Categories: Life Sciences

Biotechnology: Definition, History, Career and Courses

Modern biotechnology has allowed the world to produce breakthrough technologies and products. These solutions have then been used to mitigate rare and debilitating diseases, feed the hungry, make industrial manufacturing processes cleaner and more efficient, use cleaner energy, and reduce our environmental footprint. But what exactly is biotechnology? What is its history and future and why should you study it? Let’s explore this exciting field further. 

What is Biotechnology? 

Biotechnology refers to all practices, processes, or technology that harness or modify living organisms or systems for human use. When we break down the term, it will show ‘bio’ which is life and technology referring to the application of science for a certain purpose. Generally, biotechnology uses living cells to manipulate or create products for specific use. A good example is genetically modified plants.  

As a field, it is linked to genetic engineering and divided into five branches – animal, plant, industrial, environmental, and human. It helps us make production safer, cleaner, and more efficient, fight disease and hunger, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and save energy. 

History of Biotechnology 

In its basic form, biotechnology has been around for thousands of years, dating back to when human beings began using fermentation to produce wine, beer, and bread. Previously, biotechnology principles were restricted to agriculture like breeding livestock and using the best seeds to improve yields and harvest quality. This changes over the centuries. 

The biotechnology field developed rapidly and steadily following the discovery of microorganisms in the 19th century. Gregor Mendel is credited with this growth thanks to his ground-breaking study of genetics, microbial processes, and fermentation. In the 20th century, notable names in the field like Alexander Fleming furthered biotechnology by discovering penicillin. 

The large-scale production of penicillin in the 1940s was a huge step for biotechnology but the field really blossomed in the 1950s. This was thanks to the improved understanding of molecular biology and cell function. Since then, every decade has marked a major breakthrough in biotechnology, including: 

  • 1950s: Discovery of DNA’s 3D structure 
  • 1960s: Synthesis of insulin and development of vaccines for rubella, mumps, and measles. 
  • 1980s: Development of the first biotech-derived vaccines and drugs for cancer and hepatitis. 

Biotechnology at Present 

Biotechnology has been crucial to the enhancement of traditional practices like fermentation and food processing. It is responsible for the development of innovative technology for the industrial production of antibiotics, hormones, energy sources, and food products. In recent years, it has also set off the launch of giant biotechnology companies like Celgene, Biogen Idec, Amgen, and Gilead Sciences. 

Many biotech firms – big and small – are making leaps and bounds in medical industry areas like proteomics, genomics, and drug development. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these companies led the charge in researching, developing, producing, and administering effective vaccines. 

Type of Biotechnology Courses

Universities that offer biotechnology courses focus on the mechanics of the field in a bid to provide specialised study. The different types of courses available to students include: 

Undergraduate Degree Programmes 

Undergraduate degree programmes in the biotech field typically last between 3 to 5 years and are designed to introduce learners to biotechnology basics, applications, and components. Topics covered at this level generally include bioethics, pharmaceutical development, molecular genetics, organic chemistry, animal physiology, health product regulation, and microbiology. To qualify, learners must have a high school qualification in a combination of mathematics, biology, chemistry, and physics. 

Postgraduate Degree Programmes 

Postgraduate degree programmes in this field, like MA in Biotechnology and MSc Biotechnology usually last between 1 to 3 years. They delve into more advanced topics and are supposed to equip learners with skills such as research, data analysis and interpretation, and critical analysis. For this, you need an undergraduate degree in a biology-related course to qualify. 

Doctoral Degree Programmes 

The length of a biotechnology PhD will generally depend on the programmes. These courses are research-orientated and very advanced, often involving the use of statistical software, survey methods, and research tools. You will need an MA or MSc to apply. 

 Career Opportunities for Biotechnology Graduates 

Typically, biotech professionals research and study advanced therapies like biopharmaceuticals, gene therapy, and stem cells. The top career opportunities you explore with biotech training include: 

1. Animal Technician 

An animal technician oversees the welfare of lab animals used for scientific research, such as guinea pigs, rats, mice, dogs, rabbits, farm animals, and monkeys. As an animal technician, you are responsible for working one on one with these animals and supporting medical, agricultural, pharmaceutical, and veterinary scientists in their research. 

