What We Publish

Plos biology article types.

PLOS Biology considers works of exceptional significance, originality, and relevance in all areas of biological science, including both primary research, meta-analyses and Magazine articles . Our publication options are outlined below.

Research-based content

PLOS Biology publishes seven different types of research reports. All research articles are compatible with our easy, format-free submission process, and offer options for preprints, published peer review history, and publishing uncorrected proofs. Most, with rare exception, are also protected by our scooping policy , ensuring that your research will not be rejected for novelty within six-months of the publication of a complementary or confirmatory research publication. We evaluate all research based on the important questions it answers and its potential to impact an international scientific community as well as educators, policy makers, patient advocacy groups, and society more broadly.

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Research Articles

Preregistered research articles, methods & resources articles, meta-research articles, short reports, discovery reports, update articles, magazine articles.

Our magazine section features non-research articles that cover topical issues and are accessible to a broad audience while remaining scientifically rigorous. Magazine readers include scientists, scientific educators, students, physicians, patients, and the interested public. There is no publication fee for magazine articles.

Our magazine section is divided into Front Matter and In-depth Analysis subsections. Front Matter articles are short, focussed and provide opinion on topical issues, community resources or commentary on PLOS Biology articles. In-depth Analyses are long-form articles providing forward-looking analysis of a given topic, highlighting gaps in our current understanding or putting forward community recommendations or guidelines. We do not publish traditional review articles.

Most magazine articles are comissioned by the editors, but we do publish some unsolicted content. If you have a suggestion for any of our current magazine categories, we will consider the idea. Before finalizing the piece, we recommend that you discuss it with us by sending a presubmission enquiry via email to [email protected] . Before submitting, consult our General Guidelines for Magazine Submissions , as well as the guidelines for the specific article type you are interested in.

If you have any questions about submitting an idea or article for consideration in the magazine section, email our editorial team at  [email protected] .

General Guidelines for Magazine Submissions

Magazine content is intended for the broader biological community including students, scientists, and the educated general reader. It is therefore important that the writing style be concise, clear and accessible. Avoid specialist terms, abbreviations and jargon. Editors will make suggestions to make your piece more accessible, as well as cuts or additions that could strengthen the article. Our aim is to make the editorial process rigorous and consistent, but not intrusive or overbearing.

If your manuscript includes original research data/analyses, you must ensure that it complies with PLOS’ data policy . If this is the case, it is likely that the submission would be more appropriate for one of our research article types. Please see Research-based content for more information.

PLOS applies the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license to all figures we publish, which allows them to be freely used, distributed, and built upon as long as proper attribution is given. Read more about our content license . DO NOT submit any figures that have been previously copyrighted or contain proprietary data unless you have and can supply written permission from the copyright holder to use that content. If in doubt, contact our editorial office .

Funding Statement

As part of the PLOS Biology submission form you’ll be asked to provide a funding statement, which will be published with the article if the manuscript is accepted. Your funding statement should describe any funding that helped to support the work, as follows:

  • Include grant numbers and the URLs of any funder's website. Use the full name, not acronyms, of funding institutions, and use initials to identify authors who received the funding.
  • Describe the role of any sponsors or funders in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. If the funders had no role in any of the above, include this sentence at the end of your statement: "The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript."
  • If the study was unfunded , please provide the following statement: "The author(s) received no specific funding for this work." 

How to Submit

Follow the main submission guidelines , and consult our figures , tables , and supporting information pages when preparing your manuscript.

Submit your manuscript through our submission system . When you start your submission, select the appropriate article type from the dropdown menu. Manuscripts can be submitted as DOC, DOCX, or PDF files.

Front Matter

Editorials are written in-house by members of the editorial staff or by members of the Editorial Board.


The Perspectives section provides experts with a forum to comment on topical or controversial issues of broad interest. They address controversial issues or those at the interface between science and policy or science and society; present a policy position aimed at influencing policy decisions; examine and make recommendations on scientific and publishing practices. These are meant to be short, opinionated, Op-ed type of pieces.

The ideal Perspective conveys a sense of urgency. Some things to think about would be:

  • Is this topic of immediate concern?
  • Is the topic relevant to a pressing regional or global issue
  • Does the piece offer a novel point of view on a scientific or policy issue, or on topical events?
  • Does is make specific, practical proposals to address the issue?

Controversial articles are welcomed, but the text should acknowledge that a position is in fact controversial and provide readers with enough background on the differing views.

Our Perspectives aim to engage a broad and diverse audience—it is therefore important to ensure that they are written in an accessible, persuasive, and stimulating style that appeals to both specialists and non-specialist readers. Perspectives are usually assessed in-house with our Editorial Board, but we reserve the right to peer-review them if needed. Commissioning does not guarantee publication. Editors work closely with authors to ensure that articles are written in an engaging, succinct, yet rigorous manner.

Guidelines for a Perspective

Example perspectives.

Lowe-Power T, Dyson L, Polter AM (2021) A generation of junior faculty is at risk from the impacts of COVID-19. PLoS Biol 19(5): e3001266. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3001266

Bourne PE (2021) Is “bioinformatics” dead? PLoS Biol 19(3): e3001165. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3001165

Primers provide concise and accessible context to a PLOS Biology research article of broad and current interest. Primers are commissioned and published alongside a research article that would benefit from additional context and/or explanation.

Above all, Primers should demystify an area of biology, avoid and/or explain technical jargon and provide critical and forward-thinking analysis about how the research article fits into the current state of the field and its future. A good Primer will briefly discuss (but not exhaustively review) what we know and what questions we have yet to answer for a particular field. It will then introduce the new findings and describe in roughly three paragraphs the advance represented in the related research article, highlighting its significance, not only for the discipline in question, but across disciplines. The Primer should then explain what the findings suggest in terms of next steps: what new avenues of investigation are opened, what new experiments can be tried, what new ideas can now be tested going forward? Ideally, Primers also offer insight into what big questions are likely to remain unanswered for many years (for whatever reasons).

We encourage the use of a figure to illustrate key concepts/mechanism/conclusions in an informative, easy-to-understand manner.

Primers are usually assessed by our Editorial Board, but we reserve the right to peer-review externally if needed. Commissioning does not guarantee publication. Editors work closely with authors to ensure that articles are written in an engaging, succinct, yet rigorous manner.

Guidelines for a Primer

Example primer.

Kazanova A, Rudd CE (2021) Programmed cell death 1 ligand (PD-L1) on T cells generates Treg suppression from memory. PLoS Biol 19(5): e3001272. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3001272

Guizetti J, Frischknecht F (2021) Apicomplexans: A conoid ring unites them all. PLoS Biol 19(3): e3001105. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3001105

Community Pages

Community Pages provide individuals, networks and organizations with the opportunity to highlight resources, tools, or initiatives of benefit to the scientific community and beyond (including science education and public engagement in science). All resources or tools, and the outputs of initiatives must be open and accessible to all.

Contributors must resist the temptation of self-promotion and instead focus on conveying information to a diverse audience.Community Pages should be written in a succinct, accessible, semi-journalistic style that captures the interest of both specialists and non-specialist readers. We encourage the use of 1-2 figures to illustrate key concepts in an informative, easy to grasp manner; or the use of text boxes for background, self-contained information.

Community Pages are peer-reviewed and commissioning does not guarantee publication. Editors work closely with authors to ensure that articles are written in an engaging, succinct, yet rigorous manner.

Guidelines for a Community Page

Example Community Pages

Weissgerber TL (2021) Training early career researchers to use meta-research to improve science: A participant-guided “learn by doing” approach. PLoS Biol 19(2): e3001073. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3001073

McCullagh EA, Nowak K, Pogoriler A, Metcalf JL, Zaringhalam M, Zelikova TJ (2019) Request a woman scientist: A database for diversifying the public face of science. PLoS Biol 17 (4): e3000212. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal. pbio.3000212

Formal Comments

Formal Comments are intended to provide a formal outlet for the discussion and interpretation of research findings associated with specific articles published in PLOS Biology . They are designed to ensure that readers obtain a balanced view of a scientific or meta-scientific/policy question, especially in areas of debate/controversy. Formal Comments are peer-reviewed and indexed in PubMed.

Formal Comments must be coherent, concise, and well-argued, and are subject to the PLOS Biology criteria for publication . Editors will, as a matter of course, invite the authors of the original article to submit a response to the Formal Comment. Any revisions (of the Formal Comment or the response) will be shared with the authors of the associated comment.

Guidelines for Formal Comments

Example formal comment.

Rees WE, Wackernagel M (2013) The Shoe Fits, but the Footprint is Larger than Earth. PLoS Biol 11(11): e1001701. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1001701​ ​

Example Formal Comment - Response

Blomqvist L, Brook BW, Ellis EC, Kareiva PM, Nordhaus T, Shellenberger M (2013) The Ecological Footprint Remains a Misleading Metric of Global Sustainability. PLoS Biol 11(11): e1001702. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1001702

In-Depth Analysis

Essays are opinionated articles on a topic of interest to scientists and to a broader audience, including the general public. Unlike traditional review articles, which include a comprehensive account of a field, Essays take an imaginative approach to a provocative question, with an engaging but rigorous investigation of the problem. We encourage authors of Essays to select the most representative references to convey their points and avoid exhaustively covering the relevant literature.

The remit of Essays is very broad. They might:

  • take stock of progress in a field from a personal point of view
  • explore the implications of recent advances that promise to have broad-ranging consequences on a field
  • comment on a topical or controversial area of research
  • discuss key ideas or educational strategies to enhance understanding of fundamental biological questions
  • offer historical/philosophical reflections on contemporary biology
  • analyze scientific issues with policy implications

Our Essays aim to engage a broad and diverse audience—it is therefore important to ensure that they are written in an accessible, semi-journalistic style that captures the interest of both specialists and non-specialist readers. We encourage the use of figures to illustrate key concepts in an informative, easy to grasp manner; as well as the use of text boxes for background, self-contained information.

Essays are peer-reviewed and commissioning does not guarantee publication.

Guidelines for an Essay

Example essays.

Rees T, Bosch T, Douglas AE (2018) How the microbiome challenges our concept of self. PLoS Biol 16(2): e2005358. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.2005358 Konig C, Weigelt P, Schrader J, Taylor A, Kattge J, Kreft H (2019) Biodiversity data integration—the significance of data resolution and domain. PLoS Biol 17(3): e3000183. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3000183

Unsolved Mysteries

Unsolved Mysteries discuss a topic of biological or medical importance that is poorly understood and in need of research attention—e.g., an unexplored or challenging question, an emerging opportunity, or a recent puzzling phenomenon. The articles are intended to stimulate the scientific community to think about future research possibilities outside their areas of expertise. The articles should be aimed at a very broad audience of biologists—an unsolved mystery in a neuroscience topic should be accessible to ecologists and biophysicists, for example.   The article should include a discussion of the basic science relevant to the topic, why it is biologically or medically important, what work has been done on the topic (if any), major challenges to understanding the question at hand, competing hypotheses, and what advances would be necessary to shed light on the problem. Ideally the structure of the article should reflect the mystery (e.g. subsections with questions as headings). The article should end with a discussion of possible means to a solution

Unsolved Mysteries are peer-reviewed and commissioning does not guarantee publication. Editors work closely with authors to ensure that articles are written in an engaging, succinct, yet rigorous manner.

Guidelines for an Unsolved Mystery

Example unsolved mysteries.

Margolis L, Sadovsky Y (2019) The biology of extracellular vesicles: The known unknowns. PLoS Biol 17(7): e3000363. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3000363

Vogels CBF, Ru¨ckert C, Cavany SM, Perkins TA, Ebel GD, Grubaugh ND (2019) Arbovirus coinfection and co-transmission: A neglected public health concern? PLoS Biol 17(1): e3000130. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3000130

Consensus View

Consensus View articles present a comprehensive analysis by an independent and usually multidisciplinary panel of experts who make specific recommendations on important scientific, publishing or policy issues.

Consensus Views are peer-reviewed and commissioning does not guarantee publication. Editors work closely with authors to ensure that articles are written in an engaging, succinct, yet rigorous manner.

Guidelines for a Consensus View

Example consensus view.

Brown TM, Brainard GC, Cajochen C, Czeisler CA, Hanifin JP, Lockley SW, et al. (2022) Recommendations for daytime, evening, and nighttime indoor light exposure to best support physiology, sleep, and wakefulness in healthy adults. PLoS Biol 20(3): e3001571. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3001571

Kent BA, Holman C, Amoako E, Antonietti A, Azam JM, Ballhausen H, et al. (2022) Recommendations for empowering early career researchers to improve research culture and practice. PLoS Biol 20(7): e3001680. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3001680

Vimercati G, Probert AF, Volery L, Bernardo-Madrid R, Bertolino S, Céspedes V, et al. (2022) The EICAT+ framework enables classification of positive impacts of alien taxa on native biodiversity. PLoS Biol 20(8): e3001729. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3001729

Retired Article Types

Book Review/Science in the Media. These short reviews critiqued books, films, plays, and other media that deal with some aspect of the biological sciences.  

  • Education. Although we no longer publish Education articles as a separate article type, we continue publishing them as part of the Education Series. The format selected (Essay, Perspective, or Community Page) depends on the aims of each article.
  • Historical and Philosophical Perspectives. The Historical and Philosophical Perspectives section provided professional historians and philosophers of science with a forum to reflect on topical issues in contemporary biology.
  • Obituaries.
  • Open Highlights. Written in-house by members of the editorial staff, Open Highlights used recent publication as keystones around which to nucleate a short synthesis of several related research articles from PLOS and the wider Open Access corpus.
  • Research Matters. Brief pieces by leading scientists explaining why the research carried out in their laboratories - and those of their collaborators and their colleagues - matters to lay audiences. 
  • Series. Series were recurrent themed articles on specific topics, including Education, Public Engagement with Science, Cool Tools, and Where Next?
  • Synopses. Selected PLOS Biology research articles are accompanied by a synopsis written for a general audience to provide non-experts with insight into the significance of the published work. They are commissioned only.

Post-Publication Notices

PLOS publishes Editorial Notes, Corrections, Expressions of Concern, and Retraction notices, as needed, to address issues that arise after a PLOS article has been published.

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Our biological science research journals cover a broad range of topics, from animal biology and plant science to genetic engineering, immunology, and microbiology. Read some of the latest and most talked about research from across our portfolio.

Most mentioned

Read the most mentioned* articles from each of our journals in 2023 so far.

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The viral origin of myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome , PLOS Pathogens

Latest biological science research

Explore the latest articles from across our biological science journals, or browse all articles.

