Biotech Innovations That Are Changing the World

Posted by Kelly Juarez
May 30, 2014
Ripening Apples Hang From a Tree

An anxious mother in sub-Saharan Africa walks three hours to seek treatment for her child, who is suffering from fever, nausea, and chills. After some painful blood draws, her worst fears are allayed: her son doesn’t have malaria, a disease that kills a child somewhere in Africa every 60 seconds.  It’s a relief, but the mother and child shouldn’t have had to make the arduous, if not dangerous, trek to get a blood test.  Seeing this problem firsthand during his childhood in rural Nigeria, scientist and inventor Eddy Agbo knew there had to be a better way to diagnose this deadly disease.

After years of research and trials, Dr. Agbo and his team at Fyodor Biotechnologies invented the urine malaria test. Similar to a pregnancy test, it requires no blood or equipment and after only 20 minutes, tells the patient if he or she is infected with malaria. This test can vastly improve malaria diagnoses and treatment options for those affected and the earlier the treatment for malaria, the better the chances of survival.  In some parts of the world, travelling to rudimentary clinics can be an added health risk by placing patients in perilous environments or by aggravating existing problems.  Dr. Agbo’s invention isn’t just convenient -- it can save lives.

The urine test is just one example of the “bioeconomy,” where technological innovation intersects with the power of biology to save lives. But inventions in the bioeconomy can also help solve problems a little closer to home to save money. In the United States, food waste is epidemic, particularly in schools. In one Los Angeles school district alone, students toss $100,000 worth of food per day. Some of the healthiest items on the menu, apples, are often thrown out due to the fact that they easily brown, making them undesirable in the eyes of picky eaters. 

Enter Okanagan Specialty Fruits Founder Neal Carter.  He used biotechnology to create “Arctic Apples” which do not brown, making them appetizing for much longer periods. The implications for this technology could translate into huge improvements for not only the United States, but also the rest of the world, as global post-harvest loss rates hover near 40 percent!

Industry is another sector that can benefit from the bioeconomy revolution.  Usually, when we think of mining, we think of huge trucks, dangerous work, and environmental impacts.  Thanks to companies such as Universal Bio Mining, however, tiny microorganisms are being used to “leach out” minerals from sulfide ores.  This technology reduces cost and environmental damage, because it does not use chemicals and extreme heat, as in traditional mining techniques.  

These inventions were just three of many highlighted during the State Department's “Showcasing the Bioeconomy: The Future is Now” conference on March 24.  The audience of diplomats, academics, and private sector professionals heard from 26 bioeconomy experts how the innovation in the bioeconomy can reduce global hunger and the impacts of climate change, improve global health, minimize our eco-footprint, and increase economic growth.  

Curious about what other cool inventions the bioeconomy has to offer?  Visit our YouTube page to learn more about glowing plants, bone tissue growth, 3D prosthetics, dengue-resistant mosquitos, and much more!

“Showcasing the Bioeconomy: The Future is Now” was jointly hosted by the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs’ Office of Agriculture, Biotechnology, and Textile Trade Affairs, Office of International Intellectual Property Enforcement, and by the Office of the Science and Technology Advisor to the Secretary.

About the Author: Kelly Juarez serves as a Trade Policy Advisor in the Office of Agriculture, Biotechnology, and Textile Trade Affairs.

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