How is it like to study Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in Bangladesh?

It has been six years since I am in Dhaka University. This stage of life is the most precious because our activities during this period determine the rest of our life. But I could not say I have laid the foundation for future in the last six years.
Every person should have a clear goal at the end of university. A well-planned career is the only thing that guarantees good fortune. However, when you do not have such a plan you will fail to direct yourself towards something big, you will take random paths and eventually you will find yourself nowhere.

Six years ago I had the plan to train myself as a geneticist. I found in the prospectus of Dhaka University that there is a subject named Genetics. Later, I found out a BSc degree of similar kind is offered but with different name. The name of the degree is BSc in Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology. When I talked to the teachers of the Department of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, I came to know the department was teaching mainly Molecular Biology to make students Biotechnologist! I didn’t know what biotechnology meant and what should be taught in a Biotechnology course. I was dumbfounded among Genetics, Genetic Engineering, Molecular Biology and Biotechnology.

So, I started researching what those disciplines actually meant and what we should expect to learn in those disciplines if we were studying them in any of the world famous universities. I found we were no way close to the graduates of any of those disciplines.

Biotechnology actually is a very much applied discipline which is concerned with application of biological knowledge in industry. In other word, biotechnologists use the techniques and methods invented by biologists to develop a product or service. Example of such product may be drugs, diagnostics, and vaccines or even food like cheese and yogurt. We should never expect biotechnologists to engage in basic research of biological disciplines such as biochemistry, microbiology, molecular biology, zoology, botany and so on.

Molecular Biology is the biology of biomolecules such as DNA, RNA, Proteins, Carbohydrates, and Lipid. It is the study of living processes viewed through the function and interaction of those biomolecules. A molecular biologist is expected to uncover cellular events in terms of those molecules. We may expect to find a researcher or scientist out of a molecular biologist. But, he/she usually does not have much knowledge on biochemistry techniques such as tracking the time course of a reaction through radio-active labeling. Molecular biology techniques are mainly confined to isolation, detection, identification and tracking of biomolecules in cell and outside cell.

Genetics, in earlier days meant the study of the relation of genes with traits. But with the advent of DNA sequencing technology, genetics is now concerned with analysis of DNA sequence of an individual to know how the sequence of nucleotides affects the traits of the individual. By traits I mean both the cellular level characteristics and the organism level characteristics. Techniques used by geneticists are very similar to molecular biology techniques. But they mainly use markers to detect genes and sometimes the gene sequences to do so. But how the sequence of DNA affects the traits of an individual is the scope of a molecular biologist. He/she is expected to study the regulation of gene expression, transcription and translation to find out the cellular and molecular events that give rise to the function of the gene.

Finally, genetic engineering is not a discipline, rather, it is a technique to engineer the genes or DNA of an organism to make it express desirable trait. Through the use of genetic engineering it is possible to develop recombinant microorganisms, genetically modified plant and transgenic animal.
So, the title genetic engineering and biotechnology should imply the use of recombinant DNA technology in large scale production of foods, industrials products, or treatment options. This is cool! But is this realistic? Is it possible for a person to keep on engineering various organisms throughout his life? It requires for a team of researchers belonging to genetics and molecular biology ten to twenty years developing a single marketable transgenic animal or plant. Because the job can be done by the molecular biologists there is no use of genetic engineers who only know the techniques of recombinant DNA.

It is high time we, the genetic engineers and biotechnologists, decided what we really are. Whether we wanted to be biotechnologists or molecular biologists or something else.