From PLOS Biology , Eggs of the mosquito Aedes aegypti survive desiccation by rewiring their polyamine and lipid metabolism

From PLOS Computational Biology , Rapid automated 3-D pose estimation of larval zebrafish using a physical model-trained neural network

From PLOS Pathogens , Divergence of TORC1-mediated stress response leads to novel acquired stress resistance in a pathogenic yeast

From PLOS Genetics , Wolbachia infection at least partially rescues the fertility and ovary defects of several new Drosophila melanogaster bag of marbles protein-coding mutants

Read the latest multidisciplinary research from across our journals:

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Biological Research

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Special series on Microbial Interactions

The nine articles of this special issue of  Biological Research  address biochemical and genetic determinants of microbial response and tolerance to stressors in different biological models and environmental contexts. Individual articles provide a broad exploration of our current knowledge of response to stressors, with a special emphasis on metal metabolism and toxic compounds.

New Content Item

Special series on Antarctic Research

This special issue on Antarctic research in Biological Research comprises of recent studies, related to the discovery of several new enzymes and biotechnological applications that allow to expand the knowledge of Antarctic organisms and their potential applications.

  • Most accessed

Electroacupuncture promotes neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus and improves pattern separation in an early Alzheimer's disease mouse model

Authors: Yanyi Ding, Long Li, Sinuo Wang, Yajun Cao, Minguang Yang, Yaling Dai, Huawei Lin, Jianhong Li, Yulu Liu, Zhifu Wang, Weilin Liu and Jing Tao

Role of SYVN1 in the control of airway remodeling in asthma protection by promoting SIRT2 ubiquitination and degradation

Authors: Bing Dai, Si Liu, Wenxin Shen, Li Chen, Qianlan Zhou, Lina Han, Qinzhen Zhang and Lishen Shan

Advances towards the use of gastrointestinal tumor patient-derived organoids as a therapeutic decision-making tool

Authors: Javiera Obreque, Luis Vergara-Gómez, Nicolás Venegas, Helga Weber, Gareth I. Owen, Pablo Pérez-Moreno, Pamela Leal, Juan Carlos Roa and Carolina Bizama

Melatonin alleviates pyroptosis by regulating the SIRT3/FOXO3α/ROS axis and interacting with apoptosis in Atherosclerosis progression

Authors: Lin Cong, Xiankun Liu, Yiming Bai, Qin Qin, Lili Zhao, Ying Shi, Yunpeng Bai and Zhigang Guo

Autologous non-invasively derived stem cells mitochondria transfer shows therapeutic advantages in human embryo quality rescue

Authors: Zhixin Jiang, Cheng Shi, Hongjing Han, Min Fu, Honglan Zhu, Tingting Han, Jia Fei, Yining Huang, Zhiping Jin, Jianan He, Yanbin Wang, Xi Chen and Huan Shen

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Awareness and current knowledge of breast cancer

Authors: Muhammad Akram, Mehwish Iqbal, Muhammad Daniyal and Asmat Ullah Khan

Stress and defense responses in plant secondary metabolites production

Authors: Tasiu Isah

Fate of nitrogen in agriculture and environment: agronomic, eco-physiological and molecular approaches to improve nitrogen use efficiency

Authors: Muhammad Anas, Fen Liao, Krishan K. Verma, Muhammad Aqeel Sarwar, Aamir Mahmood, Zhong-Liang Chen, Qiang Li, Xu-Peng Zeng, Yang Liu and Yang-Rui Li

Coping with drought: stress and adaptive mechanisms, and management through cultural and molecular alternatives in cotton as vital constituents for plant stress resilience and fitness

Authors: Aziz Khan, Xudong Pan, Ullah Najeeb, Daniel Kean Yuen Tan, Shah Fahad, Rizwan Zahoor and Honghai Luo

Biotechnological applications of archaeal enzymes from extreme environments

Authors: Ma. Ángeles Cabrera and Jenny M. Blamey

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Aims and scope

Archival content.

Biological Research , formerly Archives of Experimental Medicine and Biology , was founded in 1964 and transferred to BioMed Central in 2014. An electronic archive of articles published between 1999 and 2013 can be found in the SciELO database.

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To find more information on research funders and institutions worldwide that fund open access article-processing charges (APCs) visit this page .

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Manuel J Santos, Editor-in-Chief

Editor’s profile

Manuel J Santos, Editor-in-Chief

Dr Santos is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Biological Sciences and Medicine at the Pontificia Catholic University of Chile.

Dr Santos received his MD from the University of Chile and his PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology from the Pontificia Catholic University of Chile. He majored in Medical Genetics at The John Hopkins University (USA) and The René Descartes University of Paris (France), and held a post doctorate position in Cell Biology and Genetics at the Rockefeller University (USA).

His research has focused on the biogenesis of cellular organelles, particularly peroxisomes. A pioneer in this field, his research lead him to discover a new type of human genetic disease, the peroxisomal biogenesis disorders, which include Zellweger Syndrome. More recently his research has centered on studying the role of peroxisomes in Alzheimer’s disease, and he also works in the field of bioethics.

Over the span of his career, Dr Santos has published more than 70 peer reviewed papers and been the President of the Society of Biology of Chile, the Genetics Society of Chile and the Bioethical Society of Chile.

About the Society

The Chilean Biology Society (Sociedad de Biología de Chile), previously the Biological Society of Santiago, was founded in late 1928 as a subsidiary of The Societé de Biologie of Paris, France. For several years the summaries of its communications were published in Comps Rendú of the Societé de Biologie du Paris. The Society is currently a member of the International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS).

The Chilean Biology Society promotes theoretical and experimental studies and research leading to advancement in and dissemination of the biological sciences for the benefit of the community. To accomplish this, the Society organizes periodic scientific meetings in which scientists communicate, comment and discuss research carried out in Chilean or foreign research laboratories. In addition, relations and cooperation with similar domestic and foreign institutions are stimulated, and communication by all appropriate means of biological research carried out in Chile. 

Members of the Society will receive a discount on Biological Research 's article-processing charge when they provide a discount code (which members can obtain by emailing the Society) during the submission process.  The discounted article-processing charge for Society members is £1150 in 2023.

The Society also publishes Revista Chilena de Historia Natural ( Chilean Journal of Natural History, founded in 1897).

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2022 Citation Impact 6.7 - 2-year Impact Factor 7.2 - 5-year Impact Factor 1.241 - SNIP (Source Normalized Impact per Paper) 1.294 - SJR (SCImago Journal Rank)

2022 Speed 21 days submission to first editorial decision for all manuscripts (Median) 143 days submission to accept (Median)

2022 Usage  347,340 downloads 605 Altmetric mentions 

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An Introduction to Biotechnology

Varsha gupta.

5 Institute of Biosciences and Biotechnology, Chhatrapati Shahu Ji Maharaj University, Kanpur, UP India

Manjistha Sengupta

6 George Washington University, Washington DC, USA

Jaya Prakash

7 Orthopaedics Unit, Community Health Centre, Kanpur, UP India

Baishnab Charan Tripathy

8 School of Life sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India

Biotechnology is multidisciplinary field which has major impact on our lives. The technology is known since years which involves working with cells or cell-derived molecules for various applications. It has wide range of uses and is termed “technology of hope” which impact human health, well being of other life forms and our environment. It has revolutionized diagnostics and therapeutics; however, the major challenges to the human beings have been threats posed by deadly virus infections as avian flu, Chikungunya, Ebola, Influenza A, SARS, West Nile, and the latest Zika virus. Personalized medicine is increasingly recognized in healthcare system. In this chapter, the readers would understand the applications of biotechnology in human health care system. It has also impacted the environment which is loaded by toxic compounds due to human industrialization and urbanization. Bioremediation process utilizes use of natural or recombinant organisms for the cleanup of environmental toxic pollutants. The development of insect and pest resistant crops and herbicide tolerant crops has greatly reduced the environmental load of toxic insecticides and pesticides. The increase in crop productivity for solving world food and feed problem is addressed in agricultural biotechnology. The technological advancements have focused on development of alternate, renewable, and sustainable energy sources for production of biofuels. Marine biotechnology explores the products which can be obtained from aquatic organisms. As with every research area, the field of biotechnology is associated with many ethical issues and unseen fears. These are important in defining laws governing the feasibility and approval for the conduct of particular research.


The term “ biotechnology” was coined by a Hungarian engineer Karl Ereky, in 1919, to refer to the science and methods that permit products to be produced from raw materials with the aid of living organisms. Biotechnology is a diverse field which involves either working with living cells or using molecules derived from them for applications oriented toward human welfare using varied types of tools and technologies. It is an amalgamation of biological science with engineering whereby living organisms or cells or parts are used for production of products and services. The main subfields of biotechnology are medical (red) biotechnology, agricultural (green) biotechnology, industrial (white) biotechnology, marine (blue) biotechnology, food biotechnology, and environmental biotechnology (Fig. 1.1 .). In this chapter the readers will understand the potential applications of biotechnology in several fields like production of medicines; diagnostics; therapeutics like monoclonal antibodies, stem cells, and gene therapy; agricultural biotechnology; pollution control ( bioremediation); industrial and marine biotechnology; and biomaterials, as well as the ethical and safety issues associated with some of the products.

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Major applications of biotechnology in different areas and some of their important products

The biotechnology came into being centuries ago when plants and animals began to be selectively bred and microorganisms were used to make beer, wine, cheese, and bread. However, the field gradually evolved, and presently it is the use or manipulation of living organisms to produce beneficiary substances which may have medical, agricultural, and/or industrial utilization. Conventional biotechnology is referred to as the technique that makes use of living organism for specific purposes as bread/cheese making, whereas modern biotechnology deals with the technique that makes use of cellular molecules like DNA, monoclonal antibodies, biologics, etc. Before we go into technical advances of DNA and thus recombinant DNA technology, let us have the basic understanding about DNA and its function.

The foundation of biotechnology was laid down after the discovery of structure of DNA in the early 1950s. The hereditary material is deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) which contains all the information that dictates each and every step of an individual’s life. The DNA consists of deoxyribose sugar, phosphate, and four nitrogenous bases (adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine). The base and sugar collectively form nucleoside, while base, sugar, and phosphate form nucleotide (Fig. 1.2 ). These are arranged in particular orientation on DNA called order or sequence and contain information to express them in the form of protein. DNA has double helical structure, with two strands being complimentary and antiparallel to each other, in which A on one strand base pairs with T and G base pairs with C with two and three bonds, respectively. DNA is the long but compact molecule which is nicely packaged in our nucleus. The DNA is capable of making more copies like itself with the information present in it, as order or sequence of bases. This is called DNA replication. When the cell divides into two, the DNA also replicates and divides equally into two. The process of DNA replication is shown in Fig. 1.3 , highlighting important steps.

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The double helical structure of DNA where both strands are running in opposite direction. Elongation of the chain occurs due to formation of phosphodiester bond between phosphate at 5′ and hydroxyl group of sugar at 3′ of the adjacent sugar of the nucleotide in 5–3′ direction. The sugar is attached to the base. Bases are of four kinds: adenine ( A ), guanine ( G ) (purines), thymine ( T ), and cytosine ( C ) (pyrimidines). Adenine base pairs with two hydrogen bonds with thymine on the opposite antiparallel strand and guanine base pairs with three hydrogen bonds with cytosine present on the opposite antiparallel strand

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The process of DNA replication. The DNA is densely packed and packaged in the chromosomes. The process requires the action of several factors and enzymes. DNA helicase unwinds the double helix. Topoisomerase relaxes DNA from its super coiled nature. Single-strand binding proteins bind to single-stranded open DNA and prevent its reannealing and maintains strand separation. DNA polymerase is an enzyme which builds a new complimentary DNA strand and has proofreading activity. DNA clamp is a protein which prevents dissociation of DNA polymerase. Primase provides a short RNA sequence for DNA polymerase to begin synthesis. DNA ligase reanneals and joins the Okazaki fragments of the lagging strand. DNA duplication follows semiconservative replication, where each strand serves as template which leads to the production of two complimentary strands. In the newly formed DNA, one strand is old and the other one is new (semiconservative replication). DNA polymerase can extend existing short DNA or RNA strand which is paired to template strand and is called primer. Primer is required as DNA polymerase cannot start the synthesis directly. DNA polymerase is capable of proofreading, that is, correction of wrongly incorporated nucleotide. One strand is replicated continuously with single primer, and it is called as leading strand. Other strand is discontinuous and requires the addition of several primers. The extension is done in the form of short fragments called as Okazaki fragments. The gaps are sealed by DNA ligase. Replication always occurs in 5′–3′ direction

DNA contains whole information for the working of the cell. The part of the DNA which has information to dictate the biosynthesis of a polypeptide is called a “gene.” The arrangement or order of nucleotides determines the kind of proteins which we produce. Each gene is responsible for coding a functional polypeptide. The genes have the information to make a complimentary copy of mRNA. The information of DNA which makes RNA in turn helps cells to incorporate amino acids according to arrangement of letters for making many kinds of proteins. These letters are transcribed into mRNA in the form of triplet codon, where each codon specifies one particular amino acid. The polypeptide is thus made by adding respective amino acids according to the instructions present on RNA. Therefore, the arrangement of four bases (adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine) dictates the information to add any of the 20 amino acids to make all the proteins in all the living organisms. Few genes need to be expressed continuously, as their products are required by the cell, and these are known as “constitutive genes.” They are responsible for basic housekeeping functions of the cells. However, depending upon the physiological demand and cell’s requirement at a particular time, some genes are active and some are inactive, that is, they do not code for any protein. The information contained in the DNA is used to make mRNA in the process of “ transcription” (factors shown in Table 1.1 ). The information of mRNA is used in the process of “ translation” for production of protein. Transcription occurs in the nucleus and translation in the cytoplasm of the cell. In translation several initiation factors help in the assembly of mRNA with 40S ribosome and prevent binding of both ribosomal subunits; they also associate with cap and poly(A) tail. Several elongation factors play an important role in chain elongation. Though each cell of the body has the same genetic makeup, but each is specialized to perform unique functions, the activation and expression of genes is different in each cell. Thus, one type of cells can express some of its genes at one time and may not express the same genes some other time. This is called “temporal regulation” of the gene. In the body different cells express different genes and thus different proteins. For example, liver cell and lymphocyte, would express different genes. This is known as spatial regulation of the gene. Therefore, in the cells of the body, the activation of genes is under spatial regulation (cells present at different locations and different organs produce different proteins) and temporal regulation (same cells produce different proteins at different times). The proteins are formed by the information contained in the DNA and perform a variety of cellular functions. The proteins may be structural (responsible for cell shape and size), or they may be functional like enzymes, signaling intermediates, regulatory proteins, and defense system proteins. However, any kind of genetic defect results in defective protein or alters protein folding which can compromise the functioning of the body and is responsible for the diseases. Figure 1.4 shows the outline of the process of transcription and translation with important steps.

