Every few months, I enjoy reviewing the latest biotech articles for you because biotech spawns more business startups across more industries than any other sector. The stories are always diverse, and while I naturally gravitate toward medical breakthroughs and promising pharmaceutical discoveries, this time I’ve strayed to find some breakthroughs and reports (with links) that should interest us all:
Mozzie war? Mosquitos are the deadliest insects on earth because of their ability to carry disease from species to species. Soon, however, female mosquitos carrying the Zika Virus, dengue, yellow fever and chikungunya will meet their match – genetically modified male mosquitoes designed to wipe out entire mosquito colonies. The males enter swarms, mate, and then they and their resultant baby mosquitos quickly die. The British firm Oxitec owns a factory in Piracicaba, Brazil that can produce up to 60 million mutant insects a week; company executives expect Brazil’s Anvisa health authorities to approve the general release of mosquitoes in 2017. Field tests already have shown the “mozzies” to be effective in Panama and the Cayman Islands. If successful in Brazil, watch for Key West, Florida to resume its approval process for the mozzies. (It tried in 2016, but met public backlash.)
Dannon’s dilemma. Earlier in 2016, The Dannon Company publicly announced plans to move away from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) to satisfy consumer demand. Agricultural trade organizations, however, are fighting the trend. Food Safety magazine reports that a letter was sent to Dannon by the American Farm Bureau Federation, signed by the American Soybean Association, American Sugarbeet Growers Association, National Milk Producers Federation, and the U.S. Farmers and Rancher’s alliance. The central message put forward was that agricultural suppliers could not successfully sustain their businesses and reduce their use of natural resources “without the use of modern agricultural practices.”
Meanwhile Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy released a scientific literature review of more than 900 research findings regarding GMO crops. The dissertation concluded that genetically engineered crops were as safe to cultivate and consume as conventionally grown crops.
Spud news. At about the same time, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture approved commercial planting of two types of genetically engineered potatoes by J.R. Simplot Co. By next spring you may be eating spuds engineered to resist the pathogen that caused the Irish potato famine. The Idaho Statesman reports that these potatoes could reduce the use of pesticide spray in a potato field by up to 45%. It isn’t the only non-bruise potato being offered on the market; competition is brisk to bring better spuds to market.
Your car may soon run on … toilet sludge? While we can’t seem to shake our dependence to fossil fuels yet, we are getting closer to turning toilet sludge into biocrude oil. The Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has figured out how to transform our daily production of 34 billion gallons of sewage. In Panama City, Florida, Applied Research Associates is transforming kitchen grease into jet fuel. In Tennessee, at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, scientists discovered how to convert carbon dioxide into ethanol by using nanotechnology.
Interested in a biotech career but lack the networking background or the specific training to determine your niche? Attend formal meetings or informal social gatherings of The American Chemical Society or the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO). PhD holders can also join The Cheeky Scientist Association online. Experts also suggest strengthening transferable skills — strategic thinking, creative problem-solving, knowledge of regulatory and legal matters, and demonstrated team-building or conflict resolution expertise.