2. Biotech Consultant 

Biotech consultants advise biotech company managers on how to develop new services and products or improve production efficiency. They should be highly knowledgeable in emerging products, equipment, and therapies in the industry. Overall, their job involves inspecting company equipment, reviewing financial data, and observing production cycles to identify areas that need improvement. 

3. Clinical Research Associate and Technician 

A clinical research associate supports the work of biotech scientists. For instance, they may record and monitor the vital signs of a patient under an experimental procedure or analyse tissue samples and bodily fluids. Research technicians, on the other hand, provide technical and administrative assistance in lab settings. They order, set up, organise instruments, and record research data. 

4. Chemical Operator 

A chemical operator is responsible for maintaining and controlling heavy machinery at chemical plants. They also go through project reports to identify the necessary machinery, technology, and chemical materials required to complete a project. Additionally, they weigh, sort, and mix chemical materials to produce chemical reactions in a controlled and safe environment. 

5. Biomedical Engineer 

A biomedical engineer combines biological and engineering expertise to design solutions to medical and biological problems. They design biomedical devices and equipment to enhance the effectiveness and quality of patient healthcare. Also, they are responsible for designing medical software like diagnostic machines, prostheses, and artificial organs. 

6. Biochemist 

A biochemist studies the chemical properties of biological processes like disease, heredity, cell growth, and cell development and living things. They perform complex research projects with molecules like DNA, lipids, proteins, and carbohydrates. They also study the effects of nutrients, hormones, and drugs on biological processes and tissues to develop products and processes that improve human health. 

7. Medical Scientist 

A medical scientist performs clinical research to investigate diseases and prevention methods in a bid to improve patient health. They also test and develop medical devices. Elsewhere, medical scientists frequently analyse medical samples to study the treatments and causes of chronic diseases, pathogens, and toxicity. They are also crucial to standardizing drug methods, doses, and potency for mass distribution and manufacturing of medicine. 

8. Clinical Technician 

Clinical technicians are also referred to as biological technicians or medical laboratory scientists. They perform tests, collect samples, and analyse results for bacteria cultures, tissue, and body fluids. Also, they use automated equipment, specialized computer software, advanced robotics, and lab instruments to model, analyse, and collect experimental data. 

9. Microbiologist 

A microbiologist studies the immune system, bacteria, and viruses to develop industrial and biomedical products. They perform complex lab experiments and research projects to help in the treatment and diagnosis of infectious illnesses. 

10. Process Development Scientist 

A process development scientist supervises the manufacturing process in a firm’s lab, finding ways to improve efficiency and quality. When a new product is developed and approved for manufacturing, they come up with ways to scale production in line with standardized protocols. 

11. Biomanufacturing Specialist 

A biomanufacturing specialist uses methods and tools to ensure biotech products meet the set requirements for quality, potency, safety, and purity during manufacturing. They often take part in the large-scale production of proteins used to treat illnesses. Consequently, they will need to understand the various industry, state, and federal regulatory standards. 

12. Business Development Manager 

A business development manager provides competitive information and detailed marketing analysis to a biotech company so that it can develop and execute investment and growth strategies. They take part in the assessment and execution of collaborative research, acquisition, expansion, and partnering opportunities with other biotech companies. 

13. Product Strategist 

Product strategists identify and guide biotech companies on where their products go i.e. what their market is. They investigate competitive intelligence and compare their company’s strategies with those of rivals to improve product performance. 

14. Biopharma Sales Representative 

A biopharma sales representative serves biotech clients by anticipating and meeting their needs using pharmaceutical products. Their work involves frequent travel within an assigned territory where they visit doctor’s offices and hospitals to educate health officials about their firm’s pharmaceuticals. 