Factors involved in transcription process

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It shows the process of transcription and translation. Transcription occurs in the nucleus and requires the usage of three polymerase enzymes. RNApol I for rRNA, pol II for mRNA, and pol III for both rRNA and tRNA. RNApol II initiates the process by associating itself with seven transcription factors, TFIIA, TFIIB, TFIID, TFIIE, TFIIH, and TFIIJ. After the synthesis, preRNA transcript undergoes processing to form mRNA by removal of introns by splicing and polyadenylation and capping. Protein synthesis is initiated by formation of ribosome and initiator tRNA complex to initiation codon (AUG) of mRNA and involves 11 factors. Chain elongation occurs after sequential addition of amino acids by formation of peptide bonds. Then polypeptide can fold or conjugate itself to other biomolecules and may undergo posttranslational modifications as glycosylation or phosphorylation to perform its biological functions

The biotechnological tools are employed toward modification of the gene for gain of function or loss of function of the protein. The technique of removing, adding, or modifying genes in the genome or chromosomes of an organism to bring about the changes in the protein information is called genetic engineering or recombinant DNA technology (Fig. 1.5 ). DNA recombination made possible the sequencing of the human genome and laid the foundation for the nascent fields of bioinformatics, nanomedicine, and individualized therapy. Multicellular organisms like cows, goats, sheep, rats, corn, potato, and tobacco plants have been genetically engineered to produce substances medically useful to humans. Genetic engineering has revolutionized medicine, enabling mass production of safe, pure, more effective versions of biochemicals that the human body produces naturally [ 20 – 22 ].

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The process of recombinant DNA technology. The gene of interest from human nucleus is isolated and cloned in a plasmid vector. The gene is ligated with the help of DNA ligase. The vector is transformed into a bacterial host. After appropriate selections, the gene is amplified when bacteria multiply or the gene can be sequenced or the gene can be expressed to produce protein

The technological advancements have resulted in (1) many biopharmaceuticals and vaccines, (2) new and specific ways to diagnose, (3) increasing the productivity and introduction of quality traits in agricultural crops, (4) the ways to tackle the pollutants efficiently for sustainable environmental practices, (5) helped the forensic experts by DNA fingerprinting and profiling, (6) fermentation technology for production of industrially important products. The list is very long with tremendous advancements and products which have boosted the economy of biotechnology sector worldwide [ 16 ]. The biotechnology industry and the products are regulated by various government organizations such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Medical Biotechnology

This fieldof biotechnology has many applications and is involved in production of recombinant pharmaceuticals, tissue engineering products, regenerative medicines such as stem cell and gene therapy, and many more biotechnology products for better human life (Fig. 1.6 ). Biotechnological tools produce purified bio-therapeutic agents on industrial scales. These include both novel agents and agents formerly available only in small quantities. Crude vaccines were used in antiquity in China, India, and Persia. For example, vaccination with scabs that contained the smallpox virus was a practice in the East for centuries. In 1798 English country doctor Edward Jenner demonstrated that inoculation with pus from sores due to infection by a related cowpox virus could prevent smallpox far less dangerously. It marked the beginning of vaccination. Humans have been benefited incalculably from the implementation of vaccination programs.

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Various applications of medical biotechnology

Tremendous progress has been made since the early recombinant DNA technology (RDT) experiments from which the lively—and highly profitable—biotechnology industry emerged. RDT has fomented multiple revolutions in medicine. Safe and improved drugs, accelerated drug discovery, better diagnostic and quick methods for detecting an infection either active or latent, development of new and safe vaccines, and completely novel classes of therapeutics and other medical applications are added feathers in its cap. The technology has revolutionized understanding of diseases as diverse as cystic fibrosis and cancer. Pharmaceutical biotechnology being one of the important sectors involves using animals or hybrids of tumor cells or leukocytes or cells ( prokaryotic, mammalian) to produce safer, more efficacious, and cost-effective versions of conventionally produced biopharmaceuticals. The launch of the new biopharmaceutical or drug requires screening and development. Mice were widely used as research animals for screening. However, in the wake of animal protection, animal cell culture offers accurate and inexpensive source of cells for drug screening and efficacy testing. Pharmaceutical biotechnology’s greatest potential lies in gene therapy and stem cell-based therapy. The underlying cause of defect of many inherited diseases is now located and characterized. Gene therapy is the insertion of the functional gene in place of defective gene into cells to prevent, control, or cure disease. It also involves addition of genes for pro-drug or cytokines to eliminate or suppress the growth of the tumors in cancer treatment.

But the progress so far is viewed by many scientists as only a beginning. They believe that, in the not-so-distant future, the refinement of “targeted therapies” should dramatically improve drug safety and efficacy. The development of predictive technologies may lead to a new era in disease prevention, particularly in some of the world’s rapidly developing economies. Yet the risks cannot be ignored as new developments and discoveries pose new questions, particularly in areas as gene therapy, the ethics of stem cell research, and the misuse of genomic information.

Many bio-therapeutic agents in clinical use are biotech pharmaceuticals. Insulin was among the earliest recombinant drugs. Canadian physiologists Frederick Banting and Charles Best discovered and isolated insulin in 1921. In that time many patients diagnosed with diabetes died within a few years. In the mid-1960s, several groups reported synthesizing the hormone.

The first “bioengineered” drug, a recombinant form of human insulin, was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1982. Until then, insulin was obtained from a limited supply of beef or pork pancreas tissue. By inserting the human gene for insulininto bacteria, scientists were able to achieve lifesaving insulinproduction in large quantities. In the near future, patients with diabetes may be able to inhale insulin, eliminating the need for injections. Inhaled insulinproducts like Exubera® were approved by the USFDA; however, it was pulled out and other products like Technosphere® insulin (Afrezza®) are under investigation. They may provide relief from prandial insulin. Afrezza consists of a pre-meal insulinpowder loaded into a cartridge for oral inhalation.

Technosphere technology: The technology allows administration of therapeutics through pulmonary route which otherwise were required to be given as injections. These formulations have broad spectrum of physicochemical characteristics and are prepared with a diverse assortment of drugs with protein or small molecule which may be hydrobhobic or hydrophilic or anionic or cationic in nature. The technology can have its applicability not only through pulmonary route but also for other routes of administration including local lung delivery.

The first recombinant vaccine, approved in 1986, was produced by cloning a gene fragment from the hepatitis B virus into yeast (Merck’s Recombivax HB). The fragment was translated by the yeast’s genetic machinery into an antigenic protein. This was present on the surface of the virus that stimulates the immune response. This avoided the need to extract the antigen from the serum of people infected with hepatitis B.

The Food and Drug administration (FDA) approved more biotech drugs in 1997 than in the previous several years combined. The FDA has approved many recombinant drugs for human health conditions. These include AIDS, anemia, cancers (Kaposi’s sarcoma, leukemia, and colorectal, kidney, and ovarian cancers), certain circulatory problems, certain hereditary disorders (cystic fibrosis, familial hypercholesterolemia, Gaucher’s disease, hemophilia A, severe combined immunodeficiency disease, and Turner’s syndrome), diabetic foot ulcers, diphtheria, genital warts, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, human growth hormone deficiency, and multiple sclerosis. Today there are more than 100 recombinant drugs and vaccines. Because of their efficiency, safety, and relatively low cost, molecular diagnostic tests and recombinant vaccines may have particular relevance for combating long-standing diseases of developing countries, including leishmaniasis (a tropical infection causing fever and lesions) and malaria.

Stem cell research is very promising and holds tremendous potential to treat neurodegenerative disorders, spinal cord injuries, and other conditions related to organ or tissue loss.

DNA analysis is another powerful technique which compares DNA pattern [ 14 ] after performing RFLP and probing it by minisatellite repeat sequence between two or more individuals. Its modification, DNA profiling (process of matching the DNA profiles for STS markers in two or more individuals; see chapter 18), which utilizes multilocus PCR analysis of DNA of suspect and victims, is very powerful and is useful in criminal investigation, paternity disputes, and so many other legal issues. The analysis is very useful in criminal investigations and involves evaluation of DNA from samples of the hair, body fluids, or skin at a crime scene and comparison of these with those obtained from the suspects.

Improved Diagnostic and Therapeutic Capabilities

The sequencing of the human genome in 2003, has given scientists an incredibly rich “parts list” with which to better understand why and how disease happens. It has given added power to gene expression profiling, a method of monitoring expression of thousands of genes simultaneously on a glass slide called a microarray. This technique can predict the aggressiveness of cancer.

The development of monoclonal antibodies in 1975 led to a medical revolution. The body normally produces a wide range of antibodies—the immune system proteins—that defend our body and eliminate microorganisms and other foreign invaders. By fusing antibody-producing cells with myeloma cells, scientists were able to generate antibodies that would, like “magic bullets,” bind with specific targets including unique markers, called antigenic determinants ( epitopes), on the surfaces of inflammatory cells. When tagged with radioisotopes or other contrast agents, monoclonal antibodies can help in detecting the location of cancer cells, thereby improving the precision of surgery and radiation therapy and showing—within 48 h—whether a tumor is responding to chemotherapy.

The polymerase chain reaction, a method for amplifying tiny bits of DNA first described in the mid-1980s, has been crucial to the development of blood tests that can quickly determine exposure to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Genetic testing currently is available for many rare monogenic disorders, such as hemophilia, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, sickle cell anemia, thalassemia, etc.

Another rapidly developing field is proteomics, which deals with analysis and identification of proteins. The analysis is done by two-dimensional gel electrophoresis of the sample and then performing mass spectrometric analysis for each individual protein. The technique may be helpful in detecting the disease-associated protein in the biological sample. They may indicate early signs of disease, even before symptoms appear. One such marker is C-reactive protein, an indicator of inflammatory changes in blood vessel walls that presage atherosclerosis.

Nanomedicine is a rapidly moving field. Scientists are developing a wide variety of nanoparticles and nanodevices, scarcely a millionth of an inch in diameter, to improve detection of cancer, boost immune responses, repair damaged tissue, and thwart atherosclerosis. The FDA has approved a paclitaxel albumin-stabilized nanoparticle formulation (Abraxane® for injectable suspension, made by Abraxis BioScience) for the treatment of metastatic adenocarcinoma of the pancreas. Nanoparticles are being explored in heart patients in the USA as a way to keep their heart arteries open following angioplasty.

Therapeutic proteins are those, which can replace the patients naturally occurring proteins, when levels of the natural proteins are low or absent due to the disease. High-throughput screening, conducted with sophisticated robotic and computer technologies, enables scientists to test tens of thousands of small molecules in a single day for their ability to bind to or modulate the activity of a “target,” such as a receptor for a neurotransmitter in the brain. The goal is to improve the speed and accuracy of therapeutic protein or potential drug discovery while lowering the cost and improving the safety of pharmaceuticals that make it to market.

Many of the molecules utilized for detection also have therapeutic potential too, for example, monoclonal antibodies. The monoclonal antibodies are approved for the treatment of many diseases as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. They are currently being tested in patients as potential treatments for asthma, Crohn’s disease, and muscular dystrophy. As the antibodies may be efficiently targeted against a particular cell surface marker, thus they are used to deliver a lethal dose of toxic drug to cancer cells, avoiding collateral damage to nearby normal tissues.

Agricultural Biotechnology

The manhas made tremendous progress in crop improvement in terms of yield; still the ultimate production of crop is less than their full genetic potential. There are many reasons like environmental stresses (weather condition as rain, cold, frost), diseases, pests, and many other factors which reduce the ultimate desired yield affecting crop productivity. The efforts are going on to design crops which may be grown irrespective of their season or can be grown in frost or drought conditions for maximum utilization of land, which would ultimately affect crop productivity [ 24 ]. Agricultural biotechnology aims to introduce sustainable agriculturalpractices with best yield potential and minimal adverse effects on environment (Fig. 1.7 ). For example, combating pests was a major challenge. Thus, the gene from bacterium , the Bt gene, that functions as insect-resistant gene when inserted into crop plants like cotton, corn, and soybean helps prevent the invasion of pathogen, and the tool is called . This management is helpful in reducing usage of potentially dangerous pesticides on the crop. Not only the minimal or low usage of pesticides is beneficial for the crop but also the load of the polluting pesticides on environment is greatly reduced [ 24 ].

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Various applications of agricultural biotechnology

Resistance to Infectious Agents Through Genetic Engineering

  • The gene comes from the soil bacterium .
  • The gene produces crystal proteins called Cry proteins. More than 100 different variants of the Bt toxins have been identified which have different specificity to target insect lepidoptera. For eg., CryIa for butterflies and CRYIII for beetles.
  • These Cry proteins are toxic to larvae of insects like tobacco budworm, armyworm, and beetles.
  • The Cry proteins exist as an inactive protoxins.
  • These are converted into active toxin in alkaline pH of the gut upon solubilization when ingested by the insect.
  • After the toxin is activated, it binds to the surface of epithelial cells of midgut and creates pores causing swelling and lysis of cells leading to the death of the insect (larva).
  • The genes (cry genes) encoding this protein are isolated from the bacterium and incorporated into several crop plants like cotton, tomato, corn, rice, and soybean.

The proteins encoded by the following cry genes control the pest given against them:

  • Cry I Ac and cry II Ab control cotton bollworms.
  • Cry I Ab controls corn borer.
  • Cry III Ab controls Colorado potato beetle.
  • Cry III Bb controls corn rootworm.
  • A nematode infects tobacco plants and reduces their yield.
  • The specific genes (in the form of cDNA) from the parasite are introduced into the plant using -mediated transformation.
  • The genes are introduced in such a way that both sense/coding RNA and antisense RNA (complimentary to the sense/coding RNA) are produced.
  • Since these two RNAs are complementary, they form a double-stranded RNA (ds RNA).
  • This neutralizes the specific RNA of the nematode, by a process called RNA – interference.
  • As a result, the parasite cannot multiply in the transgenic host, and the transgenic plantis protected from the pest.

These resistant crops result in reduced application of pesticides. The yield is high without the pathogen infestations and insecticides. This also helps to reduce load of these toxic chemicals in the environment.

The transformation techniques and their applications are being utilized to develop rice, cassava, and tomato, free of viral diseases by “International Laboratory for Tropical Agricultural Biotechnology” (ILTAB). ILTAB in 1995 reported the first transfer of a resistance gene from a wild-type species of rice to a susceptible cultivated rice variety. The transferred gene expressed and imparted resistance to crop-destroying bacterium Xanthomonas oryzae . The resistant gene was transferred into susceptible rice varieties that are cultivated on more than 24 million hectares around the world [ 6 ].

The recombinant DNA technology reduces the time between the identification of a particular gene to its application for betterment of crops by skipping the labor-intensive and time-consuming conventional breeding [ 3 ]. For example, the alteration of known gene in plant for the improvement of yield or tolerance to adverse environmental conditions or resistance to insect in one generation and its inheritance to further generations. Plant cell and tissue culture techniques are one of the applications where virus-free plants can be grown and multiplied irrespective of their season on large scale (micropropogation), raising haploids, or embryo rescue. It also opens an opportunity to cross two manipulated varieties or two incompatible varieties (protoplast culture) for obtaining best variety for cultivation.

