Bio Technology Congress Progress

The term bioengineering conjures up an image of mutated genes that will begin to invade the Earth because we have been eating products that have been bioengineered.

By LOUISE RAINONE, Vice President of Marketing, PCDworks

LOUISE RAINONEI discovered one important thing attending the recent 2012 Bio Technology and Industrial Bio Congress event held in Orlando, FL. I learned that I am neither a biologist, nor a chemist. That should have been obvious to me, as I so often don’t understand the world of the high-level scientific discussions that take place every day in my company. After this conference, however, I realized that I know very little about Mother Nature or our potential to harness her power.

What I learned is that the term biotechnology encompasses pretty much everything in biology, from biofuels to enzyme production to making food manufacturing more sustainable. In fact, biotechnology seems to be an extension of chemistry, the study of matter and energy, and the interactions between them.

One thing is for sure, it is an industry that could use some help with public relations. Consider, for instance, the whole ethanol debacle. Producing corn and turning it into ethanol was outrageously expensive and not worth the cost. While the industry and study of biofuels have come a long way since then, there are still some serious problems.

First, the term bioengineering sounds scary. It conjures up the image of mutated genes that will begin to invade the Earth because we have been eating products that have been bioengineered. While some genetically modified products may be problematic, not all bioengineers are genetically modifying. Some are just putting the right organisms together to speed up the work of Mother Nature. We need to change the perception of bioengineering and talk about the amazing work going on in labs across the country.

Second, politics and partisanship are making it impossible to find common the ground needed to support the development and implementation of biofuels and other biotechnologies. Yes, the Obama Administration revealed the National BioEconomy Blueprint in March, but if a more conservative President is put in office next year, support for the initiative might be off the table.

So, how do we get new technologies that are vital for future generations out into the market when there isn’t enough governmental support to change the way we do things? Right now, Canada is running circles around America in this arena, discovering new ways to use biology to make the world a more efficient place. In fact, Canadian representation at this conference was huge, which demonstrates that country’s commitment to biotechnology.

Finally, with rising populations and non-renewable resources being depleted, we must begin to look hard at new areas of technology advancement. By the year 2020, India will have the largest middle class in the world, and the money to buy oil. They will demand more and have the ability to buy it. So, where will that leave the U.S.? Think about it.

Perhaps the thing that struck me most about this conference though, was that, despite all of the talk about the potential of biofuels, only one major oil company was on to discuss its efforts to be on the cutting edge of alternative fuel sources. BP announced plans to diversify into the biofuels sector, and the company is investing billions into production and implementation in this arena. Considering what happened in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago, this seems like a very proactive approach, and something all energy companies should be doing.

When we talk about oil and gas exploration and production vs. biofuels, it seems inevitable that the two must come together. As our resources are depleted and our global population rises, we need our government, and our scientific and business communities, engaged in finding solutions to the problems that face us all.

I may not be a scientist, but this much even I understand.

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