Biotechnology is a field of biology that involves the use of living organisms and biological processes in engineering, medicine and other fields which require bioproducts. Biotechnology utilizes these products for manufacturing. This concept encompasses a wide range of processes which modifies living organisms. According to the UN convection on biological diversity, biotechnology is any technological application which uses biological systems or living organisms to make or modify products for specific use.
DNA profiling on the other hand is a technique that is majorly used by forensic scientists and other criminal investigations agencies to identify criminals based on the information found in their DNA profiles. The DNA profiles are usually encrypted so as to keep them safe without fear of inception of the data. DNA profiling is only used in parental testing and criminal investigations to ensure that there is match between the sample and the DNA profile of the individual to be tested.
The DNA technology has launched a revolution in biotechnology. Organisms and their components are manipulated in order to make useful products.
The use of biotechnology has been on the rise in the recent past. Biotechnology has several advantages over other technologies dealing with living organisms. The use of biotechnology cuts across several fields and they include:
Used for investigation purposes. DNA fingerprinting is used in the court of law to identify criminals and ascertain the evidence provided. DNA fingerprinting is considered to be one of the most accurate methods for gathering evidence. (Perry, 2002)
Biotechnology is used for medicinal purposes. Stem cells can be used to treat diseases by extracting some essential components of the stems which have medicinal value. Biotechnology can also be used for treating some incurable diseases. It also helps in overcoming the problems posed by some viruses and other pathogens which undergo mutation so as to become resistant to a particular kind of drug.
It is relatively cheaper to acquire and store DNA samples as it does not involve the physical use of fingerprints to identify an individual.
Suspects are not detained but once the samples have been taken, the suspects are free until the time the case is mentioned in a court of law.
Using DNA fingerprinting ensures that accurate results are produced which can easily help to identify a person who committed a crime.
Biotechnology also helps to identify/diagnose genetic disorders. Having DNA samples in a DNA databank, analysis can therefore be practiced on a given string of generation. If a disorder was suspected, then it would be easier to ascertain the facts and analyze the effects of that particular kind of disorder.
DNA databases can help to avoid incarceration of innocent individuals. The DNA databases help in determining who the real criminals are. With the presence of DNA data banking, it will be easy to know who the real suspects are as there will be reliable evidence accompanying the investigations. This will help solve problems of people being prosecuted for crimes they did not commit.
They help in financial savings as DNA samples do not need to be taken every time a suspect is arrested. The banks will give all the required information especially when some one is not being arrested for the first time.
They help in improving the amount and quality of food crops. This is very useful in agriculture where it is commonly referred to as genetics engineering which helps in food production. It also helps in the production of crops and animals which are more resistant to harsh environmental conditions. This will help produce crops and animals which can survive in dry areas thus boosting food security. They are also used in molecular breeding methods which help to improve livestock production.
Disadvantages of biotechnology
Most of the disadvantages of using biotechnology are ethical and morally related. They are related to the effects that they have on the society.
Another disadvantage of using biotechnology especially when dealing with DNA fingerprinting, is that it breaches confidentiality as a person’s confidential genetic information is exposed to a third party.
Using DNA to identify criminals may sometimes not be accurate and lead to wrong prosecution of an individual. This can happen especially when there are two or more people who posses the same type of DNA profile.
The use of Biotechnology has impacted negatively on the social aspect of life. Use of genetically altered materials is considered unacceptable. Many communities tend to discourage the use of such plants or animal products which may be as a result of biotechnology.
Civil liberties and personal privacy is infringed. This is because a person’s genetic information can be easily extracted from the DNA databases.
There can be chances of the database being compromised which can eventually lead to a misjudgment of suspects. This can occur when the officers handling the database attempts to conceal evidence of a particular individual thereby contaminating a given portion of DNA samples. (Watson, 2003)
Social implications of biotechnology
The use of biotechnology has received different forms of reactions all over the world. Use of genetically modified food for human consumption is strongly opposed by certain groups of people who are worried about the potential health effects. The use of genetically modified seeds or genes is not easily acceptable all over the world. A strong opposition about the use of genetically modified materials should be discouraged at all costs as their effects have a lot of implications to the general well being of citizens in a country.
A diagram on biotechnology
The diagram below shows a salamander embryo growing inside egg capsules that are covered with and usually infiltrated by a type of green algae. (ScienceDaily Apr. 4, 2011)
Source: Roger Hangarter
The algae that live inside the cells of salamanders are the first known vertebrate Endosymbionts. A species of algae long known to associate with spotted salamanders has been discovered to live inside the cells of developing embryos, say scientists from the U.S. and Canada, who report their findings in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (ScienceDaily Apr. 4, 2011)
One of the most common career opportunities that is related to DNA and fingerprinting is Criminal Investigation. (Laudon, 2010) This career is involved in detecting, gathering and analyzing fingerprints at the scene of an incident. They will collect the fingerprints, match the information found with that in the DNA database of a particular individual. If a match is hit, then the individual can be prosecuted as DNA tests and fingerprints usually give very accurate information about people who were present at a scene of crime or those who happen to have committed it. (Owen, 2009) Another career that is dependent on this field of technology is plant and animal husbandry. The professionals in this field use biotechnology to help improve the species of plants and animals they deal with. The plants and animals produced as a result of this technology are usually resistant to the harsh environmental conditions that they are exposed to thus improving their continuity.
Biotechnology helps us gain an insight understanding of the complexity of human genetics, evolution and diseases. Use of biotechnology helps in the discovery of disease resistant crops, improved food production cleaning the environment and making the process of manufacturing more reliable and efficient. The use of biotechnology can help to find cures to diseases which could have otherwise been incurable. However, biotechnology on wrong hands can be very disastrous. It can be used to make very complex viruses that resist any form of medication. Biotechnology should therefore be used only by licensed authorities so as to ensure that such problems do not occur. DNA databases have helped many countries trace criminals and at the same time free the innocent people incarcerated of crimes. Some of the high profile cases where DNA technology has been used include: the tragic disappearance of Madeleine McCann, Lindbergh kidnapping, the Kennedy investigation, Ted Bundy and when Paul Revere used dentures to identify a slain soldier in 1775. (Owen, 2009) The DNA databases incorporate the use of biotechnology. This helps in getting the accurate information for different purposes.
University of California – Santa Barbara. “Glimpse of how the ‘code’ of life may have emerged.”
ScienceDaily 24 Mar. 2011. Web. 5 Apr. 2011.
Bowen & Schneider (2007). NIJ Journal No.28 October 2007
Laudon C.K & Laudon J.P. (2010). Management Information Systems. Managing the digital
firm. ( 11th edition). Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall
Owen D. (2009) Hidden Evidence: 50 True Crimes and How Forensic Science Helped Solve
Them. Firefly Books.
Perry A. (2002) Before the Brand: Creating the Unique DNA of an enduring Brand Identity.
McGraw- Hill; 1st edition
Watson, J.D. (2003) DNA: The Secret of Life. Arrow Books Limited: New York City, USA