With the help of technology, new, improved, and safe agricultural products may emerge which would be helpful for maintaining contamination-free environment. Biotechnology has the potential to produce:

  • High crop yields [ 4 ]
  • Crops are engineered to have desirable nutrients and better taste (e.g., tomatoes and other edible crops with increased levels of vitamin C, vitamin E, and/or beta-carotene protect against the risk of some prevalent chronic diseases and rice with increased iron levels protects against anemia)
  • Insect- and disease-resistant plants
  • Genetic modification avoids nonselective changes
  • Longer shelf life of fruits and vegetables

The potential of biotechnology may contribute to increasing agricultural, food, and feed production, protecting the environment, mitigating pollution, sustaining agricultural practices, and improving human and animal health. Some agricultural crops as corn and marine organisms can be potential alternative for biofuel production. The by-products of the process may be processed to produce other chemical feedstocks for various products. It is estimated that the world’s chemical and fuel demand could be supplied by such renewable resources in the first half of the next century [ 5 ].

Food Biotechnology

Food biotechnology is an emerging field, which can increase the production of food, improving its nutritional content and improving the taste of the food. The food is safe and beneficial as it needs fewer pesticides and insecticides. The technology aims to produce foods which have more flavors, contain more vitamins and minerals, and absorb less fat when cooked. Food biotechnology may remove allergens and toxic components from foods, for their better utility [ 6 , 7 ].

Environmental Biotechnology

Environmental biotechnology grossly deals with maintenanceof environment, which is pollution-free, the water is contamination-free, and the atmosphere is free of toxic gases. Thus, it deals with waste treatment, monitoring of environmental changes, and pollution prevention. Bioremediation in which utilization of higher living organisms (plants: phytoremediation) or certain microbial species for decontamination or conversion of harmful products is done is the main application of environmental biotechnology. The enzyme bioreactors are also being developed which would pretreat some industrial and food waste components and allow their removal through the sewage system rather than through solid waste disposal mechanisms. The production of biofuel from waste can solve the fuel crisis (biogas). Microbes may be engineered to produce enzymes required for conversion of plant and vegetable materials into building blocks for biodegradable plastics. In some cases, the by-products of the pollution-fighting microorganisms are themselves useful. For example, methane can be derived from a form of bacteria that degrades sulfur liquor, a waste product of paper manufacturing. This methane thus obtained is used as a fuel or in other industrial processes. Insect- and pest-resistant crops have reduced the use and environmental load of insecticides and pesticides. Insect-protected crops allow for less potential exposure of farmers and groundwater to chemical residues while providing farmers with season-long control.

Industrial Biotechnology

The utilizationof biotechnological tools (bioprocessing) for the manufacturing of biotechnology-derived products (fuels, plastics, enzymes, chemicals, and many more compounds) on industrial scale is industrial biotechnology. The aim is to develop newer industrial manufacturing processes and products, which are economical and better than preexisting ones with minimal environmental impact. In industrial biotechnology, (1) microorganisms are being explored for producing material goods like fermentation products as cheese; (2) biorefineries where oils, sugars, and biomass may be converted into biofuels, bioplastics, and biopolymers; (3) and value-added chemicals from biomass. The utilization of modern techniques can improve the efficiency and reduces the environmental impacts of industrial processes like textile, paper, pulp, and chemical manufacturing. For example, development and usage of biocatalysts, such as enzymes, to synthesize chemicals and development of antibiotics and better tasting liquors and their usage in food industry have provided safe and effective processing for sustainable productions. Biotechnological tools in the textile industry are utilized for the finishing of fabrics and garments. Biotechnology also produces spider silk and biotech-derived cotton that is warmer and stronger and has improved dye uptake and retention, enhanced absorbency, and wrinkle and shrink resistance.

Biofuels may be derived from photosynthetic organisms, which capture solar energy, transform it in other products like carbohydrates and oils, and store them. Different plants can be used for fuel production:

  • Bioethanol can be obtained from sugar (as sugarcane or sugar beet) or starch (like corn or maize). These are fermented to produce ethanol, a liquid fuel commonly used for transportation.
  • Biodiesel can be obtained from natural oils from plants like oil palm, soybean, or algae. They can be burned directly in a diesel engine or a furnace, or blended with petroleum, to produce fuels such as biodiesel.
  • Wood and its by-products can be converted into liquid biofuels, such as methanol or ethanol, or into wood gas. Wood can also be burned as solid fuel, like the irewood.

In these kinds of biological reaction, there are many renewable chemicals of economic importance coproduced as side streams of bioenergy and biofuels as levulinic acid, itaconic acid, and sorbitol. These have tremendous economic potential and their fruitful usage would depend upon the collaboration for research and development between the government and the private sector.

Enzyme Production

The enzymeshave big commercial and industrial significance. They have wide applications in food industry, leather industry, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, detergents, and research. In detergents the alkaline protease, subtilisin (from Bacillus subtilis ), was used by Novo Industries, Denmark. The production of enzymes is an important industrial application with world market of approximately 5 billion dollars. The enzymes can be obtained from animals, plants, or microorganisms. The production from microorganisms is preferred as they are easy to maintain in culture with simple media requirements and easy scale-up. The important enzymes for the industrial applications are in food industry, human application, and research. A few animal enzymes are also important as a group of proteolytic enzymes, for example, plasminogen activators, which act on inactive plasminogen and activate it to plasmin, which destroys fibrin network of blood clot. Some of the plasminogen activators are urokinase and tissue plasminogen activators (t-PA). Urokinase (from urine) is difficult to obtain in ample quantity; thus, t-PA is obtained from cells grown in culture medium. Streptokinase (bacterial enzyme) is also a plasminogen activator but is nonspecific and immunogenic.

Enzyme engineering is also being tried where modifications of specific amino acid residue are done for improving the enzyme properties. One of the enzymes chymosin (rennin) coagulates milk for cheese manufacturing.

The enzymes can be produced by culturing cells, growing them with appropriate substrates in culture conditions. After optimum time the enzymes may be obtained by cell disruption (enzymatic/freeze–thaw/osmotic shock) followed by preparative steps (centrifugation, filtration), purification, and analysis. The product is then packaged and ultimately launched in the market.

After their production, they can be immobilized on large range of materials (agar, cellulose, porous glass, or porous alumina) for subsequent reuse. Some of the important industrial enzymes are α-amylase (used for starch hydrolysis), amyloglucosidase (dextrin hydrolysis), β-galactosidase (lactose hydrolysis), aminoacylase (hydrolysis of acylated L-amino acids), glucose oxidase (oxidation of glucose), and luciferase (bioluminescence). Some of the medically important enzymes are urokinase and t-PA for blood clot removal and L-asparaginase for removal of L-asparagine essential for tumor growth and thus used for cancer chemotherapy in leukemia.

Exploring Algae for Production of Biofuels

The energyrequirement of present population is increasing and gradually fossil fuels are rapidly depleting. Thus, renewable energy sources like solar energy and wind-, hydro-, and biomass-based energy are being explored worldwide. One of the feedstocks may be microalgae, which are fast-growing, photosynthetic organisms requiring carbon dioxide, some nutrients, and water for its growth. They produce large amount of lipids and carbohydrates, which can be processed into different biofuels and commercially important coproducts. The production of biofuels using algal biomass is advantageous as they (1) can grow throughout the year and thus their productivity is higher than other oil seed crops, (2) have high tolerance to high carbon dioxide content, (3) utilize less water, (4) do not require herbicides or pesticides with high growth potential (waste water can be utilized for algal cultivation), (5) can sustain harsh atmospheric conditions, and (6) do not interfere with productivity of conventional crops as they do not require agricultural land. The production of various biofuels from algae is schematically represented in Fig. 1.8 .

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Different biofuel productions by using microalgae. The algae use sunlight, CO2, water, and some nutrients

Algae can serve as potential source for biofuel production; however, biomass production is low. The production has certain limitations, as cultivation cost is high with requirement of high energy [ 1 ].

Marine or Aquatic Biotechnology

Marine or aquatic biotechnology also referred to as “blue biotechnology” deals with exploring and utilizing the marine resources of the world. Aquatic or marine life has been intriguing and a source of livelihood for many since years. As major part of earth is acquired by water, thus nearly 75–80 % types of life forms exist in oceans and aquatic systems. It studies the wide diversity found in the structure and physiology of marine organisms. They are unique in their own ways and lack their equivalent on land. These organisms have been explored and utilized for numerous applications as searching new treatment for cancer or exploring other marine resources, because of which the field is gradually gaining momentum and economic opportunities [ 19 ]. The global economic benefits are estimated to be very high. The field aims to:

  • Fulfill the increasing food supply needs
  • Identify and isolate important compounds which may benefit health of humans
  • Manipulate the existing traits in sea animals for their improvement
  • Protect marine ecosystem and gain knowledge about the geochemical processes occurring in oceans

Some of the major applications are discussed:

  • Aquaculture: Aquaculture refers to the growth of aquatic organisms in culture condition for commercial purposes. These animals may be shellfish, finfish, and many others. Mariculture refers to the cultivation of marine animals. Their main applications are in food, food ingredients, pharmaceuticals, and fuels, the products are in high demand, and various industries are in aquaculture business, for example, crawfish farming (Louisiana), catfish industry (Alabama and Mississippi Delta), and trout farming (Idaho and West Virginia).
  • Transgenic species of salmon with growth hormone gene has accelerated growth of salmons.
  • Molt-inhibiting (MIH) from blue crabs leads to soft-shelled crab.
  • : Anovel protein antifreeze protein (AFP) was identified. AFPs were isolated from Northern cod (bottom-dwelling fish) living at the Eastern Canada coast and teleosts living in extremely cold weather of Antarctica. AFPs have been isolated from Osmerus mordax (smelt), Clupea harengus (herring), Pleuronectes americanus (winter flounder), and many others. Due to antifreeze properties (lowering the minimal freezing temperature by 2–3 °C), the gene has potential for raising plants which are cold tolerant (e.g., tomatoes).
  • Medicinal applications : For osteoporosis, salmon calcitonin (calcitonin is thyroid hormone promoting calcium uptake and bone calcification) with 20 times higher bioactivity is available as injection and nasal spray.
  • Hydroxyapatite ( HA ): Obtained from coral reefs and is an important component of bone and cartilage matrix. Its implants are prepared by Interpore Internationals which may be used for filling gaps in fractured bones.

Many anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anticancerous compounds have been identified from sea organisms which can have tremendous potential for human health.

Tetrodotoxin (TTX) is the most toxic poison (10,000 times more lethal than cyanide) produced by Japanese pufferfish or blowfish ( Fugu rubripes ). TTX is being used to study and understand its effect on sodium channels which can help guide the development of drugs with anesthetic and analgesic properties.

Other Products

  • Taq polymerase from Thermus aquaticus which is used in PCR reactions and obtained from hot spring Archaea.
  • Collagenase (protease) obtained from Vibrio is used in tissue engineering and culturing.

Transgenic Animals and Plants

In the early1980s, inserting DNA from humans into mice and other animals became possible. The animals and plants which have foreign gene in each of their cells are referred to as transgenic organisms and the inserted gene as transgene. Expression of human genes in these transgenic animals can be useful in studies, as models for the development of diabetes, atherosclerosis, and Alzheimer’s disease. They also can generate large quantities of potentially therapeutic human proteins. Transgenic plants also offer many economic, safe, and practical solutions for production of variety of biopharmaceuticals. The plants have been engineered to produce many blood products (human serum albumin, cytokines), human growth hormone, recombinant antibodies, and subunitvaccines.

The usage of transgenic plants for the production of recombinant pharmaceuticals might open new avenues in biotechnology. As plants can be grown inexpensively with minimal complicated requirements, thus they may have tremendous therapeutic potential. The plants have been engineered to produce more nutrients or better shelf life. The transgenic plants have been created which have genes for insect resistance (Bt cotton, soybean, corn). Now billion acres of land is used for cultivation of genetically engineered crops of cotton, corn, and soybean as they have higher yield and are pest resistant. However, due to social, ethical, and biosafety issues, they have received acceptance as well as rejections at many places and health and environment-related concerns in many parts of the world [ 8 ].

Response to Antibiotic Resistance

Antibiotics areone of the broadly used therapeutic molecules produced by certain classes of microorganisms (bacteria and fungi) which can be used in diverse clinical situations to eliminate bacteria, improve symptoms, and prevent number of infections. Antibiotics have various other applications apart from clinical aspects. They can be used for the treatment of tumors and treatment of meat, in cattles and livestocks, in basic biotechnological work. However, their effectiveness is a matter of concern as bacteria which are continuously exposed to certain antibiotics might become resistant to it due to accumulation of mutations. These days antibiotic-resistant bacteria have increased and some of them have developed multiple drug resistance. Thus, it has become very difficult to initiate therapy in diseases like tuberculosis and leprosy. Biotechnology is solving the urgent and growing problem of antibiotic resistance. With the help of bioinformatics—powerful computer programs capable of analyzing billions of bits of genomicsequence data—scientists are cracking the genetic codes of bacteria and discovering “weak spots” vulnerable to attack by compounds identified via high-throughput screening. This kind of work led in 2000 to the approval of Zyvox (linezolid), an antibiotic to reach the market in 35 years.

Lytic bacteriophage viruses that infect and kill bacteria may be another way to counter resistance. First used to treat infection in the 1920s, “phage therapy” was largely eclipsed by the development of antibiotics. However, researchers in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia reported that a biodegradable polymer impregnated with bacteriophages and the antibiotic Cipro successfully healed wounds infected with a drug-resistant bacterium.

After exposure of strontium-90, three Georgian lumberjacks from village Lia had systemic effects, and two of them developed severe local radiation injuries which subsequently became infected with Staphylococcus aureus . Upon hospitalization, the patients were treated with various medications, including antibiotics and topical ointments; however, wound healing was only moderately successful, and their S. aureus infection could not be eliminated. Approximately 1 month after hospitalization, treatment with PhagoBioDerm (a wound-healing preparation consisting of a biodegradable polymer impregnated with ciprofloxacin and bacteriophages) was initiated. Purulent drainage stopped within 2–7 days. Clinical improvement was associated with rapid (7 days) elimination of the etiologic agent, and a strain of S. aureus responsible for infection was resistant to many antibiotics (including ciprofloxacin) but was susceptible to the bacteriophages contained in the PhagoBioDerm preparation [ 11 ].

The Challenges for the Technology

Gene therapy.

Some biotechapproaches to better health have proven to be more challenging than others. An example is gene transfer, where the defective gene is replaced with a normally functioning one. The normal gene is delivered to target tissues in most cases by virus that is genetically altered to render it harmless. The first ex vivo gene transfer experiment, conducted in 1990 at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), on Ashanti DeSilva who was suffering from severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) helped boost her immune response and successfully corrected an enzyme deficiency. However, treatment was required every few months. However, 9 years later, a major setback occurred in gene therapy trial after the death of 18-year-old Jesse Gelsinger suffering from ornithine transcarbamylase (OTC) deficiency due to intense inflammatory responses followed by gene therapy treatment. There were some positive experiences and some setbacks from gene therapy trials leading to stricter safety requirements in clinical trials.

Designer Babies

The fancyterm designer baby was invented by media. Many people in society prefer embryos with better traits, intellect, and intelligence. They want to select embryo post germline engineering. This technique is still in infancy but is capable of creating lot of differences in the society thus requires appropriate guidelines.

