Biotechnology is an industry that began with much simpler beginnings than what it has evolved into today. And with a base understanding of the science and nature behind the innovations they were creating, early biotechnologists were able to harness nature for themselves-developing fermentation and preservation processes invaluable to the farming sector.
But in recent decades, biotechnology has broadened much wider than simple bread and cheese-making. It has become an industry of endless possibilities and a means for thriving human life, as we harness nature to protect ourselves from disease and pathogens, as well as pollution we ourselves create.
"At its simplest, biotechnology harnesses cellular and biomolecular processes to develop technologies and products that help improve our lives and the health of our planet" spokepersons from the Biotechnology Industry Organization say. "Modern biotechnology provides breakthrough products and technologies to combat debilitating rare diseases, reduce our environmental footprint, feed the hungry, use less and cleaner energy, and have safer, more efficient industrial manufacturing."
Researchers in the field today are creating vaccines and important cellular components like insulin, from genetically modified animals and even their eggs in a form of transgenics. While others are looking to the uniquity of some species' traits to solve practical problems in the world today.
Looking to the high seas, for a bit of inspiration for a government-funded surveying project, researchers at Virginia Tech recently created a robotic jellyfish that is fully autonomous and capable of scouting out the oceans' depths. The robot named Cyro, was created by researchers in professor Shashank Priya's lab for mechanical engineering, utilizes the simple jellyfish's mode of transportation to not only take the robojelly through tough waters but also power its expedition with only a little bit of help from a solar-power top.
"Cyro has showed its ability to swim autonomously while maintaining a similar physical appearance and kinematics as the natural species" Priya says. "It has been a great experience to finally realize [the full potential of] the biomimetic and bio-inspired robotic vehicles."
In spite of not having a central nervous system, jellyfish were an attractive candidate in the development of this research because of their ability to consume little energy and maintain lower metabolic rates than that of other marine species. But that's not the only secret researchers would like to mimic.
What if jellyfish could be the key to immortality?
It's been secret sought out the world over since the dawn of man, and it appears that the little floating medusas we commonly see may be the answer we just need. Amongst the thousands and thousands of species that man has discovered from the skies to the land to the seas, jellyfish are the only organisms on Earth that don't seem to experience the pesky traits of aging. And it's a biochemical trait that many researchers would love to harness.
Not only does biotechnology promise more efficient practices in developing solutions for mankind, but it also offers a way for us to supersede the adaptations we've come to acquire over thousands of generations. And with a wide array of species and organisms to look at and mimic for their unique abilities, it's an industry that shows no end in sight.
"Nature has too many secrets, and we were able to find some of them, but many still remain" Priya says. "We hope to find a mechanism to continue on this journey and resolve the remaining puzzles."