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BASIC TOOLS IN THE BIOTECHNOLOGY
Biotechnology is an interdisciplinary science that borrows scientific instruments commonly used in chemistry, biochemistry, genetics, and physics laboratories. Very few instruments are specificallydesigned for biotechnology. Those that are unique to biotechnology were developed for the specific needs of particular research studies. A trip to a biotechnology laboratory would seem very much like a visit to any other science laboratory. This is also true for large facilities that produce biotechnology products. The machinery is used in many other industries. However, biotechnology instruments are focused on analyzing, manipulating, or manufacturing the chemicals that make up organisms. The major chemicals of interest in biotechnology are biological molecules called nucleic acids and proteins. Each instrument mentioned in this chapter can be found in most biotechnology industrial settings. Research laboratories are usually limited to particular equipment for research being performed.
Most of the tools of biotechnology are used to identify and isolate many of the biological molecules making up an organism. The identification of biological molecules is called characterization. Characterization tells researchers the specific chemical makeup of a molecule. General chemical characterization techniques help scientists in identifying molecules as one of four major biological molecule categories: carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, or nucleic acids. Resolution is a term used to describe the degree of detail used to characterize molecules. For example, high-resolution characterization provides information about the specific identity of a particular type of biological molecule. Many of the tools described in the following section tell researchers whether a particular protein or sequence of nucleic acids is present in a sample. Isolation is a method of separating a particular molecule from a mixture. Researchers interested in working with a pure sample of a molecule must isolate and collect it from a mixture. Many of the tools that identify molecules also isolate that molecule from the mixture, saving the researcher time and effort.
The first biotechnology tools date back to fermentation jars used to make alcoholic beverages used by ancient people almost 7,000 years ago. Special ceramic pots designed to enhance fermentation were discovered in archeological sites throughout Asia, the Middle East, and South America. Almost 3,000 years ago the Chinese were using devices for culturing and extracting antibiotic chemicals from moldy soybean curd. A boom in scientific instruments started in Europe after the 1600s with the advent of the microscope and new apparatus for conducting chemical reactions. The harnessing of electricity to operate machines refined the instruments used in older biotechnology applications. In addition, electricity permitted scientists to develop the great variety of analytic instruments used every day in biotechnology. By the late 1800s many of the instruments such as centrifuges and incubators seen in modern biotechnology laboratories were being developed. Improvements in electrical circuitry, motors, and robotics further refined the types of instruments used in biotechnology. Instruments were becoming more accurate and simpler to use. The advent of computers fuelled tremendous improvements in biotechnology instruments. Almost all of the instruments used in biotechnology today have a built-in computer or are linked to computers that integrate the instrument with other tools of biotechnology. Computers also make it possible to replace chart paper and older ways of collecting and recording data. This data can now be imported into other instruments or into software that carries out various types of analyses and statistical calculations. The computer can also place the data into an electronic notebook that could be e-mailed to other scientists.
Advances in miniaturization and the creation of lightweight materials for constructing instruments are providing new directions in biotechnology instrument design. Instruments that at one time took up all of the space on a laboratory table can now fit into an area of the sizeof a small toaster. Portable instruments are making it possible for scientists to share and transport expensive and specialized instruments. This is particularly important in bioprocessing operations in which it is favourable to carry out instrumentation procedures at difficult locations of a facility. Miniaturization is leading to the development of microscopic instruments that can be placed into cell cultures of whole organisms for continuous monitoring. New methods of wireless communication are enhancing the ability of the instruments to transfer data. Scientists now have access to instruments that use devices similar to cell phones that can control instruments and transmit data to various computers.
We will explain how to use, calibrate and troubleshoot many pieces of equipments used in biotechnology labs. Some of them are described here based on their function:
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