Careers in Genetic Engineering
Usha Albuquerque &
Why do we resemble our parents? How does a single cell develop into a living creature? Do you want to know about the science of heredity in living organisms?
The term genetics comes from an ancient Greek word “genetikos” which means “generative” that in turn derives from genesis which means “origin”.
Every living thing, from the most simple to the most sophisticated, carries a genetic code, or “blueprint,” that determines precisely what traits it will have. Genetics is a precise science that enables us to find the most beneficial traits, and incorporate them into various organisms. Genetic engineering is one of the most sophisticated and complicated fields which deals with the study of biological changes in living organisms. It is the branch of biotechnology which deals with the study of cells (smallest living unit), structural and functional unit of living organisms. It is a technology developed by biological sciences for constructing genes and transplanting them from one organism to another. It is the modification of the genetic code through human manipulations. It is also known as the “Science of Heredity” and involves cloning, in-vitro fertilization, species hybridization or direct manipulation of the genetic material itself by the recombinant DNA technique.
Genetic engineering helps engineers to study the behavior of the DNA and gene in the body using artificial methods. Engineers perform various activities such as extracting DNA from organisms, studying changes in the structure and putting it back into the organism, or into another organism. Genetics and genetic engineering are essentially research-oriented fields, with applications in various areas such as medicine, pharmaceuticals, agriculture and environment.
Some of the fields of work in genetic engineering :
Medicine - The remarkable development work carried out by biotechnologists in this field has led to improvement in the methods of diagnosis, medicines and vaccines including those for fatal diseases such as Hepatitis B, AIDs, small –pox and others. Varieties of pharmaceutical products are being structured using genetic engineering. Inherited disorders which till now were thought incurable are now being treated with products of genetic engineering.
Agriculture & Animal husbandry - Genetic engineering in plants and animals is carried out to improve certain natural characteristics of value, to increase resistance to disease or damage and to develop new characteristics etc. The high yielding varieties of seeds, or crop varieties of short duration, or moisture retaining or disease and pest resistant or those suitable for arid / semi-arid areas, otherwise known as GM (Genetically Modified) foods are arrived at as a result of genetic engineering.
Genetically engineered animal growth hormone results in production of high yield and improved quality of animal products. Numerous kinds of genetically engineered, high yielding animal breeds have come up, which has increased the output of dairy products as well as meat products. As a result of this, India has in fact, become the largest milk producer in the world.
Environment: Control of industrial air pollution, waste and effluent treatment are also major areas of work for genetic engineers. They determine the effects of possible biological, physical or chemical contaminants to the air you breathe, the water you drink, and the land on which you live. They study waste management of hazardous substances in order to analyze the risk, the treatment and the methods of containing such hazards, and figure out microbial treatment for oil spills and toxic wastes, etc.
Academic research is technical, conducted more for expanding the horizons of knowledge than for application in specific areas of work. Academic research is conducted not only in medical and academic institutions, but also in some major pharmaceutical and chemical industries.
The basic eligibility criteria for a graduate degree (BE / B.Tech) is 10+2 or equivalent examination, ideally with physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics.
Genetic Engineering is a specialization in Biotechnology and so students can specialize in Genetics or Genetic Engineering while doing their undergraduate degree in Biotechnology.
A qualified genetic engineer, must have a graduate / postgraduate degree in genetics or related fields such as biotechnology, molecular biology, microbiology or biochemistry OR a doctorate (PhD) from a recognised university. The study of Genetics, focusing largely on the life sciences, or genetic engineering covering the technology area is mostly at a Master’s level through an M.Sc or M.Tech and followed by doctoral level research. Graduates with degrees in agriculture, veterinary science and animal husbandry, medical science, one or more of the life sciences, genetics, pharmacy, microbiology, botany, zoology, chemistry, biotechnology, chemical engineering or technology, agricultural engineering, food technology, human biology and allied subjects can get into an M.Sc or M.Tech in genetics, or genetic engineering.
Most institutes do not offer courses in Genetic Engineering as a special discipline but as a subsidiary in biotechnology, microbiology, biochemistry streams. Undergraduate and Postgraduate courses in Biotechnology offer specialization in genetic engineering.
Selection to the graduate courses (B.E. / B.Tech ) is based on merit i.e. the marks secured in the final exams of 10+2 and through entrance exams. Entrance to the IIT’s is through JEE (Joint Entrance Exam) and for other institutions through their own separate entrance exams and other state level and national level exams. Selection to the postgraduate courses (M.Sc / M.Tech) in different universities is through an All India Combined Entrance exam conducted by JNU, New Delhi and to IIT’s through GATE in Two year/ 4 semester M.Tech courses and through JEE in five year integrated M.Tech courses in Biochemical engineering and Biotechnology.
SKILLS REQUIRED: To be a successful genetic engineer, one must have:
*Sharp analytical mind
*Aptitude for research
*High levels of concentration
*Eye for detail
*Abundant physical stamina to put in long hours of work
*Ability to work in a team
There are growing opportunities in India and abroad for those with the necessary abilities and interests in the many inter-related fields of biotechnology and genetics. Genetic Engineering scientists and researchers usually find jobs in the research labs of universities and research institutions. Some even join the R&D section of biotech industries.
Genetic engineers can find employment in-
*Pharmaceutical and medical industries
*Food processing companies, and those involved in bioprocess technology,
*Bio-agriculture (Transgenic varieties, bio-fertilizers, bio-pesticides)
*Research and development departments of the government and private sectors.
*Teaching & Academics
Research organizations in the government and private sector also employ genetists for conducting appropriate research and development studies for application in the areas of concern such as disease prevention, pollution control, waste management, and various chemical processes for increased productivity. Research organisations such as the CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research), ICAR (Indian Council for Agricultural Research), Center for Cellular & Molecular Biology, Institute of Microbial Technology, Central for Plant Biotechnology, Central Drug Research Institute, National Institute of Nutrition, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, National Centre for Biology Sciences, Potato Research Institute, Tobacco Research Institute, recruit those with a minimum master’s qualifications.
Since Genetic Engineering is a highly research oriented field, a PhD degree is imperative if you want to climb up the ladder at work. PhD graduates usually go on to do their postdoctoral training and join universities as professors or enter industry as research scientists.
So if you would like to do research that might one day produce a fruit which carries a safe, effective and inexpensive vaccine for Hepatitis B, or a special rice with added vitamins that helps infants in India fight disease, then genetics or genetic engineering is the career for you. This is not science fiction, but one of the most revolutionary and beneficial sciences today.
Very few universities in India offer Genetic Engineering courses and they are as follows:
*SRM University [B.Tech, M.Tech and PhD in Genetic Engineering]
*Bharath University, Chennai [M.Tech in Genetic Engineering]
*Aryabhatta Knowledge University, Patna [B.Tech and M.Tech in Genetic Engineering]
*Aryabhatta Knowledge University, Bihar
*Madurai Kamaraj University, Madurai, Tamil Nadu
*R.M Institute of Science and Technology, Chennai
*V. Patel College of Engineering, Kherva, Gujarat
*Indian Institute of Science, (IISc), Bangalore
Some Government organizations which recruit genetic engineers are:
*National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi
*Centre for DNA fingerprints and diagnostics, Hyderabad
*Biochemical Engineering Research and Process Development Centre, Chandigarh
*Institute of Genomic and Integrative Biology, Delhi
(Usha Albuquerque is Director and Nidhi Prasad is Senior Counseling Psychologist at Careers Smart Pvt. Ltd e-mail: email@example.com)