Genetically Modified Food

Genetically modifiedcrops harboring genes for insect resistance were grown on billion of acres of land. These crops became very popular due to high yield and pest resistance. However, some of the pests gradually developed resistance for a few of these transgenic crops posing resistant pest threat. The other technologies as “traitor” and “terminator” technologies pose serious risk on crop biodiversity and would impart negative characters in the crop (they were not released due to public outcry).


Scientists do not believe they will find a single gene for every disease. As a result, they are studyingrelationships between genes and probing populations for variations in the genetic code, called single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, that may increase one’s risk for a particular disease or determine one’s response to a given medication. This powerful ability to assign risk and response to genetic variations is fueling the movement toward “individualized medicine.” The goal is prevention, earlier diagnosis, and more effective therapy by prescribing interventions that match patients’ particular genetic characteristics.

Tissue Engineering

Tissue engineering is one of the emerging fields with tremendous potential to supply replacement tissue and organ option for many diseases. Lot is achieved, lot more need to be achieved.

Ethical Issues

The pursuit of cutting-edge research “brings us closer to our ultimate goal of eliminating disability and disease through the best care which modern medicine can provide.” Understanding of the genetics of heart disease and cancer will aid the development of screening tools and interventions that can help prevent the spread of these devastating disorders into the world’s most rapidly developing economies.

Biotechnology is a neutral tool; nevertheless, its capabilities raise troubling ethical questions. Should prospective parents be allowed to “engineer” the physical characteristics of their embryos? Should science tinker with the human germ line, or would that alter in profound and irrevocable ways what it means to be human?

More immediately, shouldn’t researchers apply biotechnology—if they can—to eliminate health disparities among racial and ethnic groups? While genetic variation is one of many factors contributing to differences in health outcome (others include environment, socioeconomic status, health-care access, stress, and behavior), the growing ability to mine DNA databases from diverse populations should enable scientists to parse the roles these and other factors play.

Biotechnology along with supportive health-care infrastructure can solve complicated health problems. Accessibility to the new screening tests, vaccines, and medications and cultural, economic, and political barriers to change must be overcome. Research must include more people from disadvantaged groups, which will require overcoming long-held concerns, some of them have had about medical science.

Biotechnology has been a significant force which has improved the quality of lives and has incalculably benefitted human beings. However, technology does have prospects of doing harm also due to unanticipated consequences. Each technology is subjected to ethical assessment and requires a different ethical approach. Obviously the changes are necessary as technology can have major impact on the world; thus, a righteous approach should be followed. There is uncertainty in predicting consequences, as this powerful technology has potential to manipulate humans themselves. Ethical concerns are even more important as the future of humanity can change which require careful attention and consideration. Therefore, wisdom is required to articulate our responsibilities toward environment, animals, nature, and ourselves for the coming future generations. We need to differentiate what is important technologically rather that what technology can do. For an imperative question, that is, whether this can be achieved, the research must answer “Why should it be achieved”? Who would it benefit?

Issues Related to Safety

  • As the new GM crops are entering the market, the issue regarding their consumption, whether they are safe, without any risk, is one of the important concerns [ 2 ]. Though the results related to safety and usage are well reported (as compared to conventional crops), unknown fear from these products makes them non acceptable at many places [ 20 ].
  • As insect- and pest-resistant varieties are being prepared and used as Bt genes in corn and cotton crops, there exists a risk of development of resistance insect population. Another important factor is that these resistant crops may harm other species like birds and butterfly.
  • The development of more weeds may occur as cross-pollination might result in production of weeds with herbicide resistance which would be difficult to control.
  • The gene transfers might cross the natural species boundary and affect biological diversity.
  • The judgment of their usage would depend upon the clear understanding of risks associated with safety of these products in determining the impact of these on environment, other crops, and other animal species.

Future of the Technology

With the understanding of science, we should understand that genetic transfers have been occurring in animals and plant systems; thus, the risk of the biotechnology-derived products is similar as conventional crops [ 12 ].

The biotechnology products would be acceptable to many if they are beneficial and safe. People are willing to buy crops free of pesticides and insecticides. Nowadays people are also accepting crops grown without the usage of chemical fertilizers or pesticides, which are high in nutritive values.

The labeling of the product is also an ethical issue as some believe that labeling any product as biotechnology product might be taken by consumer as warning signs; however, others believe that labeling should be done as consumer has every right to know what he is consuming [ 9 ]. The products may be acceptable if consumers can accept the food derived from biotechnology weighing all pros and cons and, if the price is right, has more nutritive values, is good in taste, and is safe to consume [ 10 ].

Biotechnology is at the crossroads in terms of fears and thus public acceptance [ 15 ]. Surprisingly the therapeutic products are all accepted and find major place in biopharmaceutical industry, but food crops are still facing problems in worldwide acceptance. The future of the world food supply depends upon how well scientists, government, and the food industry are able to communicate with consumers about the benefits and safety of the technology [ 13 , 16 ]. Several major initiatives are under way to strengthen the regulatory process and to communicate more effectively with consumers by conducting educational programs [ 18 , 23 ].

Chapter End Summary

  • The advantages of biotechnology are so broad that it is finding its place in virtually every industry. It has applications in areas as diverse as pharmaceuticals, diagnostics, textiles, aquaculture, forestry, chemicals, household products, environmental cleanup, food processing, and forensics to name a few.
  • Biotechnology is enabling these industries to make new or better products, often with greater speed, efficiency, and flexibility.
  • With the applications of recombinant DNA technology, more safer and therapeutic drugs are produced. These recombinant products do not elicit unwanted immunological response which is observed when the product is obtained from other live or dead sources. Many of these therapeutics are approved for human usage, and many of them are in the phase of development.
  • Immunological and DNA-based techniques like PCR (polymerase chain reaction) are used for early diagnosis of disorders. PCR and NAAT with microarray can be utilized for the diagnosis of many diseases, and it can detect mutations in gene.
  • The technology holds promise through stem cell research and gene therapy and holds applications in forensic medicine.
  • The technique may be helpful in developing useful and beneficial plants. It overcomes the limitations of traditional plant breeding. The techniques of plant tissue culture, transgenics, and marker-assisted selections are largely used for selecting better yielding varieties and imparting quality traits in plants.
  • Food industries. Production of single-cell protein, spirulina, enzymes, and solid-state fermentations
  • Increase and improvement of agricultural production
  • Production of therapeutic pharmaceuticals
  • Production of vaccines and monoclonal antibodies
  • Cultivation of virus for vaccine production

Multiple Choice Questions

  • All of the above
  • Vitamin D and calcium
  • Growth hormone
  • Tissue plasminogen activator
  • Factor VIII
  • Genetically modifying organism
  • Production of therapeutics
  • Production of better diagnosis
  • Increase in yield of crops
  • Improved crop varieties
  • Lesser fertilizers and agrochemicals
  • All of these
  • It is resistant to it.
  • The toxin is enclosed in vesicle.
  • The toxin is present in inactive form.
  • None of these.
  • Gene therapy
  • Replacement protein therapy
  • Stem cell therapy
  • The productivity would improve.
  • The usage of chemical agent would be reduced.
  • The environment and crop would be insecticide free.
  • All of the above.
  • Detoxifying waste material
  • Burying waste material
  • Burning waste material
  • None of these

(1) In all the cells of our body, all the genes are active.

(2) In different cells of our body, different genes are active.

(3) Gene expression is spatially and temporally regulated.

  • All 1, 2, and 3 are correct.
  • 1 and 2 are correct.
  • 1 and 3 are correct.
  • 2 and 3 are correct.
  • Inoculation with monoclonal antibody was able to prevent small pox.
  • Inoculation with pus from sores due to cowpox could prevent small pox.
  • Attenuated vaccine was able to prevent small pox.
  • None of the above.
  • 1. (c); 2. (a); 3. (c); 4. (d); 5. (d); 6. (d); 7. (c); 8. (a); 9. (d); 10. (a); 11. (d); 12. (b)

Review Questions

  • Q1. What are cry proteins? What is their importance?
  • Q2. Give some applications of biotechnology in agriculture.
  • Q3. What is your opinion about labeling of biotechnology-based food product as rDNA technology derived product?
  • Q4. What are applications of biotechnology in maintaining environment?
  • Q5. What is medical biotechnology?
  • Q6. What are the challenges faced by biotechnology industry?
  • Q7. What do you think about GM crops?

Some Related Resources

  • http://ificinfo.health.org/backgrnd/BKGR14.htm
  • http://www.bio.org/aboutbio/guide1.html
  • http://www.bio.org/aboutbio/guide2000/guide00_toc.html
  • http://www.bio.org/aboutbio/guide3.html
  • http://www.bio.org/aboutbio/guide4.html
  • http://www.dec.ny.gov/energy/44157.html
  • http://www.ers.usda.gov/whatsnew/issues/biotech/define.htm
  • http://www.nal.usda.gov/bic/bio21
  • http://www.nature.com/nbt/press_release/nbt1199.html
  • www.angelfire.com/scary/intern/links.html
  • www.bio-link.org/library.htm
  • www.biospace.com
  • www.dnai.org
  • www.fiercebiotech.com
  • www.iastate.edu
  • www.icgeb.trieste.it
  • www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

Book cover

  • Open Access
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Shaping the Future of Biological Education Research

Selected Papers from the ERIDOB 2022 Conference

  • Konstantinos Korfiatis   ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0297-6499 0 ,
  • Marcus Grace   ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-1949-1765 1 ,
  • Marcus Hammann 2

Department of Education, University of Cyprus, Nicosia, Cyprus

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Education School, Building 32, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK

Centre for biology education, university of münster, munster, germany.

Combines high-quality papers from the ERIDOB 2022 Conference

Brings together recent and modern research in biology education

Presents papers written by leading international researchers

This book is open access, which means that you have free and unlimited access.

Part of the book series: Contributions from Biology Education Research (CBER)

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Table of contents (24 chapters), front matter, teaching strategies and learning environments, using physical and virtual labs for experimentation in stem+ education: from theory and research to practice.

  • Yvoni Pavlou, Zacharias C. Zacharia

Problematisation, Narrative and Fiction in the Science Classroom

  • Catherine Bruguière, Denise Orange Ravachol

Using External Representations to Support Mathematical Modelling Competence in Biology Education

  • Benjamin Stöger, Claudia Nerdel

The Effect of Adult Intervention in the Development of Science Process Skills

  • María Napal Fraile, Lara Vázquez Bienzobas, Isabel Zudaire Ripa, Irantzu Uriz Doray

Facilitating the Practice of 4C Skills in Biology Education Through Educational Escape Rooms

  • Georgios Villias, Mark Winterbottom

Museum Guides’ Views on the Integration of the Nature of Science While Addressing Visitors’ Experiences: The Context of Ecological and Evolutionary Issues

  • Anna Pshenichny-Mamo, Dina Tsybulsky

Friends or Foes? Microorganisms in Greek School Textbooks

  • Georgios Ampatzidis, Anastasia Armeni

Students’ Knowledge, Conceptions, Values, Attitudes and Motivation

Investigative school research projects in biology: effects on students.

  • Wilton G. Lodge, Michael J. Reiss, Richard Sheldrake

Investigating Relationships Between Epistemological Beliefs and Personal Beliefs in Biological Evolution

  • Andreani Baytelman, Theonitsa Loizou, Salomi Chadjiconstantinou

Plant Blindness Intensity Throughout the School and University Years: A Cross-Age Study

  • Alexandros Amprazis, Penelope Papadopoulou

Where Do Plants Get Their Mass From? Using Drawings to Assess Adolescent Students’ Modelling Skills and Their Ideas About Plant Growth

  • Eliza Rybska, Joanna Wojtkowiak, Zofia Chyleńska, Pantelitsa Karnaou, Costas P. Constantinou

Diagnosing of Valuing and Decision-Making Competencies in Biology Lessons

  • Malte Ternieten, Doris Elster

Factors Influencing the Intention of Students in Regard to Stem Cell Donation for Leukemia Patients: A Comparison of Non-intenders and Intenders

  • Julia Holzer, Doris Elster

Mapping Adolescents’ Nutritional Knowledge

  • Martha Georgiou, Matina Moshogianni

Outdoor and Environmental Education

Implementing climate change education: the role of inter-sectorial collaborations.

  • Nofar Naugauker, Orit Ben-Zvi-Assaraf, Daphne Goldman, Efrat Eilam

From Curriculum to Enacted Teaching of Photosynthesis, the Carbon Cycle and Sustainability in an Upper Primary School Class

This open access volume is a collection of full papers based on the peer-reviewed presentations accepted for the European Researchers in Didactics of Biology, ERIDOB 2022 conference. ERIDOB aims to bring together researchers in didactics of Biology from Europe and around the world to share and discuss their research work and results. It is the only major international conference whose focus lies exclusively on biology education research, and all the papers are written by international researchers from across Europe (and beyond) which report on a range of contemporary biology education research projects. They are all entirely new papers describing new research in the field. Each paper has been peer-reviewed by experienced biology education researchers and the members of the ERIDOB Academic Committee.   

The selected papers are collated within the following categories of biology education:  

·       Teaching Strategies and Learning Environments  

·       Students’ Knowledge, Conceptions, Values, Attitudes and Motivation  

·       Outdoor and Environmental Education  

·       Biology Teachers’ Professional Development  

By providing a collection of new research findings from many countries, this book is a great resource for researchers and practitioners such as school, college and university biology teachers' around the world. It is useful for training biology teachers and therefore valuable to teacher training institutions.

  • Biology Education
  • Biology didactics
  • Biology education
  • environmental education
  • biology education research
  • students' conceptions and conceptual change
  • students' interest and motivation
  • students’ values
  • students' attitudes
  • students' decision-making
  • Practical biology research
  • scientific thinking
  • teaching strategies
  • learning environments
  • learning with educational technology
  • teaching with educational technology
  • outdoor education
  • health education
  • Biology language

Konstantinos Korfiatis

Marcus Grace

Marcus Hammann

Konstantinos Korfiatis  is Professor of Environmental Education at the Department of Education, University of Cyprus. His research interests expand to the areas of environmental education, ecology and sustainability education. In particular, he explores the concepts of children participation, motivation and agency through climate change and school-garden programmes. He currently is a member of the Academic Committee of ERIDOB.  

Marcus Grace  is Professor of Science Education and Head of the Education School at the University of Southampton, UK. His main interests include learning and teaching about socio-scientific issues, particularly biodiversity conservation and outdoor science education. He has served as a Chair of the Academic Committee of ERIDOB, and has researched and published widely on education for socio-scientific issues with colleagues around the world. 

Marcus Hammann  is Professor of Biology Education at Münster University, Germany. His research interests include cognitive and affective aspects of evolution and genetics education. He is co-editor of Contributions from Biology Education Research (CBER), the Springer international book series of the European Researchers in Didactics of Biology (ERIDOB) and Chair of the Academic Committee of ERIDOB. 

