Sav­ing the fu­ture with biotech­nol­ogy

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Education Guide -

TWO decades into the 21st cen­tury, the field of biotech­nol­ogy has left a trail of no­tice­able con­tri­bu­tions to hu­mankind. The United Na­tions has pro­jected that the global pop­u­la­tion will reach 8.5 bil­lion in 2030 and 11 bil­lion by 2100.

Pop­u­la­tion growth man­dates the sus­tain­abil­ity of re­sources, par­tic­u­larly food. To en­sure a sus­tain­able en­vi­ron­ment and con­tin­u­ous sup­ply of nu­tri­tious quality food sources, the role of biotech­nol­ogy is cru­cial.

“In a nutshell, biotech­nol­ogy ap­plies the us­age of liv­ing micro­organ­isms and biosys­tems to de­velop or im­prove nat­u­ral con­di­tions such as soil and wa­ter to sup­port fur­ther food pro­duc­tion,” said Ni­lai Univer­sity’s School of Ap­plied Sciences head Dr Ng Shee Ping.

She added that Ni­lai Univer­sity of­fers the Diploma in Biotech­nol­ogy and Bach­e­lor of Science (Hons) in Biotech­nol­ogy, where stu­dents are ex­posed to in­dus­try com­pli­ance in con­duct­ing lab­o­ra­tory ex­per­i­ments.

They also learn the fun­da­men­tals of biotech­nol­ogy, namely re­lated knowl­edge and tech­niques in molec­u­lar bi­ol­ogy, which will lay a solid foun­da­tion and un­der­stand­ing of cells and their ge­netic set-up.

Dr Ng, who com­pleted her Doc­tor of Phi­los­o­phy in Ap­plied Bi­ol­ogy at Swin­burne Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy, Aus­tralia, believes the ap­pli­ca­tion of biotech­nol­ogy is still in its early stages. The knowl­edge and ex­po­sure gained from these pro­grammes will en­able stu­dents to ven­ture into in­dus­tries such as phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal, health­care, agri­cul­tural, food and en­vi­ron­ment.

“Biotech­nol­o­gists could sci­en­tif­i­cally ex­ploit micro­organ­ism or cells at the molec­u­lar level, to a cer­tain ex­tent, to re­store and main­tain a healthy eco­log­i­cal sys­tem best suited for crops.

“This is one of the roles of biotech­nol­ogy in food pro­duc­tion,” said Dr Ng.

Im­pact of biotech­nol­ogy on wa­ter treat­ment

To meet the de­mands of the cur­rent and fu­ture pop­u­la­tion, pre­serv­ing nat­u­ral re­sources is cru­cial. Wa­ter is a crit­i­cal re­sources for hu­mankind. Ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion, each per­son re­quires about 20 litres of wa­ter per day to en­sure proper hy­giene.

“Wa­ter pol­lu­tion is one of the main en­vi­ron­men­tal haz­ards we face to­day. It oc­curs when toxic pol­lu­tants of vary­ing kinds (or­ganic, in­or­ganic, ra­dioac­tive, etc) are di­rectly or in­di­rectly dis­charged into the streams, rivers and sea with­out ad­e­quate treat­ment,” said Cen­tre for Post Grad­u­ate Stud­ies and Re­search head Dr Evyan Yang Chia Yan, who is also a se­nior lec­turer in the School of Ap­plied Sciences.

Biotech­nol­o­gists are step­ping in to save the day with nat­u­ral so­lu­tions to reduce or clear the pol­lu­tants. Sev­eral types of biotech­no­log­i­cal treat­ments have been im­ple­mented through­out the world.

“Ad­sorp­tion, biosorp­tion, co­ag­u­la­tion or floc­cu­la­tion, elec­tro­co­ag­u­la­tion and den­i­tra­tion are some the bi­o­log­i­cal pro­cesses of wa­ter treat­ment,” said Dr Yang.

Ac­cord­ing to the UN, wa­ter se­cu­rity is cru­cial in sus­tain­ing liveli­hood, well-be­ing and so­cio-eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

“Bi­o­log­i­cal wa­ter treat­ment pro­cesses are avail­able for the re­moval of a wide range of chem­i­cal con­tam­i­nants; they are less costly and less en­ergy-in­ten­sive. The pro­cesses reduce the use of po­ten­tially haz­ardous chem­i­cals and typ­i­cally re­sult in com­plete min­er­al­i­sa­tion of con­tam­i­nants,” said Dr Yang.

She added that some fi­nal-year stu­dents pur­su­ing the Bach­e­lor of Science (Hons) in Biotech­nol­ogy con­duct wa­ter treat­ment re­search projects such as wa­ter treat­ment pro­cesses via pho­to­catal­y­sis, degra­da­tion of pol­lu­tants us­ing nanopar­ti­cles and an­timi­cro­bial ef­fects in a pol­luted so­lu­tion us­ing nanopar­ti­cles.

The lab­o­ra­tory skills ac­quired through­out the Bach­e­lor of Science (Hons) in Biotech­nol­ogy are ap­pli­ca­ble when con­duct­ing se­lected wa­ter treat­ment re­search projects dur­ing the stu­dents’ fi­nal year.

“The pen­e­tra­tion of biotech­nol­ogy is still fairly low. But it plays a sig­nif­i­cant role in ar­eas like agri­cul­ture, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and bioen­ergy. Wa­ter for ir­ri­ga­tion, in­dus­try and do­mes­tic use is also a key re­quire­ment for hu­man sus­tain­abil­ity,” said Dr Yang.

Are you ready to take on the world of science?

Ni­lai Univer­sity is open seven days a week ex­cept on pub­lic hol­i­days. Its ed­u­ca­tional coun­sel­lors will guide you through the ap­pli­ca­tion process.

Vis­i­tors can also ex­pect a personalis­ed tour around the 42ha cam­pus and the welle­quipped lab­o­ra­to­ries.

Fur­ther­more, Ni­lai Univer­sity of­fers par­tial and full schol­ar­ships to well-de­serv­ing stu­dents.

For de­tails, call 06-850 2308 or e-mail mar­ket­[email protected]­lai.edu.my or log on to Ni­lai Univer­sity’s Face­book page at https://www. face­book.com/Ni­laiUniver­sity/ or web­site at www.ni­lai.edu.my

Biotech­nol­ogy ap­plies the use of liv­ing micro­organ­isms and biosys­tems to de­velop or im­prove nat­u­ral con­di­tions such as soil and wa­ter to sup­port fur­ther food pro­duc­tion.

Dr Ng Shee Ping

dr yang (left) and dr Ng say biotech­nol­ogy plays a vi­tal role in en­sur­ing the sus­tain­abil­ity of re­sources as the world’s pop­u­la­tion grows.

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