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Biotechnology and Energy Flow and Enzymes

Biotechnology is the field of biology mixed with technology (we know; we are geniuses) where industrial processes are designed to use cells or their enzymes to make human products. This includes not only goods, but also medicines and energy. Here is a rundown of how biotechnology works.

In many cases, an enzyme that researchers think is potentially useful is first isolated from an organism. Researchers then study the enzyme to figure out how to make it better suited for the manufacturing process. The enzyme can often be produced outside of the original organism. Producing enzymes from a microorganism, such as yeast or bacteria (microorganisms), has several advantages: These microorganisms usually grow cheaply and quickly because they have a short generation time. Furthermore, the enzyme can be modified so that it can better complete a biochemical reaction under industrial production conditions. However, even after scientists "tell" yeast or bacteria to produce the enzyme of interest, they still need to isolate the enzyme from the cells of the producing microorganism without compromising the enzyme's integrity.

For instance, the cancer drug Taxol is used to treat breast and ovarian cancer. It was initially extracted from bark of the yew tree, known as Taxus brevifolia. However, this extraction process was so difficult that it took about 3000 trees to yield 1 kg, or 1,000 g, of the drug. Scientists have since rammed their noggins together and been able to engineer or tailor the production of Taxol using biotechnology and yeast, which resulted in a more economical and inexpensive way of making it.8

Biotechnology and the isolation and purification of specific enzymes have and will continue to revolutionize the production of goods as we know it. Enzymes are regularly added to laundry detergent to improve the removal of stains by increasing the detergent's efficiency in cold water. This saves a lot of heat and money for consumers. Another example is the use of enzymes in the process of recycling paper.

Many applications of biotechnology also exist in the food industry. Let’s talk about cheese. One of the most critical ingredients for making cheese is rennet, an enzyme preparation extracted from the lining of calves' stomachs. Eww. Without these enzymes, milk would not coagulate and eventually become the delicious wonder that is cheese. And cheese really is wonderful. A shortage of rennet led to the mixing of rennet with an enzyme called pepsin that is derived from cows or pigs. The rennet and pepsin mix is now commonly used to produce cheese in the United States. In the cheese-making process, recombinant rennet, or proteins that have been "recombined" with the help of microbes, has shown to be as effective as rennet extracted from cows. Recombinant rennet has gradually been replacing natural rennet in the industry. Recently, pepsin has also been produced in and extracted from microbial cells.9 Recombinant, cheese-making enzymes are attractive, useful, and good for the environment because they reduce the need for animal slaughter. And, they smell nice.

In our final example, we connect to recent studies that have promoted the benefits of naturally occurring components like fiber and some oils in the human body. Companies have made use of biotechnology to engineer food products containing higher amounts of supplements that we believe have positive effects on human health. Beginning in 1996, the enzyme phytase was used to treat wheat bran before it was incorporated into dinner rolls. This treatment almost doubled the amount of iron that people obtained while eating the bread.10

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