Book Title : Shaping the Future of Biological Education Research

Book Subtitle : Selected Papers from the ERIDOB 2022 Conference

Editors : Konstantinos Korfiatis, Marcus Grace, Marcus Hammann

Series Title : Contributions from Biology Education Research

DOI : https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-44792-1

Publisher : Springer Cham

eBook Packages : Education , Education (R0)

Copyright Information : The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2024

License : CC BY

Hardcover ISBN : 978-3-031-44791-4 Published: 02 December 2023

Softcover ISBN : 978-3-031-44794-5 Published: 02 December 2023

eBook ISBN : 978-3-031-44792-1 Published: 01 December 2023

Series ISSN : 2662-2319

Series E-ISSN : 2662-2327

Edition Number : 1

Number of Pages : XV, 353

Number of Illustrations : 1 b/w illustrations

Topics : Science Education , Teaching and Teacher Education , Study and Learning Skills , Life Sciences, general

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  • 20 November 2023
  • Correction 27 November 2023

Why these PhD scientists swapped research for secondary-school teaching

  • Anne Marie Conlon

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Joaquín Ramírez Ramírez teaches students with a whiteboard while sitting on the grass

Joaquín Ramírez Ramírez (holding board) enjoys trying out different styles of teaching and seeing what works. Credit: María Paula García

Eleven years ago, James Carey swapped life as a postdoctoral researcher in molecular and cellular biology to become a science teacher. He settled into his current role at a small secondary school in Norwell, Massachusetts, in 2013. Some friends, he says, still wonder why he spent so long studying, only to take up a job that doesn’t require that level of education. But for Carey, this was the right path. When he was an early-career scientist, he thought a non-academic career meant you were “kind of a failure”, he says. He now sees this as a “very silly mentality”.

“I don’t think that my journey would be nearly as fulfilling as it is if I had done it a different way,” he says. “I realize now that it doesn’t matter how you get there, or where you end up. It’s just what you do with what you’ve got when you’re there. I’m trying to make the most of everything that I’ve learnt through science and through life, and bring that into the classroom.”

Carey got his PhD at the University of Washington in Seattle in 2005, but his research wasn’t leading him towards the shining academic career that he’d dreamt of. He didn’t publish as much as he wanted, and when his postdoc at University of Massachusetts (UMass) Chan Medical School in Worcester came to an end in 2011, he found it difficult to get an academic post, leaving him dejected.

With a second child on the way, he knew he needed more stability. “When I sat back to reassess and re-evaluate what I liked about science,” he says, “I kept going back to how I really enjoyed mentoring young scientists, helping them learn the techniques, connect the dots, find their own story and put the pieces of that puzzle together.”

Carey is not the only academic researcher to find happiness and career satisfaction as a science teacher at the secondary-school level. The work can be challenging, and the pay might be lower than in academia, but job stability and passing on a passion for science to the next generation more than make up for it. Here, those who’ve jumped from the university lecture hall to the school classroom share what inspired them, and highlight why others pursuing PhDs might also find their calling in secondary-school teaching (see ‘Considering being a schoolteacher?’). When he was a school student, “it was my science teacher who lit that spark in me”, says Carey. “If I could do that for even just one kid, that would be worth it.”

Considering being a schoolteacher?

Teachers with PhDs give tips for making the transition.

Consider your motivations

“It’s not for people who want long holidays. It’s really for people who have a vocation,” says retired teacher Suzanne Kalka, who now works in science communication in Manchester, UK.

Get into the classroom as a temporary teacher to see if it’s right for you

“You certainly get a feel for the type of audience that you would have” by standing in for someone else, says Cindy Sparks, a teacher at Wachusett Regional High School in Holden, Massachusetts. Would-be teachers “should check that out first and make sure they can handle that”.

Be prepared for a challenge

Teaching can be rewarding, but it’s also challenging and won’t be the right fit for everyone. Anne Gillies moved into teaching after her PhD, but ended up “burnt out” and now works in quality assurance for a biotechnology company in Seattle, Washington. “I knew from the beginning that teaching was exhausting,” she says. “I really wanted to give every single student 110% of myself,” but she found that “having 150 teenagers in a day, I don’t have 150 pieces of me to give”.

Don’t view a career move as a failure

“Try to find joy,” says Joaquín Ramírez Ramírez, who teaches at the Tecnológico de Monterrey high school in Cuernavaca, Mexico. “Let go, leave your past behind. You’re not failing at science. You’re just a scientist that’s become an educator.”

Get the right training

“Even though we know our subjects inside out and upside down, knowing something and teaching it is completely different,” says Kalka. The qualifications needed will vary depending on where you live — many teaching jobs at secondary-school level require some sort of professional certification, such ‘qualified teacher status’ in England and Wales, even if you already have a PhD in the subject you want to teach.

From PhD to nurturing pupils

Many of the scientists-turned-teachers whom Nature spoke to cannot pinpoint a moment that made them switch paths. Instead, they experienced a growing discontentment with elements of their scientific work, and a realization that greater job satisfaction could be found elsewhere.

This was the case for Ben Still, who became a schoolteacher in 2014, five years after getting his PhD in neutrino physics at the University of Sheffield, UK. As a postdoc, Still worked on the T2K neutrino experiment in Japan , using machine learning to process data. He liked the international nature of the collaboration, but the administrative demands began to take their toll. “I wasn’t having as much time to focus on the physics analyses that I really enjoyed. I could see that the career path was going towards administration, politics, funding applications,” he says.

James Carey supervises high school students at a microscope

James Carey (in red) prefers the work–life balance that teaching offers. Credit: Jennifer Greenberg

A series of writing and outreach projects reignited his passion, including a collaboration with artist Nelly Ben Hayoun that involved filling a railway arch at London Bridge station with silver balloons to evoke the interior of the Super-Kamiokande neutrino detector in Japan . “I had this interest and passion in explaining the science more than I did in the administration and the politics to drive the science,” he says.

At the end of his postdoc in 2014, he started work at a private school in north London. His first day on the job involved overseeing 30 11-year-olds. “It was a baptism of fire,” he says. He went on to earn his teaching qualification and has been a teacher ever since.

Family matters

For Carey, whose father died when he was 14, teaching gave him the opportunity to be there for his own children as they grew up. “Unfortunately, a life in academia isn’t always conducive to that — [if you spend] long hours working with live organisms, you can’t necessarily say, ‘Hold on, wait, let’s not do this experiment yet, my kid’s got a soccer match’.”

Although working in a secondary school is demanding and often involves overtime, teaching roles still offer more flexibility than academic ones.

Balancing a career with family life was an issue for Cindy Sparks, who got her PhD in molecular cell biology in 1995 at the UMass Chan Medical School. She wanted to pursue research but knew it would require long hours in the laboratory. When, as a postdoc, she gave birth to twins in 1998, “it became nearly impossible to navigate that track”, she says.

Cynthia Sparks teaches a group of students in a classroom

Cindy Sparks switched to teaching after giving birth to twins made it “nearly impossible” to remain on the academic path. Credit: Sammie Doxsey

In 2007, when her children were in school, Sparks went back to research at UMass as a postdoc in molecular medicine, benefiting from a US National Institutes of Health ‘re-entry grant’, an award that encourages scientists to return to work after time off for family commitments. She taught lecture and lab courses on the side, and in secondary schools as a visiting scientist. “I knew that I was good at that and, gradually, I became aware of how rewarding it was to inspire people and make a difference. Research was making a difference too, [but] it was taking too much of my life to do.”

In 2012, Sparks moved to teaching full-time, and she has spent the past ten years as a biology and chemistry teacher at Wachusett Regional High School in Holden, Massachusetts. Apart from loving what she does, she also appreciates the security of her role. “I make good money. And I’m in a union. So I’m in a very secure job,” she says, adding that many postdocs and pre-tenure faculty members at universities have comparatively less security and lower pay.

Inspiring next-gen scientists

Some scientists who choose to teach after their PhDs are driven by the chance to open up science as a career path to secondary-school students who hadn’t previously considered it. Suzanne Kalka started teaching physics at a state-run school in Manchester, UK, 32 years ago, after getting her PhD in cryogenic infrared spectroscopy. Her primary motivation, she says, was to inspire others to get into science.

“I didn’t come from a traditional research scientist’s background. My family was a lower socio-economic group: blue-collar workers, no experience of university,” she says. She discovered in secondary school that science was her passion, but at university, she encountered very few people studying physical sciences who shared her background. “I wanted to encourage girls and [members of] under-represented communities to take science” courses, she says.

Although she could easily have got a job at a prestigious private school, “it wasn’t the demographic of students that I wanted to work with”, she says. “There were too many students getting left behind who weren’t aware that they could have a scientific career, particularly girls.”

She wanted to reach those students as early as possible, when their enthusiasm for science is still high. “They’ve got to get the idea when they’re 11 or 12 that there are viable careers for them,” she says.

Christine Yu at an awards ceremony

Christine Yu challenges her students with hands-on experiments and international science competitions. Credit: Christine Yu

Still was similarly motivated. As the first member of his family to go to university, he says he was lucky to have had the chance to study science in the way he did. “Hopefully I can offer opportunities that I didn’t have to students from similar schooling backgrounds to myself.”

Now based at the private St Paul’s School in London, Still spends much of his time focusing on educational outreach projects, such as a residential summer-school programme, that are also open to students from state-run schools. Being at an institution with well-resourced facilities, he wants to be able to share the benefits “as far and wide as possible”, he says. He hopes these projects will make an impact on students, in that “they would be exposed to stuff that they may not have even realized existed”.

Still also spent a couple of years at Imperial College London teaching a postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE) course, which aimed to get scientists with master’s degrees and PhDs into teaching. He’s been able to pass on his own experience and inspire others to follow a similar path.

Hong Kong-based biology teacher Christine Yu also thinks that the best time to foster young people’s love of science is when they are in secondary school. After earning a PhD in biotechnology at the University of Hong Kong in 2007, she took up a postdoc that included some teaching responsibilities and found that the teaching was where she really shone.

Yu also initiated a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programme with a focus on biotechnology, for students aged 13–15. In this hands-on programme, students modify bacterial genes, visit a university laboratory and speak to working scientists. Together with other schoolteachers and university science academics, she has helped to set up or take teams to science competitions involving research projects submitted by students from Hong Kong and neighbouring Chinese cities, with the opportunity to progress to international competitions.

Yu gets great satisfaction from her students’ success — she speaks proudly about former pupils who are now doing PhDs at prestigious universities abroad. “I’m lucky,” she says. “I have a chance to channel them to take part in challenging competitions to widen their horizons and connect them with other STEM students globally.”

PhD skills transfer to the classroom

Scientists who come to schoolteaching after years as postdocs often realize that this has given them a strong footing in their new career. For biologist Charlotte Wood, who made the move after 20 years as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Nottingham, UK, the depth of her experience gave her confidence in the classroom. Although she admits to initial feelings of ‘impostor syndrome’ when applying for teacher-training courses in her forties, once she started teaching, she found that her years as a working scientist allowed her to explain controversial topics to her students clearly.

“I’m completely confident in rigorous scientific research and the importance of integrity and honesty — like when we’ve talked about the [alleged link between] MMR vaccine and autism,” she says. “I can pull up the original paper, and we can compare it to a new paper.”

Charlotte Wood stands next to a scientific board in a classroom

Years of experience as a bench scientist gives Charlotte Wood confidence when discussing controversial topics with students. Credit: Jessica Stringer

Undertaking a PhD prepares teachers for the classroom, with communication and presentation skills being transferable. It is also essential to have a can-do attitude in a tough classroom environment. “Perseverance is very important” during a PhD, says Yu, and this is a skill she wants to embody for her students. “Most of the time we fail in the experiment, and then we think about how to solve the problem.”

Joaquín Ramírez Ramírez likes to bring experimentation into the classroom. A chemistry and biology teacher at the Tecnológico de Monterrey high school in Cuernavaca, Mexico, he might structure lessons in a systematic way, or adopt a more open-ended approach. “I have this idea or hypothesis [that] I can try in the classroom,” he says, and he can get immediate feedback from students’ test scores.

For Kalka, the best preparation for teaching was working flat out on her PhD. “Doing a science PhD is hard work, physically,” she says. “And it’s like that teaching science in school. You are literally on your feet 12 hours or more a day in a science lab in a school, and you do everything — mop the floors, clean up.”

Although work–life balance and a desire to inspire are big factors for many teachers, others are drawn to education for a different reason — to correct what they see as a systemic flaw. “Our education system has killed the scientist inside me,” says Pankaj Jain, director of Seed2Sapling in Bengaluru, India. The organization, which he co-founded after getting his PhD in molecular biophysics, focuses on promoting constructive learning — letting students experiment and discover answers through play and exploration. The focus should be on nurturing children’s creativity and natural curiosity, he says, instead of just giving them all the answers.

“At least in India, and I’m sure most countries,” he says, “the focus of science or mathematics education is knowing all the concepts, but [with] hardly any exposure to ‘how did they discover it?’.”

Jain and his team work with more than 2 dozen schools that serve around 10,000 students in total. Team members also provide input to committees at the state and national level that plan India’s curriculum. Jain recognizes that that’s a drop in the ocean in a country of 1.4 billion people, but like many working in education, he’s happy to make a positive difference, however small.

Nature 623 , 873-875 (2023)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-023-03612-3

Updates & Corrections

Correction 27 November 2023 : An earlier version of this Career feature erroneously identified Seed2Sapling as a charity.

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Decadal Survey on Biological and Physical Sciences Research in Space 2023-2032

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The Decadal Survey on Biological and Physical Sciences Research in Space 2023-2032 will review the state of knowledge in the current and emerging areas of space-related biological and physical sciences research and generate recommendations for a comprehensive vision and strategy for a decade of transformative science at the frontiers of biological and physical sciences research in space. The study report will help NASA define and align biological and physical sciences research to uniquely advance scientific knowledge, meet human and robotic exploration mission needs, and provide terrestrial benefits.

Background Information

About the Panels

NEW! Visit the  digital interactive summary .



Panel Members Announced December 21, 2021

The National Academies is pleased to announce the members of the Physical Sciences Panel and the Biological Sciences Panel of the Decadal Survey on Biological and Physical Sciences Research in Space.

Biological and Physical Sciences in Space Decadal: Early Career Webinars September 2, 2021

The National Academies held a two-part webinar series, designed for early-career researchers to learn how they can get involved in the decadal survey process on September 2 and 14, 2021. Watch the webinars here .

2020 Webinar on Research Campaigns March 3, 2021

In September 2020, the National Academies invited NASA to present ideas for "research campaigns," which may integrate multiple missions and multiple disciplines to tackle an overarching scientific or exploration goal. During the webinar, invited speakers discussed the decadal survey, flagship missions in NASA's science mission directorate, and how to form teams and develop ideas for decadal survey white papers.  Watch the webinar video and download event slides here . 


