What Is a Biotechnology Scientist?

Cindy Quarters

Biotechnology is generally defined as the science of dealing with practical applications for living organisms, and a biotechnology scientist works within this field. This includes a wide range of applications, from using yeast for making beer to the manipulation of genes in plants and animals. The field is a broad one, but jobs are shifting from the more traditional areas to the application of genetics in a variety of ways. Traditionally, a biotechnology scientist applies the principles of selective breeding to domesticated plants and animals.

Biotechnology scientists have created fruits and vegetables that are resistant to disease.
Biotechnology scientists have created fruits and vegetables that are resistant to disease.

Selective breeding has been practiced for many years, but applying very specific knowledge of genetics is relatively new, and within the realm of what a biotechnology scientist does. According to some estimates, about 70% of the products in a modern grocery store are based on biotechnology in one way or another. Depending on the industry, a biotechnology scientist may work on various food development or enhancement processes. The foods involved can include such diverse things as cheese, canola oil, and wine.

A biotechnology scientist might design an improved home pregnancy test.
A biotechnology scientist might design an improved home pregnancy test.

In addition, a biotechnology scientist may work on such vastly different projects as developing ways to assist with cleaning clothing, develop safer climbing ropes, or to create improved home pregnancy testing. A biotechnology scientist might be involved with genetics in an effort to understand and eradicate hereditary illnesses, possibly providing genetic counseling to prospective parents. Other tasks can involve the cloning of plants or animals, the transference of genes from one living organism to another, or other similar tasks.

Typically, a biotechnology scientist spends many years going to school, and is usually very highly educated, often at the doctoral level. Many jobs in biotechnology require not only a doctorate but also two or more years of practical experience in the field. The work often involves teaming up with a group of scientists, requiring the ability to work well with others; in many cases knowledge of computer programming is required as well.

There are various approaches to the field of biotechnology. One approach is to simply study what already exists and see what can be learned, while another is to find ways to solve existing problems, such as seeking cures for genetic diseases and other inherited illnesses. A third method that is used in some circumstances is to irradiate various microorganisms, and then investigate the resulting mutations to see if anything useful develops. If it does, the microorganism may be developed for commercial applications.

Canola oil is produced from plants altered by biotechnology scientists.
Canola oil is produced from plants altered by biotechnology scientists.

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