamwork is essential; therefore, respect for the contributions of others and the willingness to contribute are important.
- Because biotechnology involves the intersection of so many different scientific fields, a broad scientific background is helpful.
- Written and oral communication skills are important in order to convey findings and learn from the experiences of others.
Since many biotech companies were started by academic scientists who want to commercialize their discoveries, these companies initially have the feel of an academic research laboratory. There is a hierarchy of research assistants, scientists, and senior scientists, with each respectively having a higher academic degree. Many biotechnologists work as research assistants for a few years before returning to school for an advanced degree.
As in any industrial career for a scientist, there comes a point where they must make a decision whether to remain a research bench scientist or move into the business side of the company. Staying close to the lab may entail higher levels of scientific research. A more managerial track could include supervising more people, developing overall research plans and sales/marketing strategies, building
alliances, and formulating or implementing regulatory affairs processes and procedures. Depending on your personal strengths and goals, there are a wide variety of different opportunities.
Original content at acs.org