Cover art for record id: 26750

Thriving in Space: Ensuring the Future of Biological and Physical Sciences Research: A Decadal Survey for 2023-2032

Research in biological and physical sciences in space provides the critical scientific and technological foundations that make space exploration possible. As humanity looks towards the Moon and Mars for future missions, this work is needed to help astronauts adapt and live in the harsh environments of space. Thriving in Space provides a roadmap for increasing national investment in biological and physical science research, from experiments to infrastructure to education. This report identifies key scientific questions, priorities, and ambitious research campaigns that will enable human space exploration and transform our understanding of how the universe works.

Thriving in Space reviews the state of knowledge in the current and emerging areas of space-related biological and physical sciences research and generates recommendations for a comprehensive vision and strategy for a decade of transformative science at the frontiers of biological and physical sciences research in space. This report will help NASA define and align biological and physical sciences research to uniquely advance scientific knowledge, meet human and robotic exploration mission needs, and provide terrestrial benefits.

Read Full Description

  • Public Briefing Slides
  • Interactive Overview
  • Press Release
  • Public Briefing Video
  • White Papers
  • Nominations
  • Request for Information

Call for White Papers

The Decadal Survey on Biological and Physical Sciences Research in Space 2023-2032 accepted white papers June 17-December 23, 2021. Read the white paper specifications (PDF)  and view the FAQ (PDF) .

Topical White Papers

  • Submit a Topical White Paper
  • Deadline: October 31, 2021
  • View current submitted Topical White Papers  (CSV file)

Research Campaign White Paper

  • Submit a Research Campaign White Paper
  • Deadline: December 23, 2021
  • View current submitted Research Campaign White Papers  (CSV file)

Accepting Nominations November 4, 2021

The Decadal Survey on Biological and Physical Sciences Research in Space 2023-2032 accepted nominations for the Engineering and Science Interface Panel October 8 - November 1, 2021.

Accepting Nominations February 10, 2021

The Decadal Survey on Biological and Physical Sciences Research in Space 2023-2032 accepted nominations for the steering committee and science panels February 10-March 31, 2021.

Request for Information (RFI) December 23, 2021

The Space Studies Board of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine accepted responses to a RFI for a contractor to support the independent Technical Risk and Cost Evaluation (TRACE) process for the Decadal Survey on Biological and Physical Sciences Research in Space 2023-2032 on November 4- December 3, 2021. Read the details (PDF) .


  • Where NASA capabilities or ability to assume high risk enable it to uniquely support the research enterprise, and where support roles might feasibly be transitioned to commercial providers,
  • Roles played by NASA's biological and physical sciences program in supporting the conduct of space research, particularly in light of the mission and capabilities of the International Space Station (ISS) National Laboratory, limited lifetime of the ISS, and the prospect of commercial platform(s) in low Earth orbit (LEO),
  • Existing and potential new research synergies between NASA and other U.S. government agencies, opportunities for collaborative research that are relevant to science priorities between Science Mission Directorate’s science divisions, as well as with commercial entities and international partners; and
  • The current position and expected evolution of the U.S. relative to other countries in the areas covered by the study, including the uniqueness (or lack thereof) of U.S. efforts.
  •  Describe how the identified research objectives could produce knowledge, enable exploration activities, or provide benefits to terrestrial and other applications;
  •  Recommend criteria for identifying and updating a high value research portfolio that is enabled by exploration and/or enables exploration;
  • Apply these criteria to recommend a high value research portfolio that is enabled by exploration and/or enables exploration.
  • Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences
  • Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board
  • Space Studies Board

Consensus Study

  • Biology and Life Sciences
  • Engineering and Technology
  • Health and Medicine
  • Math, Chemistry, and Physics
  • Space and Aeronautics

Contact the Public Access Records Office to make an inquiry, request a list of the public access file materials, or obtain a copy of the materials found in the file.

Committee Membership Roster Comments

Note 1: 4/20/21 Committee chairs posted. Note 2: 8/11/21 Committee members posted. Note 3: 8/13/21 Posted one additional member (Chaikin). Note 4: 12/23/21 Added one additional member (Rockward) Note 5. Luis Zea term ended 6/28/22 (8/4/22)

  • Decadal Survey on Biological and Physical Sciences Research in Space 2023-2032: Biological Sciences Panel
  • Decadal Survey on Biological and Physical Sciences Research in Space 2023-2032: Engineering and Science Interface Panel
  • Decadal Survey on Biological and Physical Sciences Research in Space 2023-2032: Physical Sciences Panel

Related Publications

The 2011 National Research Council decadal survey on biological and physical sciences in space, Recapturing a Future for Space Exploration: Life and Physical Sciences Research for a New Era , was written during a critical period in the evolution of science in support of space exploration. The research agenda in space life and physical sciences had been significantly descoped during the programmatic adjustments of the Vision for Space Exploration in 2005, and this occurred in the same era as the International Space Station (ISS) assembly was nearing completion in 2011. Out of that period of change, Recapturing a Future for Space Exploration presented a cogent argument for the critical need for space life and physical sciences, both for enabling and expanding the exploration capabilities of NASA as well as for contributing unique science in many fields that can be enabled by access to the spaceflight environment.

Since the 2011 publication of the decadal survey, NASA has seen tremendous change, including the retirement of the Space Shuttle Program and the maturation of the ISS. NASA formation of the Division of Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications provided renewed focus on the research of the decadal survey. NASA has modestly regrown some of the budget of space life and physical sciences within the agency and engaged the U.S. science community outside NASA to join in this research. In addition, NASA has collaborated with the international space science community.

This midterm assessment reviews NASA's progress since the 2011 decadal survey in order to evaluate the high-priority research identified in the decadal survey in light of future human Mars exploration. It makes recommendations on science priorities, specifically those priorities that best enable deep space exploration.

Cover art for record id: 24966

A Midterm Assessment of Implementation of the Decadal Survey on Life and Physical Sciences Research at NASA

More than four decades have passed since a human first set foot on the Moon. Great strides have been made in our understanding of what is required to support an enduring human presence in space, as evidenced by progressively more advanced orbiting human outposts, culminating in the current International Space Station (ISS). However, of the more than 500 humans who have so far ventured into space, most have gone only as far as near-Earth orbit, and none have traveled beyond the orbit of the Moon. Achieving humans' further progress into the solar system had proved far more difficult than imagined in the heady days of the Apollo missions, but the potential rewards remain substantial.

During its more than 50-year history, NASA's success in human space exploration has depended on the agency's ability to effectively address a wide range of biomedical, engineering, physical science, and related obstacles—an achievement made possible by NASA's strong and productive commitments to life and physical sciences research for human space exploration, and by its use of human space exploration infrastructures for scientific discovery. The Committee for the Decadal Survey of Biological and Physical Sciences acknowledges the many achievements of NASA, which are all the more remarkable given budgetary challenges and changing directions within the agency. In the past decade, however, a consequence of those challenges has been a life and physical sciences research program that was dramatically reduced in both scale and scope, with the result that the agency is poorly positioned to take full advantage of the scientific opportunities offered by the now fully equipped and staffed ISS laboratory, or to effectively pursue the scientific research needed to support the development of advanced human exploration capabilities.

Although its review has left it deeply concerned about the current state of NASA's life and physical sciences research, the Committee for the Decadal Survey on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space is nevertheless convinced that a focused science and engineering program can achieve successes that will bring the space community, the U.S. public, and policymakers to an understanding that we are ready for the next significant phase of human space exploration. The goal of this report is to lay out steps and develop a forward-looking portfolio of research that will provide the basis for recapturing the excitement and value of human spaceflight—thereby enabling the U.S. space program to deliver on new exploration initiatives that serve the nation, excite the public, and place the United States again at the forefront of space exploration for the global good.

Cover art for record id: 13048

Recapturing a Future for Space Exploration: Life and Physical Sciences Research for a New Era

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College of Biological Sciences

College of Biological Sciences

A mixed origin made maize successful.

Maize (corn) is one of the world's most important staple crops and has great cultural significance for Indigenous peoples in the Americas. New work by Jeffrey Ross-Ibarra at UC Davis and international colleagues shows how maize was domesticated from two wild varieties. (Sasha Bakhter, UC Davis)

  • by Andy Fell
  • November 30, 2023

Maize is one of the world’s most widely grown crops. It is used for both human and animal foods and holds great cultural significance, especially for indigenous peoples in the Americas. Yet despite its importance, the origins of the grain have been hotly debated for more than a century. Now new research, published Dec. 1 in Science, shows that all modern maize descends from a hybrid created just over 5000 years ago in central Mexico, thousands of years after the plant was first domesticated.

The work has implications both for improving one of the world’s most important crops and for understanding how the histories of people and their crops influence each other.

“It’s a new model for the origins and spread of maize, and how it became a staple across the Americas,” said Jeffrey Ross-Ibarra, professor in the Department of Evolution and Ecology at the University of California, Davis and senior author on the paper.

For the last few decades, the consensus has been that maize ( Zea mays ) was domesticated once from a single wild grass – called teosinte -- in the lowlands of southwest Mexico about 9,000 to 10,000 years ago. Known as corn in the United States, maize is not only a staple of diets around the globe, but also can be processed into sweeteners, ethanol fuel and other uses.

More recently, though, it’s become clear that the genome of modern maize also contains a hefty dose of DNA from a second teosinte that grows in the highlands of central Mexico.

Ross-Ibarra and collaborators in the U. S., China and Mexico analyzed the genomes of over a thousand samples of maize and wild relatives. They found that about 20 percent of the genome of all maize worldwide comes from this second highland teosinte.

Closeup shot of a maize plant

New model for spread of maize

These new findings suggest that, though maize was domesticated around 10,000 years ago, it was not until 4,000 years later, when it hybridized with highland teosinte, that maize really took off as a popular crop and food staple. This is also supported by archaeological evidence of the increasing importance of maize around the same time.

The new crop spread rapidly through the Americas and later worldwide. Today, about 1.2 billion metric tons is harvested each year globally.

The hunt for why highland teosinte enabled maize to become a staple is still underway, Ross-Ibarra said. The researchers did find genes related to cob size – perhaps representing an increased yield potential – and flowering time, which likely helped maize, a tropical crop, to grow at higher latitudes with longer days.

Hybridization may also have brought “hybrid vigor,” where a hybrid organism is more vigorous than either of its parents. The researchers observed that genomic segments from highland teosinte contained fewer harmful mutations than did other parts of the genome.

While the initial hybridization may have been accidental, it’s likely that indigenous farmers recognized and took advantage of the novel variation introduced from highland maize, Ross-Ibarra said. Even today, he said, “If you talk to Mexican farmers, some will tell you that letting wild maize grow near the fields makes their crops stronger.”

A team led by Ross-Ibarra with Professor Graham Coop at UC Davis, archaeologists at UC Santa Barbara and geneticists at Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences was recently awarded a $1.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation to study the co-evolution of humans and maize in the Americas. They will use genetics to look at how humans and maize spread across the continent and how populations of both maize and humans grew and shrank as they interacted with each other.

“We will incorporate human genetic data, maize genetics and archaeological data in an effort to answer many of the questions raised by our new model of maize origins,” Ross-Ibarra said.

Coauthors on the Science paper are: at UC Davis, Erin Calfee, Sowmya Mambakkam, Mitra Menon, Carl Veller and Daniel Runcie; Ning Yang, Yuebin Wang, Minliang Jin, Lu Chen, Songtao Gui, Wenqiang Li, Jingyun Luo, Shenshen Wu, Siying Wu, Yingjie Xiao and Jianbing Yan, Huazhong Agricultural University, Wuhan; Xiangguo Liu, Jilin Academy of Agricultural Sciences; Miguel Vallebueno-Estrada, Laboratorio Nacional de Genómica para la Biodiversidad, CINVESTAV Irapuato, Guanajuato, México; Brian Dilkes, Purdue University; Xingming Fan, Yunnan Academy of Agricultural Sciences; Thomas Harper, Pennsylvania State University; Samantha Snodgrass, Iowa State University; Douglas Kennett, UC Santa Barbara; Yanli Lu, Sichuan Agricultural University; Xiaohong Yang, China Agricultural University; and Michelle C. Stitzer, Cornell University.  

The work was supported by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the U.S. National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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College Cliffs

The 10 Best Biology Research Paper and Presentation Topic Ideas

Find the best college.

Like most scientific studies, writing biology research papers and presentations is one of the challenging tasks for undergraduates and graduates.

Even high school students find it complicated to write a good biology paper. The main reason is that writing a biology research paper or presentation requires in-depth study and involves significant time and resources.

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While most students strive to write a perfect biology paper, many often disregard the importance of finding the appropriate biology research paper topics first.

Narrowing down the best biology research paper and presentation topic ideas is essential since it makes your research paper high-quality and helps you save time and effort.

After all, choosing a biology topic that doesn’t spark interest will only de-motivate students quickly in the long run.

Best Biology Research Paper and Presentation Topic Ideas - fact

Choosing the Best Biology Topic for Research Papers and Presentations

Students should take their time and think thoroughly when choosing their preferred biology topics. Apart from motivating students, it is crucial to find an interesting biology topic since it forces them to develop their writing, analytical, and research capabilities.

Choosing a boring biology topic or a topic often used by many biology students can be challenging to come up with an outstanding research paper.

Here are some tips on how to find the best topic for your Biology research:

  • Read thoroughly the requirements needed for a biology research paper.
  • Brainstorm keywords, ideas, and breakthroughs in the field. This way, students can narrow down the topics they’re interested in.
  • During lectures and activities, take down notes on the subjects being discussed. Since students gain an overview from their instructors, it’ll become easier for them to focus on one of the topics.
  • Formulate a biology research question and develop it into a comprehensive research topic. From there, students can find an effective stepping stone for their research paper, which makes research paper writing easier.
  • Browse through notes from discussions and presentations to refresh memory, allowing students to find a compelling topic for their research paper.
  • Choose a biology topic from the thesis statement. Since thesis statements discuss an issue that requires solutions, it is an excellent factor for creating a valuable research paper.

Whether you’re finding a topic for a research paper or a presentation, here are ten interesting biology research topics to write about.

Best Biology Research Topics



Do you find it fascinating how the human brain works? Neurobiology research topics are some of the most preferred in Biology. It is a biological field that studies tissues and cells that make up the nervous system.

Unlike neuroscience, neurobiology explores the different biological components of human perception, memory, and thought. It is an interdisciplinary study involving a deeper understanding of biology and the nervous system.

Since neurobiology highlights the physiology of the nervous system, biology students pursuing this topic discover more about the physical components of the nervous system and its interactions with the biological systems.

Given that it is an interdisciplinary field, students will also discover the vital role of neurobiology in psychology, especially in psychotherapy. If you also love psychology, pursuing this topic is an excellent option.

Apart from diseases related to the nervous system, students will also have an in-depth understanding of the role of biology in a person’s mental health.

Sample Neurobiology Topics:

  • Brain Injuries and Related Diseases
  • Factors and Causes Behind Brain Cancer
  • Brain Structures: Male Brain vs. Female Brain

Genetic Biology

Genetic Biology

Do studying genes, cell cycles, and genomes pique your interest? Writing genetic research biology topics is one of the most interesting options to consider.

