By Zahraa Ozeer (Quest International University)

Winner of the IUMW Biotech Talk Competition 2020

Bioremediation, Biofabrication, Biopolymers, fermentation, vaccines.

Biotechnology has reached far and wide in the science world, but there’s still a lot more that can be done! Many of the examples I’ve just mentioned have been made possible by what we used to refer to as ‘bad germs’ when we were children.

My name is Zahraa Ozeer and I’m a 3rd-year Biotechnology student from Quest International University and I’m here to speak to you today about Genetics, Microorganisms and all in all, Genetically Modified Organisms, aka GMOs.

One of the main crises our future faces is the eradication of several natural resources which is currently being researched for sustainable solutions. Take for instance the burning of fossil fuels that are running out and leading to global warming. According to the Hadley Centre, in recent decades, temperatures have risen sharply by 0.7 degrees Celsius due to the doubled atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, above 400 ppm as compared to 200 ppm in prehistoric years.

Even the large digital clock in Manhattan tells us that we only have 7 years left before the effects of global warming are irreversible. So, what are we to do about this? Addressing this issue takes the UN Sustainable Development Goals or SDG number 13 on ‘Climate Action’ into consideration.

Even the world-famous Escherichia coli has a role to play in saving mother nature! It has been genetically modified by Gleizer et al., in 2019, to enzymatically convert atmospheric carbon dioxide into a consumable nutrition source for itself. Although at present time it produces more carbon dioxide than it takes in. This however does not worry scientists as E. coli has proven to be a very ‘user-friendly’ tool in biotechnology. Many believe with further research we would be able to efficiently produce biofuels and optimize the production of insulin, enzymes and several other necessary proteins.

But fossil fuels aren’t the only resources running out. BBC News announced that a 2008 study suggested southern Asia and southern Africa could lose more than 10-30% of their staple crops such as rice and maize by 2030 due to climate change and by 2050, we would need to increase food production by 50-100% to feed the growing population. Should these conditions persist, then the future of the agricultural, as well as the food and beverage industries looks rather bleak. Since natural conditions are no longer normal, biotechnology has become a necessity to combat these conditions and adapt to a new normal.

Genetically modified crops with the help of bacteria such as Bacillus thuringiensis and Agrobacterium tumefaciens has shown promise towards resistance against high salinity, drought and flooded conditions while also being able to incorporate improved nutrition as was seen with golden rice.

Just earlier this year, scientists were able to discover 12,000 new microbial species through metagenomic studies. Upon further research, who knows what kind of compatibilities and combinations would be possible! Let’s say one of these species are capable of post-translational modification – or PTM for short. Direct use of these species or genetic recombination of this trait into an already well researched bacterial species could be used for mass production of eukaryotic proteins. For instance, antibodies for plasma therapy against various diseases. Bacteria, particularly E. coli, has already been considered for this role all on their own. This provides high proliferation rates as well as high yield production of antibodies, a possible alternative to hybridoma technology.

Unfortunately, the media and several others do not believe in the strengths and solutions that GMOs have to offer. It takes months to years to gain the necessary approvals from governments and other bodies, however, it takes even longer for the general public to accept the use of GMOs, without which many of our advancements cannot take flight. So, I would like to encourage the scientific community to continue to spread awareness of such necessities for us to have a thriving and sustainable future.

Thank you.