Biotechnology is the engineering of products involving living organisms or their derivatives. Earlier it was used mainly in agriculture and wine industry without knowing molecular basis of plant transformation or product formation. However, the earth-shaking discovery of DNA double helix by J. D. Watson and F. C. Crick in early 1950s revolutionized this field as never-before and paved the way for understanding life at cellular and molecular level. The discovery of restriction enzymes (molecular scissors) gave birth to recombinant DNA technology and it allows the manipulation of genetic makeup of any organism including human being at will. This field is popularly known as Genetic Engineering. It has made possible the cloning of individual genes and the whole organism as well. The cloning of Dolly the sheep by Ian Wilmut and colleagues at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1996, was a major milestone in science and technology and holds out hope for therapeutic cloning. Modern biotechnology is also associated with the use of genetically modified organisms like bacterium Escherichia coli, baker's yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, plants and animals for the production of antibiotics or biological molecules of human origin. For example, human insulin gene was cloned into a plasmid and transformed into E. coli to produce large quantities of biologically functional insulin to meet the increasing demand of this product for the treatment of diabetes. Also, genetically modified plants are developed to get increased yield, high nutritional value and to make them pest resistant or salt tolerant.
Over the years, biotechnology has evolved as an interdisciplinary area of science and technology having linked with many engineering fields like chemical engineering, computer science, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and so on. For example, technological revolution in computer science played a pivotal role for processing of millions of DNA sequences coming out from whole genome sequencing of different organisms including humans. The human genome sequence revealed that 99.9% sequences of any two individuals are same and an individual is different from others because of only 0.10% DNA sequences. What does it reveal? Besides, 98.5% of human genome comprises of non-coding sequences. This puzzle is not easy to solve. And there are about 30,000 genes in this genome and functions of most of them are still unknown. Similarly, there are thousands of unknown genes in bacteria, yeast, protozoa, soil worms, plants and in all the vertebrates. Understanding of the biological processes in all these living organisms will revolutionize the pharmaceutical industries, food industries, agriculture sector, heath care etc. and will provide solutions to different problems like aging, cancer development, infections caused by viruses and microbes and so on. It is a challenge for new generation of budding scientists and technocrats to crack this problem and contribute to science and technology so that mankind will be benefited.