This biology topic helps students understand the inheritance of traits from parents to their children, handed down from one generation to another. If you often wonder why some parents have offspring who don’t look like them, a Genetic Biology research paper is ideal for you.

Dealing with topics related to chromosomes is also dominant in this field of biology. Hinged on molecular biology research, Genetic Biology also deals with the comprehensive study of human DNA.

The distribution, variation, and structure of genes are researched within the context of population, organism, and cellular levels.

Understanding genetic factors will help students answer some of the most interesting questions about hereditary diseases. Given that, they’ll discover the genetic characteristics of why some disorders are passed down from one generation to the other.

If you want to venture into Genetic Engineering and its benefits in curing genetic diseases, pursuing this research topic makes it easy for students to succeed in their biology studies.

Sample Genetic Biology Topics:

  • Development and History of Genetics
  • Epigenetics
  • Human DNA Structure and History of Diseases



From food science and agriculture to the pharmaceutical industry to nursing, Microbiology is one of the most diverse fields of biology. It is the best biology research topic to pursue if you love anything that can only be seen through a microscope.

Biology students pursuing microbiology research topics study a diverse range of microorganisms, including viruses, archaea, microscopic algae, and bacteria. The application of microbiology in almost all aspects of life makes it easier for students to have an innate passion for writing about this topic.

The study of microbiology helps students understand the genetics, reproduction, physiology, and structure of microorganisms. In healthcare, biology students learn more about mycology, parasitology, and virology.

One of the breakthroughs in microbiology in medical science is fluorescent fusion, a vital process in the rapid detection of pathogens in tissue samples.

The food industry also benefits from students pursuing microbiology, where their expertise is highly needed in the different ways of making food safe and preventing food spoilage.

With pandemics and emerging diseases becoming more rampant, microbiologists can have breakthrough research on finding cures, medications, and other preventive measures for certain diseases.

Sample Microbiology Topics:

  • DNA vs. RNA: Comparison and Differences
  • Traditional vs. mRNA Vaccines
  • Structures of DNA and RNA

Evolutionary Biology

Evolutionary Biology

If you want to explore the histories of different life forms, Evolutionary Biology is the best biology research topic. The study highlights the concepts and theories of how microorganisms and life evolve, the reasons for evolvement, and other related factors. Since evolution is an important aspect of life, delving into Evolutionary Biology topics can benefit us in several ways.

Through Evolutionary Biology, students find proof that all living organisms on the planet have a common origin and assess the biological evolution of individual organisms to populations over different generations. Apart from that, they also understand the various misconceptions about evolution.

One of the most notable discoveries in this field is Charles Darwin’s concept of natural selection. Students research the role of reproduction and survival as some of the crucial aspects of evolution. Like genetics and molecular biology, Evolutionary Biology also involves genes and DNA as part of the study.

Mutation, for instance, occurs when heritable cells of living organisms make a wrong replication of DNAs. Biology students will delve deeper into these topics and make their stand.

Sample Evolutionary Biology Topics:

  • Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and its Relevance Today
  • Human Awareness and Diversity of Life
  • Ecological Factors in the Emergence of Infectious Diseases

Ecology-Concerning Biology

Ecology-concerning Biology

Nowadays, extreme weather and climate change have become more relevant than ever. Ecology-concerning Biology is one of the most crucial scientific ventures as the environment deals with human behavior results.

As a result, new findings can contribute to creating a safer and greener natural world. This field can also be used as a predecessor to med school.

Pursuing ecology-concerning or conservation biology topics, or often environmental biology research topics as a whole, is a stepping stone in a career dedicated to addressing and understanding different threats to the environment.

Both conservation biologists and students discover how humans affect the planet’s biodiversity and ways to prevent species extinction.

Given the environmental diversity, the branch of Ecology offers several sub-topics, including Landscape Ecology , Ecosystem Ecology , Population Ecology , and Community Ecology .

As wildlife or nature advocates, students wanting to become wildlife and ocean conservationists, climate change analysts, hydrogeologists, and environmental protection specialists can benefit from pursuing Ecology-concerning Biology or Conservation Biology topics.

Sample Ecology-concerning Biology Topics:

  • Global Warming and Biodiversity
  • Advantages and Disadvantages of Ecotourism
  • Benefits of Organic Farming

Animal Biology

Animal Biology

Do you love studying biology and have a passion for animals? Animal Biology is undoubtedly one of the most interesting biology topics! It is a biological field focusing on the environments, behaviors, and origins of non-plant living organisms. Apart from that, students explore the physical and chemical composition of animals. 

Although the field primarily focuses on biology, it specializes in other areas that make interesting topics as well, including such as animal behavior, veterinary medicine, zoology, animal cellular, and molecular biology research topics, 

Pursuing research topics in Animal Biology will help students become more knowledgeable in animal genetics, physiology, molecular biology, and animal evolution. They also learn the different principles of biology that are essential in resolving issues involving domestic, wild, urban, and farm animals.

Some relevant topics include animal nutrition and genetics, livestock management, and farm animal protection. As students explore different learning resources, they identify the crucial roles of animals in the cultural, societal, and economic aspects.

While many career opportunities exist, most professional settings in the field of Animal Biology involve working in a laboratory, working hands-on with animals, researching and teaching, or a hybrid of these options.

Sample Animal Biology Topics:

  • Adaptation, Migration, and Hibernation of Animals during Winter
  • Animal Behavior due to Climate Change
  • Factors and Causes of Animal Extinction

Cell Biology

Cell Biology

As its name implies, Cell Biology deals with the smallest living organisms and cellular units of all living things. It is one of the most complex biology research topics, examining the relationship between cellular parts, membranes, and cytoplasm.

From a molecular and microscopic perspective, cell biology studies the interactions, life cycles, and structures of cells. Given the dynamics of cells, it is one of the most progressive areas in the biological field.

Cell Biology doesn’t only involve the overall composition and essence of cells. Students pursuing this topic also discover the different types of cells by function and organism, the biological activity of cells, and other complex cell biology concepts.

Writing about Cell Biology provides students with a detailed understanding of organisms, organ systems, organs, and tissues, involving cell composition. It is a diverse topic that can be interconnected with other specializations, including immunology, microbiology, genetics, and molecular biology.

Thanks to progressive and thorough research in the field, many advancements and breakthroughs have been discovered to improve ways to diagnose, treat, and cure various autoimmune diseases.

Sample Cell Biology Topics:

  • Stem Cell Research or Stem Cells for Therapy and Cancer
  • Dormant Viruses and How They Reactivate
  • Cell Tissue Engineering

Human Behavior and Hormones Biology

Human Behavior and Hormones Biology

Like neurobiology, pursuing Human Behavior and Hormones Biology is a fascinating research topic to write about, dealing with the complexities and diversities of the human mind. 

As biology majors, students discover how evolution significantly affects the human brain. The topics explain how the brain is influenced by early experiences, controlled by hormones, freed and constrained by genes, and developed through time.

These topics also help students understand genetic abnormalities and how they can be passed down from generation to generation.

Through an in-depth study of biology and human behavior, students examine how a single neuron operates and how millions of neurons work in a specific brain area. Depending on the specialization, some students focus more on the comprehensive study of the brain and its regions involving specific behavior and emotions.

This field of biology also discusses genes and how they influence behaviors from specific genders. Students identify how genes facilitate a series of reactions to their current environment.

The study can interconnect with the field of psychology, discovering advanced treatments for some of the most common psychological disorders.

Sample Human Behavior and Hormones Biology Topics:

  • Behavioral Economics
  • Differences and Similarities between Male and Female Hormones
  • The Biology behind Mental Health and Psychological Disorders

Immune System Biology (Immunology)

Immune System Biology (Immunology)

With several infectious diseases emerging, any breakthrough in Immune System Biology is highly desired. As part of students’ research works and presentations, writing about this biology topic helps them identify several factors affecting the immune system.

They learn how the immune system protects the body from pathogens, including toxins, fungi, viruses, and bacteria. Like cell biology, Immune System Biology explores the different proteins, cells, and organs that help the body fight against autoimmune diseases and other disorders.

Biology majors in this field understand the fundamentals of immunology and certain diseases. The topic discusses how certain diseases manifest due to weakened immune systems.

Students also learn how immunodeficiency conditions increase the risk of cancers and infections caused by gene mutation, malnutrition, and viruses like SARS-COV-1 and HIV.

Thanks to the field of immunology, several disciplines have benefitted, especially with diagnoses and treatment plans to cure certain physical and mental disorders. The field has interconnections with several disciplines, including dermatology, psychology, virology, and oncology.

Sample Immune System Biology Research Topics:

  • Effects of Stress on the Human Immune System
  • Vaccination and Its Long-Term Effects on the Immune System
  • Weakened Immune Systems and Related Disorders

Molecular Biology

Molecular Biology

A list of the best biology research topics wouldn’t be complete without Molecular Biology on the list. The study highlights the complex interactions, structures, and compositions of cells in the body.

Unlike cell biology, Molecular Biology is a specialized branch of biochemistry and biology that deals with maintenance, replication, modification, and mutation at the molecular level.

Pursuing this topic for presentations and research papers helps students understand the different lipids, carbohydrates, proteins, DNAs and RNAs, and nucleic and amino acids in the human body. It establishes a concrete foundation on the importance of macromolecular functions, including DNA mutations, transcriptions, and cell division.

One of the most notable topics covered under Molecular Biology is nucleic acids, such as protein synthesis, RNAs, and DNAs. With climate change and pandemics, viruses that have been dormant for years can reactivate.

To discover state-of-the-art treatments and solutions to address health and environmental issues, Molecular Biology motivates students to have breakthroughs in the field.

Sample Molecular Biology Topics:

  • Gene Mutations
  • Human Cloning and its Advantages and Disadvantages
  • Molecular Genetics

Parts of a Biology Research Paper

Choosing a biology research paper topic is equally important as the writing process. While there are different research paper formats available, the outline ultimately depends on the research requirements set by the school or academic program in which students are currently enrolled. 

Ask your instructor to confirm the required formatting style and adhere to it until the end of your research work. Students can also visit their school’s website, seek guidance in their writing center, or get ideas by hiring writers from a writing service organization.

 As an overview, most biology research papers have the following outline:

  • Introduction
  • Body of the research
  • Additional Information

There are NO Easy Biology Research Topics!

Biology is one of the most diverse fields in the world of sciences, with various branches and sub-branches. Given the variety of good biology research topics, it is a minefield out there for students looking to ace their papers by featuring the most interesting and fitting topics on biological processes.

This article highlights some of the best biology topics for high school and college students and post-graduate majors.

Apart from these topics, the importance of choosing a biology topic and its standard research paper outline were also discussed to bring students confidence and enthusiasm to create a good biology research paper.

Related Resources:

  • Top Survival Tips for Graduate Students
  • The Best Online Degrees for Career Advancement
  • All About the Modern College Student


A mixed origin made maize successful

Maize is one of the world's most widely grown crops. It is used for both human and animal foods and holds great cultural significance, especially for indigenous peoples in the Americas. Yet despite its importance, the origins of the grain have been hotly debated for more than a century. Now new research, published Dec. 1 in Science , shows that all modern maize descends from a hybrid created just over 5000 years ago in central Mexico, thousands of years after the plant was first domesticated.

The work has implications both for improving one of the world's most important crops and for understanding how the histories of people and their crops influence each other.

"It's a new model for the origins and spread of maize, and how it became a staple across the Americas," said Jeffrey Ross-Ibarra, professor in the Department of Evolution and Ecology at the University of California, Davis and senior author on the paper.

For the last few decades, the consensus has been that maize (Zea mays) was domesticated once from a single wild grass -- called teosinte -- in the lowlands of southwest Mexico about 9,000 to 10,000 years ago. Known as corn in the United States, maize is not only a staple of diets around the globe, but also can be processed into sweeteners,ethanol fuel and other uses.

More recently, though, it's become clear that the genome of modern maize also contains a hefty dose of DNA from a second teosinte that grows in the highlands of central Mexico.

Ross-Ibarra and collaborators in the U. S., China and Mexico analyzed the genomes of over a thousand samples of maize and wild relatives. They found that about 20 percent of the genome of all maize worldwide comes from this second highland teosinte.

New model for spread of maize

These new findings suggest that, though maize was domesticated around 10,000 years ago, it was not until 4,000 years later, when it hybridized with highland teosinte, that maize really took off as a popular crop and food staple. This is also supported by archaeological evidence of the increasing importance of maize around the same time.

The new crop spread rapidly through the Americas and later worldwide. Today, about 1.2 billion metric tons is harvested each year globally.

The hunt for why highland teosinte enabled maize to become a staple is still underway, Ross-Ibarra said. The researchers did find genes related to cob size -- perhaps representing an increased yield potential -- and flowering time, which likely helped maize, a tropical crop, to grow at higher latitudes with longer days.

Hybridization may also have brought "hybrid vigor," where a hybrid organism is more vigorous than either of its parents. The researchers observed that genomic segments from highland teosinte contained fewer harmful mutations than did other parts of the genome.

While the initial hybridization may have been accidental, it's likely that indigenous farmers recognized and took advantage of the novel variation introduced from highland maize, Ross-Ibarra said. Even today, he said, "If you talk to Mexican farmers, some will tell you that letting wild maize grow near the fields makes their crops stronger."

A team led by Ross-Ibarra with Professor Graham Coop at UC Davis, archaeologists at UC Santa Barbara and geneticists at Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences was recently awarded a $1.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation to study the co-evolution of humans and maize in the Americas. They will use genetics to look at how humans and maize spread across the continent and how populations of both maize and humans grew and shrank as they interacted with each other.

"We will incorporate human genetic data, maize genetics and archaeological data in an effort to answer many of the questions raised by our new model of maize origins," Ross-Ibarra said.

The work was supported by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the U.S. National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

  • Agriculture and Food
  • Food and Agriculture
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Origin of Life
  • Early Humans
  • Indigenous peoples of the Americas
  • Heirloom plant
  • Domestic goat
  • Genetically modified food
  • Toba catastrophe theory

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of California - Davis . Original written by Andy Fell. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference :

  • Ning Yang, Yuebin Wang, Xiangguo Liu, Minliang Jin, Miguel Vallebueno-Estrada, Erin Calfee, Lu Chen, Brian P. Dilkes, Songtao Gui, Xingming Fan, Thomas K. Harper, Douglas J. Kennett, Wenqiang Li, Yanli Lu, Junqiang Ding, Ziqi Chen, Jingyun Luo, Sowmya Mambakkam, Mitra Menon, Samantha Snodgrass, Carl Veller, Shenshen Wu, Siying Wu, Lin Zhuo, Yingjie Xiao, Xiaohong Yang, Michelle C. Stitzer, Daniel Runcie, Jianbing Yan, Jeffrey Ross-Ibarra. Two teosintes made modern maize . Science , 2023; 382 (6674) DOI: 10.1126/science.adg8940

Cite This Page :

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