DUELING DATA: Biotech's Risk-Reward Paradigm

DUELING DATA: Biotech's Risk-Reward Paradigm

Biotechnology offers new and often sustainable routes to solving both old and new problems alike. Most recently, researchers have been focused on how the application of scientific and engineering principles in the processing of materials by biological agents can help fight the coronavirus and lessen its impact on our communities and industries.  Biotechnological research can be employed to fight things like diseases, improve crop yields or create synthetic polymers, but there is also the risk of negative consequences such as unintended environmental impacts or even biological weapons.

Many applications of biotechnology—including creating new food products, developing biochemicals, brewing beverages, fostering life-saving pharmaceuticals, and incorporating genetically altered organisms for purifying water and managing waste—offer solutions to address some of the world’s greatest challenges such as inhibiting the spread of infectious diseases, countering hunger, and remedying the degradation of our environment. Biotechnology can also lead to new vaccines and other medical redresses that will help detect, prevent, and treat infectious diseases. At present, biotechnology has a great opportunity to establish its role in combating COVID-19 as researchers worldwide have been using different technologies to discover new drugs and create safe and effective vaccines.

Beyond our current pandemic concerns, agricultural biotechnology is being used to generate genetically modified crops that can be used to address hunger and malnutrition. Techniques such as selective breeding and fermentation have long helped modify plant-based sources to improve yield and enhance nutritional value, and with better knowledge of plant genes, contemporary biotechnology methods can produce specific varieties to engender more desirable outcomes and effects. Genetically modified crops can be “designed” to better weather natural disasters such as pests and diseases which in turn increases abundance, reduces the need for pesticides and alleviates the economic pressures felt by farmers. In addition, biotechnology can lead to healthier fowl and livestock which improves the quality and quantity of the milk, eggs, and meat that humans consume. Biotechnology can also be used to aid the environment by diminishing pollution due to the substitution of microbes for chemicals in the treatment of waste. Also, bacterial enzymes can digest the raw plastics used to produce single-use beverage bottles and bioplastics can be produced with renewable raw materials that are safer alternatives to oil-based plastics.

Despite the great promise of biotechnological methods, there remains safety and security concerns. Synthetic viral strains created to develop new vaccines can potentially produce unexpected characteristics that could be introduced into the population. Another safety concern arises from advances in synthetic biology which carry the ominous threat of developing biological weapons. Therefore, it is important to evaluate practices and devise strategies to update safeguards. However, reaching that point is itself a difficult task because the risk management culture in biotechnology focuses on uncertain risks and stringent precautions which may hamper development. As a result, advancements in biotechnology struggle to compete with conventional chemical methodologies which hinders the biobased industry in its evolution of becoming technically and economically feasible. This is unfortunate as we are at a time where new plastics, rising CO2 levels and the depletion of fossil-based raw materials means arriving at alternative solutions is a paramount obligation. To address the world’s challenges with new and safer products and processes, there must also evolve a risk management paradigm that invigorates awareness of uncertain risks while also making room to ascertain greater knowledge of those risks.

The diverse nature of biotechnologies demands a range of adsorbent and trace contaminant control technologies to ensure pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical manufacturers save time, improve processes and ensure patient safety.

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