What Is Life Sciences?
Sometimes, biotechnology has the biggest impact in places you never noticed.
When you made coffee this morning, you probably didn’t realize the filter was made with a biotechnology process that uses enzymes to bleach the paper, reducing the amount of chlorine and energy used in manufacturing. The vitamin C and vitamin B you gulped this morning were probably made with a biotech process that eliminates the use of toxic chemicals during their manufacture.
The cornflakes in the cereal bowl were made with corn grown using fewer pesticides, thanks to the development of corn that is resistant to insects and disease. The bread for your toast contains natural biotech food enzymes that help the bread rise and keep it fresh.
In fact, more than 70 percent of the processed foods purchased in the supermarket contain ingredients improved through biotechnology—oil and meal from soybeans, corn and cotton seeds. These biotech products have reduced the amount of synthetic pesticides in the environment and water supply by millions of pounds.
Take a look at the shelves of your kitchen cabinets. You will find products made with canola oil that contain virtually no trans fats, obtained from plants grown with fewer pesticides, thanks to biotechnology. Other products on those shelves that are made with less environmental impact include foods containing soybeans, soybean oil and sunflower oil.
Industrial and Environmental
Industrial and environmental biotechnology provides cleaner manufacturing and solutions to environmental challenges. After more than two decades of success in healthcare and food production, scientists are now looking for ways to use biotechnology to make manufacturing of common products—like plastic and fuel—cleaner, more efficient and more sustainable through the use of renewable resources.
How many plastic products can you see right now? While you and your family may be concerned about the enormous use of petroleum products for energy, the plastic products that surround you in your home or office are also made from oil—much of it from overseas.
New plastics are coming into your home made with materials derived from corn and other plants, not petroleum, via a biotechnology process. Think of the impact on the environment! The plants themselves will be taking carbon dioxide out of the air as they grow and they will help create products that do not add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere in their use or disposal. The result is cleaner air, cleaner water and a cleaner planet for our children.
New fuels such as biodiesel and bioethanol are coming on the market. Biodiesel is made by extracting oils from soybeans and other crops. New biodegradable greases and lubricants for the family car are also being made from agricultural oils. Bioethanol can be made from corn, or by using new biotech processes; it can be made from agricultural waste products such as wheat straw, cornhusks, rice straw and even grass clippings.
Biotechnology is also being applied in more direct ways to environmental cleanup. A process called bioremediation uses microorganisms to reduce, eliminate or contain contaminants.
How does all this affect your everyday life? Such common products as vitamins, paper and faded blue jeans can now be manufactured with less energy and pollution. And every time you take fresh clothes out of the dryer, you’re benefiting from the detergent enzymes developed by biotechnology to remove deep stains. These enzymes have replaced the phosphates that used to be a serious pollutant for the nation's rivers and streams.
Crops improved through biotechnology not only improve farming efficiency, but also leave behind a softer environmental footprint than traditional agricultural practices. US farmers, growing transgenic pest-resistant cotton, corn and soybeans, reduced the total volume of insecticides and herbicides they sprayed by more than eight million pounds per year. Growing biotech crops also reduces soil erosion by up to 90 percent compared to conventional cultivation, saving valuable topsoil, improving soil fertility and dramatically reducing sedimentation in lakes, ponds and waterways.
If a member of your family has been diagnosed with breast cancer, leukemia, lymphoma or another cancer, it will help you to know that biotechnology has enabled therapies over the past 20 years that are working miracles. A growing percentage of cancer patients are surviving and returning to good health thanks to these biotechnology breakthroughs.
Some diseases are more likely to strike the women in your family. Rheumatoid arthritis is a good example; the disease afflicts two million people—mostly women—often during early or middle adulthood. Today, biotechnology drugs that slow the painful, joint-destroying progression of the disease are helping tens of thousands of women.
These improvements in healthcare for you and your family are just a small sample of the benefits biotechnology has brought—and will continue to bring in the future. New products in advanced testing or under consideration for approval at the FDA include medications for osteoporosis, psoriasis, lupus, stroke, HIV, sickle cell disease, cystic fibrosis and rare genetic diseases.