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Today it is common to hear words like Pfizer, Moderna, Janssen or AstraZeneca in most social circles. But what is behind these companies? The answer is simple: science, a lot of science. Within everything that the word science encompasses, biotechnology is probably one of the main responsible for the development of vaccines that will help us alleviate the pandemic caused by covid-19.
In the early 1950s, research biologists Francis Crick and James Watson published in the journal Nature the macromolecule that is responsible for the transfer of genetic information from parents to offspring: deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Its double helix structure and composition from the combination of only four molecules (nucleotides: G, A, T, C) indicates the importance of order in their arrangement. The formation of the different genes and, in turn, the proteins that constitute the characteristics of the human body will depend on this.
This discovery made it possible to understand that the development and modification of genetic information was possible and, with this, the development of biotechnology began, which was promoted in the business and research sector from the ruling of the US Supreme Court. which ruled the possibility of patenting a “living microorganism that was created by humans.”
Since then, the most relevant advances in the biotechnology sector until the beginning of the 21st century have been related to genetic engineering and medicine, where the synthesis of therapeutic molecules and monoclonal antibodies for the treatment of diseases and the development of of various vaccines against viruses from attenuated viruses or more recently through messenger RNA molecules (where the vaccines developed against SARS-CoV-2 are found).
Therefore, we are in a moment of full growth in the biotechnology sector, despite the difficulty of predicting the future of this multidisciplinary science, since, in parallel, we are immersed in an economic crisis due to the pandemic.
The evolution of the biotech market
The development of the biotechnology sector not only includes the health field where vaccines are found, but also encompasses multiple other applications in areas such as, for example, agri-food engineering. In this context, biotechnology could serve to increase the productive capacity and supply of food to all regions of the world, with the competitive development of aquaculture, based on the production of food from cultivation in the marine environment.
Likewise, the application of biotechnology in this area makes it possible to improve and create more select and gourmet foods dedicated to consumption in selected restaurant chains. However, the evolution of the biotechnology market in its multiple applications will be influenced mainly by technological and economic development, as well as by social, political and ethical criteria. These parameters will be ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the alternatives developed.
Future professionals in the sector
Investment in the biotechnology sector increased 6.2% in 2019 compared to the previous year. It thus reached a total amount of 154 million euros (around 11% of the expenditure allocated to R&D in Spain). This is a considerable amount. In recent years this area, along with others related to the health sciences, has obtained national funding for numerous research projects due, to a large extent, to the multidisciplinary nature of the responsible research teams.
However, the number of members who have direct training in biotechnology is scarce, since the training program in this discipline in Spain is quite recent. For this reason, we can find similar profiles related to agronomic, biochemical and chemical engineering that have subsequently specialized in biotechnology through postgraduate programs.
The first university studies of biotechnology in Spain were implemented with the publication in 2002 of RD 1285/2002 of December 5 and were initially taught at the Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences of the University of León during the 2004-2005 academic year.
Subsequently, with the adaptation of university study plans to the European Higher Education Area (Bologna process), the Degree in Biotechnology began to be implemented in other Spanish universities from the 2009-2010 academic year. Since then, the analysis of new enrollments in the degree in Spain indicates a progressive growth of this discipline over the years, reaching a total of 24 Bachelor’s degrees in Biotechnology at present (Figure 1).
The labor forecasts of this discipline with the existing indicators are not simple. Among the various factors that condition the job market in the biotechnology sector are the current context of the health crisis caused by the pandemic and the socio-political issue as variables of great influence, although, as has already happened in previous situations, it is not advisable to sustain the profitability of high long-term investments.
However, the future of the professionals who are currently being trained, and for whom the design of versatile and inclusive training programs aimed at continuous improvement of the study plans, will depend on the progressive appearance of new opportunities. of hiring in the different areas that make up the job market of the biotechnology sector.
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original.
The signatories are not salaried, or consultants, nor do they own shares, nor do they receive financing from any company or organization that can obtain benefit from this article, and they have declared that they lack relevant links beyond the academic position mentioned above.