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UGA to offer applied biotechnology major

By Cat Holmes
University of Georgia

From DNA fingerprinting to genetically engineered crops, the business of biotechnology – using cellular and molecular processes to solve problems or make products – is booming. The industry's revenues more than tripled from $8 billion in 1992 to $27.6 billion in 2001.

To help meet the need for skilled workers and to provide a groundwork for those who want to pursue a professional degree or graduate school in the field, the University of Georgia will offer students a new major, applied biotechnology, in fall 2003.

"With so many faculty at UGA involved in biotechnology research and development, and so many people moving into biotechnology careers, we think this major is a natural development," said Michael Adang, a biochemist and entomologist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Adang is a co-director of the program.

The degree will incorporate classes from a number of biology-based departments: entomology; animal sciences; crop and soil sciences; poultry science; horticulture; plant pathology; food science; and agricultural leadership, education and communication.

"This is a major for people who are interested in biology with applications and outcomes," said UGA plant geneticist Wayne Parrott, the other co-director.

"There is such a need for people working in this field today," Parrott said. "Let's face it. Even laundry detergents are now the products of biotechnology."

The first two years of the program will provide a core of science courses with hands-on methodology, Parrott said. "Students will learn the fundamentals of biochemistry, molecular genetics and cell biology, including DNA extraction, protein extraction and all that's essential to working with DNA."

Early on, Parrott and Adang will advise students in the program. "We want to get them on track and get them through the first two years," Adang said.

Once the basics are in place, students will specialize in one of three areas: plant, animal or food science. Faculty from appropriate departments will advise and mentor students in their specialty fields for their final two years.

An internship or independent study will be part of the major's requirement. It will allow students to obtain the hands-on experience needed both to work with biotech companies or go on for further studies.

If the class Adang and biochemist Michael Pierce have offered for the last four years is any indication, the new major should be quite popular.

"Our class has provided a nice, enthusiastic introduction to biotechnology topics, and we've grown from 25 students to 70 students," said Adang.

Adang and Parrott modeled the applied biotechnology program after a similar one begun by the University of Kentucky in 1995.

"It has been a very successful degree program for us," said Glenn Collins, director of undergraduate studies for the UK applied agricultural biotechnology program. "About 20 percent of our students go to work for private biotech companies and the other 80 percent go on to get professional degrees or to graduate school."

More information about the new major can be found at http://www.uga.edu/discover/.

(Cat Holmes was a science writer with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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