The use of the biological components i.e. systems and organizations in technological applications is what we refer to as biotechnology. It is basically the exploitation of the biological processes for industrial and other purposes, especially the genetic manipulation of microorganisms for the production of antibiotics, hormones, etc. it harnesses cellular and biomolecular processes to develop technologies and products to help improve our lives and the health of our planet.
But like everything, it also has both, advantages and disadvantages. Let’s take a look at them:
Pros of biotechnology:
Biotechnology delivers proven economic and environmental benefits of safer and promising products for our future. The farmers are the most benefitted people. The productivity has increased rapidly, thus reducing the costs by increasing yields, increasing protection from insects and diseases and increasing their crops’ tolerance to heat, drought and other environmental stress. The processor benefits have improved the quality and content of animal feed, food and energy sources. It has helped a lot in developing vaccines for all types of preventable diseases.
Also read: Pros and cons of organic farming
It helps in producing better tasting fruits or vegetables. The fruits and vegetables grown using these techniques retain their flavor and their texture lasts longer. Also, these fruits, vegetables, grains or oils helps in enhancing the human health. The enzymes produced are consistent, reliable and highly purified enzymes used for food processing. For example, in cheese production, Chymosin, a product of biotechnology, replaces the more expensive and variable enzyme rennin, obtained from animal sources. Also the plants are virus resistant, thus the use of pesticides to kill them has decreased maintaining the healthiness and quality of the plants.
The main targets have been for the therapy for cancer treatment. Nano robots are being used for cleaning plaque. The ways for drug delivery for specific body parts is still being studied. It is also being used to produce pharmaceuticals, such as human insulin for diabetics and medicine to treat numerous diseases. Vaccines for animals have also been developed to help them fight against heir diseases, else these diseases are incurable.
The methods and processes for production by the industries have definitely improved. For example, enzymes are being used instead of chemicals which makes the process eco-friendly and hence results to less carbon footprint. It helps in producing energy efficient fuels and energy sources. One of the best examples is the microbial fuel cell.
Food safety measure have increased rapidly with anti-microbial packaging, detection methods for contamination and by avoiding food wastage by various techniques. Another interesting advantage is the use of microbes for cleaning up oil spills, for the bioremediation purpose.
Cons of biotechnology:
Biotechnology has done a lot of good in many aspects, but it also has disadvantages. It possibly has a lot of areas to concern upon as it does have its negative effects.
In agriculture, the main issue arises from transgenic crops. The concerns are also related to genetic engineering of crops that reduces their long-term biological potential. The genetic engineered plants may end up having new toxins and allergens. The environment is being exploited for our selfish benefits. Is it worth the pain to put our environment at risk?
Because of the fast production of transgenic crops as compared to conventional crops, the overproduction of these may result in market instability, reduced export income, fewer product varieties and even unemployment. These alterations of crops through engineering has led to the death of the very soul of natural farming, turning the farmers into tractor-drivers.
Also, many are still not allowed to take the advantage of the potential benefits due to global overproduction. This also raises issues about the potential for discriminatory exploitation due to the unavailability in some countries.
The alteration of the genes of the organisms like bacteria in pharmaceutical industry to the animals in research and plant in agriculture has raised concerns about their long-term consequences. It can badly affect the biodiversity or the variety of the organisms. Genetic engineering crosses and violates natural boundaries of reproduction by crossing genes between unrelated species which is potentially in a hazardous way. There is no doubt that animals, just as humans do, experience pain and suffering. These alterations can lead to unexpected and unpredictable interactions and effects.
Environmental consequences of genetic engineering would prove to be widespread and very damaging. It is also being proved that these genetically modified crops threaten the monarch butterflies. Whether we like it or not, humans will be involved in research surrounding Environmental Biotechnology. The level to which this could be an ethical concern depends on if consent was given and if there is potential harm caused from the research.