Building a Future Around Biotechnology

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As the school year comes to an end, there will be many young adults graduating high school over the next few weeks. Many students are seeking out their next move, trying to figure out what life path to take next. Some may choose to enter the work force and many will continue their course work at the next level. Decisions will be plentiful once they reach this milestone. What career path should I take? What school should I attend? How will I know I can find a job when I graduate?

Parents anxiously wait to see what decisions their child will make while trying to find the balance between encouragement and overbearing demands. Although I personally have about 11 more years before my own children graduate high school, I can only imagine the thought of children actually making such an important life decision on their own may create a few sleepless nights. And I would guess there are those passing thoughts in a parent’s mind of “why isn’t my child taking this more serious,” right? Fortunately, we, as adults, were in this same situation years ago and, somehow, decisions were made and life moved on.

I recently gave a presentation on biotechnology and the future of this industry in North Carolina at a local school for a 7th and 8th grade career fair. It turns out, I learned a lot in preparing for this presentation, and I have a lot more to learn. Biotechnology, in a very simplistic definition, is the use of living systems or organisms to make or develop products. A few early examples of biotechnology that many of you may be familiar with is the use of vaccinations to control smallpox and rabies, bacteria in the fermentation process, and molds, such as penicillin, to stop the duplication of bacteria to develop antibiotics. Biotechnology has been used for over 6,000 years, but researchers continue to develop a better understanding of living organisms, especially their DNA. Recombinant DNA technology (artificially combining DNA from different organisms) and genomics (the process of using recombinant DNA, DNA sequencing, and bioinformatics) have really advanced the growing revolution of biotechnology. There are many sectors of biotechnology including agricultural biotechnology (crop engineering), biofuels, biodefense, biomanufacturing, marine biotechnology, vaccinations, human health, and regenerative medicine.

I know this is starting to sound very scientific, and it is, but as I began to do a little research, I was surprised at the numbers as it relates to this industry in North Carolina. Biotechnology is a $73 billion industry in North Carolina providing over 228,000 jobs with an average salary of $81,000 per year. Better yet, this industry saw 31 percent job growth from 2002 to 2012 in North Carolina compared to 7.4 percent nationally. During this same time period, which included horrific economic hardships, private-sector job growth was reported at 1 percent in North Carolina. North Carolina is well positioned with its amazing university system preparing a talented workforce for this growing industry. This is a major reason flourishing biotechnology companies come to North Carolina and Research Triangle Park. This is also why North Carolina State University is pursuing a Plant Science Initiative to construct a state-of-the-art research facility to build for a future around biotechnology, and feeding a growing world population with less land and resources.

I would encourage any student to learn more about the possibilities of biotechnology as a career by visiting ncbiotech.org. This industry, no matter which sector, looks to be a bright spot for young people in the future. And by the way, we talked to 7th and 8th graders about this, because many high schools offer biotechnology curriculum in their agricultural programs. To learn more about the Plant Sciences Initiative at NCSU, visit https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/spotlight/plant-sciences-initiative/.

For more information, please contact Mac Malloy, Extension Field Crops Agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center, at 671-3276, by E-mail at mac_malloy@ncsu.edu, or visit our website at http://robeson.ces.ncsu.edu/. North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age, veteran status, or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation.