UPSC MAINS 2020: Bio – Technology

Topic : Bio – Technology

Topic in Syllabus: General Studies Paper 3: Science and Technology

 

Context:

  • India is among the first countries to set up a specialised agency for the development of research and human resources in the biotechnology sector.
  • Modern biotechnological research is expensive.
  • It requires a highly trained and skilled workforce and access to expensive instruments.

 

What is Biotechnology?

  • Biotechnology is the broad area of biology involving living systems and organisms to develop or make products, or “any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms
  • it often overlaps with the (related) fields of molecular biology, bio-engineering, biomedical engineering, bio manufacturing, molecular engineering, etc
  • biotechnology has expanded to include new and diverse sciences such as genomics, recombinant gene techniques, applied immunology, and development of pharmaceutical therapies and diagnostic tests

 

Employment  :

In India, unlike the IT sector no creation of jobs in biotechnology. 

  • low wages of scientists (compared to the developed economies) 
  • research often requires access to laboratories with high-end scientific infrastructure,
  • The supply of expensive chemicals and reagents with minimum shipping time between the supplier and the user
  • disciplined work culture and documentation practice due to regulatory and intellectual property filing requirement
  • Biotechnology products and solutions often require ethical and regulatory clearance, making the process long, expensive and cumbersome.
  • nature of the work in the biotechnology sector is specialised, hence most jobs are filled with experienced and skilled scientists leaving the demand for young and inexperienced ones low.

 

Chinese example:

  • Unlike India, China has many more labs with the best of scientific infrastructure; 
  • Chinese students and scientists outnumber Indians nearly 5:1 in most American universities in the life sciences/biology-related disciplines.
  • A booming economy and a higher science budget coupled with a flexible hiring system have made Chinese universities and research labs attract many overseas Chinese scientists.

 

Boston and Silicon Valley in the U.S example :

  • The availability of funding, infrastructure and skilled workforce, 
  • the presence of top-notch research institutions and universities in the vicinity 

make these two places among the most attractive locations for biotech startup companies anywhere.

 

Innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology creation:

  • The government has been supporting biotech entrepreneurs. Initiatives through the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) of the Department of Biotechnology
  • The government is very encouraging and promoting entrepreneurship, but the culture of institutions and scientists to be entrepreneurial will take time.

 

Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) 

  • is a not-for-profit  Enterprise, set up by Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India 
  • Interface Agency to strengthen and empower the emerging Biotech enterprise to undertake strategic research and innovation, addressing nationally relevant product development needs.
  • BIRAC’s aim is to play a transformative and catalytic role in building a US$ 100 billion Indian bioeconomy.

 

Way forward:

  • The fruits of applied research will only come when we start investing in basic research without asking for quick returns.
  • The government should encourage and incentivise the private sector to invest substantially in applied research
  • Our government needs to make the process of hiring in our universities and national labs simpler and flexible, not necessarily provide more salary, to attract the bright overseas Indian scientists.
  • academia-industry linkage will do the much-required communication and understanding of the problems at both ends.
  • Flexible policy in the institutes to allow scientists incubate startup companies in their labs while retaining their positions. 
  • The government should let scientists from research institutions and universities take unpaid leave to join the industry for a fixed period. 
  • The government should relax rules to appoint researchers from industry in faculty positions with the freedom to teach, participate, and take students. 
  • A sustained effort in encouraging and promoting science-driven innovation in our academic institutions
  • A robust academia-industry collaboration, biotechnology-led innovation 

 

Conclusion:

  • One needs to go beyond the traditional indicators such as the numbers of institutions formed, students and scientists trained, and the number of patents filed to judge the sector’s performance, and its impact on the economy and society as a whole.
  • unlike the IT sector, a sustained innovation and product development model in the biotechnology field without enriching the academic institutions is not possible.

 

Sample Question:

 

Why has India not made much progress in the biotechnology despite its research budget growing several folds?