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Combining biosciences with engineering

Having the relevant technical skills and a basic concept of management is important to foster growth in emerging bioeconomies.

Raman Vaidyanathan | New Delhi |

Biochemical engineering is at the heart of bio-based industries and the emerging bioeconomy, where the focus is on utilising biological resources and bioprocesses for the manufacture of chemicals and pharmaceuticals, and to deal with challenges like environmental pollution, food and energy security.

The Covid-19 pandemic amply illustrates the challenge of a rapid response to emerging threats to human health and the demand for high throughput manufacturing and distribution of vaccines, meeting which requires the right skill sets.

Increasing life expectancies and the burden of chronic diseases have steered growth in the biopharmaceuticals sector, with several pharmaceutical companies foraying into it. The side-effects of small molecule therapeutics, invasive surgical procedures, and the discovery of large molecule therapeutics in treating diseases more effectively have resulted in the development and increased usage of protein and nucleic acid-based diagnostics and therapeutics. Monoclonal antibodies and recombinant enzyme technologies are increasingly being deployed in advanced and growing bio-economies. It necessitates the development of appropriate skill sets to handle manufacturing and distribution requirements.

The challenge of dealing with the drive to net-zero carbon emissions, globally, requires development of environmentally sustainable manufacturing routes, as well as process solutions to cut carbon emissions. We have long been reliant on a fossil fuel-based, petro-chemical economy to drive growth that is no longer sustainable. The growing population and the need to meet its energy, food and chemical demands require the development of sustainable alternatives. It is another driving force for the advancement of bio-economies, as biological resources are renewable and can be a sustainable source to meet growing demands, offering a greener route to manufacturing, with the potential for carbon neutral processes to be developed.

The ability to harness bio-resources and develop bioprocesses to utilise them effectively in manufacturing chemicals and materials, as well as offer sustainable solutions to reduce carbon emissions, is needed to maintain economic growth. Manufacturers are increasingly focusing on adopting modern and environmentally safe technologies to customise products with enhanced functionalities to differentiate them from competitors.

For example, several end-user industries are reliant on industrial enzymes, including those in food and beverage, personal and home care product manufacturing, animal feed, nutraceuticals and biofuel productions. The use of recombinant DNA technologies and customised hosts to produce such enzymes at scale are required. Larger industrial manufacturers are now increasingly developing strategies to meet this demand, and so will need a workforce appropriately trained in skill sets to not only use bioresources but also develop bioprocesses to meet such requirements.

To bring advances in biosciences to the commercial market, engineering skills require a combination of unique abilities and the development of interdisciplinarity. Those equipped in biosciences can upskill in engineering principles and those with an engineering background need an appreciation of biological principles to handle the challenge of translating the advances in synthetic and systems biology.

The emerging discipline of engineering biology needs multidisciplinary skills and a broader exposure to diverse skill sets, including biochemistry, molecular biology, chemistry, biotechnology, computational biology, chemical engineering, biochemical engineering, etc.
The designing and development of biological systems and resources for manufacturing purposes require biological engineering skills.

The development of processes to enable appropriate chemicals to be produced and extracted from biological resources requires bioprocess engineering skills and capabilities.

India is projected to witness rapid growth with the potential to create a $ (United States) 150 billion bioeconomy by 2025 and the opportunity for its young, equipped workforce to deal with this growing demand. A combination of relevant technical skills with the basics of management enables the development of appropriate skill sets required to not only foster economic growth in emerging bioeconomies, but also to sustain them.