15. Medical Scientist 

A medical scientist performs research in a bid to improve human wellness and health. They design medical devices, study disorders and diseases, and oversee clinical trials in fields like cardiology or neurology. Most medial scientists have a PhD. 

16. Pharmaceutical Manufacturer 

A pharmaceutical manufacturer produces pharmaceutical products like chemical compounds and medications. They identify the required supplies and equipment for manufacturing these materials to meet consumer needs and demands. 

17. Biotechnological Technician 

A biotechnological technician offers technical assistance during the manipulation of organisms or biological system components. They study and explore the industrial applications of tissues and cells and their chemical, genetic, and physical properties. 

18. Epidemiologist 

Epidemiologists study the effects, causes, and history of epidemics and infectious organisms. They research and discover how factors like living conditions, food, habits, environment, and genes affect people’s vulnerability to certain diseases. 

19. Microbiologist 

A microbiologist studies cells, viruses, and bacteria to determine the conditions they need to thrive. They then develop and conduct studies and experiments to produce medical products like vaccines and treatments for diseases.  

20. Medical and Clinical Lab Technologist 

A medical and clinical lab technologist is a professional that provides technical assistance during laboratory tests. They analyse body fluid samples, tissue, and blood, looking for microorganisms like bacteria and parasites. They also determine chemical content, cell count, drug levels, and blood type. 

21. Biomanufacturing Specialist 

A biomanufacturing specialist is involved in the early phases of pre-clinical and clinical stage development of cell therapy products. Their roles include process development, quality control testing, and performing manufacturing operations. 

22. Bioproduction Specialist 

A bioproduction specialist oversees all production activities involving cell culture. They also review, edit, complete, and revise completed SOPs, logbooks, and batch records in line with cGMP standards. 

23. R&D Scientist 

Research and development scientists are responsible for the planning and implementation of scientific projects. They collect data, conduct experiments, and produce reports to study the environment, explore scientific principles, discover new scientific advancements, test new drugs, and more. 

Top Reasons to Study Biotechnology in MDIS 

At MDIS School of Life Sciences, we take a professional, business-focused, and research-intensive approach to biotechnology as a field. Our biotechnology UK honours degree is awarded through Northumbria University – an institution that is synonymous with academic excellence. We are dedicated to providing you will all the tools you need to be a biotech leader in the future. Our programme will:

  • Give you an appreciation of the role of scientific research in biotechnology advancement and an understanding of the political, ethical, and economic impacts of the field on society. 
  • Provide you with an understanding and knowledge of the basic scientific underpinnings of biotechnology, including bioinformatics and molecular biology. 
  • Nurture your practical and information technology skills and allow you to pursue a career in the global biotech industry. 
  • Advance your understanding of the science that is spearheading developments in biotech. 
  • Prepare you for employment by equipping you with transferable skills like data analysis, numeracy, IT, communication, independence, self-management and reflective practice. 

Our collaboration with the esteemed Northumbria University is designed to give learners an exciting and extensive portfolio of programmes that grows you into a highly competent professional with global potential. Studying with us is the best way to build your future in biotechnology. 


Biotechnology is not a new field but it grows significantly every year, producing more and more real-life applications. From food production and waste management to pharmaceutical development, the impacts of this discipline are global and life changing. If you are interested in pursuing a biotechnology course, look no further than MDIS. We have partnered with respected and renowned universities to give you holistic training that readies you for the world of biotech. 


Founded in 1956, the Management Development Institute of Singapore (MDIS) is Singapore’s oldest not-for-profit professional institute for lifelong learning. MDIS has two main subsidiaries: Management Development Institute of Singapore Pte Ltd which oversees its Singapore academic operations, and MDIS International Pte Ltd which focuses on MDIS’ globalisation strategy. MDIS offers internationally-accredited courses in Business and Management, Engineering, Fashion and Design, Health and Nursing, Information Technology, Languages and Education, Life Sciences, Media and Communications, Psychology, Tourism and Hospitality Management, and Safety and Environmental Management.

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