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What does biotechnology have to offer? (V0124)

Representatives from New Zealand's biotechnology sector explain how they think biotechnology might impact agriculture and health in New Zealand.

Biotechnology gives scientists the ability to understand and do new things. What impact will this have on agriculture and human health?
This clip was produced in conjunction with NZBio.

Transcript

Brian Ward (NZBio): What biotechnology will deliver is better health care, improved foods, better and safer agriculture, lower environmental risks, cleaner industrial processing. There are a whole lot of technologies that will be beneficial to everyone within the community.

George Slim (Ministry of Research, Science & Technology): I think one of the big challenges that we face is sustainable agriculture and that we have a relatively small land mass. We are using most of it now for agriculture. We certainly don’t want to chop down any more forests. So we need to basically get more efficient agriculture going and we need to make sure that it is less environmentally damaging. Already we are seeing that dairy farming and so forth is causing environmental damage through nitrogen leaching and so forth. And biotechnology has the tools to answer those problems.

By careful use of biotechnology we can keep New Zealand’s primary production at the forefront of the world’s efficiency, and continue to grow that sector of our country without doing increasing environmental damage. I think that is the big thing that biotechnology has to offer New Zealand in particular.

In world-wide terms I suspect it’s the health aspect. You can do things with biotechnology in terms of targeting diseases that you just cannot do any other way. And they will have a tremendous impact over the next few years. And New Zealand plays a part in that - and quite an advanced part in particular areas.

Brian Ward (NZBio): If you look at what happens in medicine today, many medicines that people take are ineffective because of their personal make-up, and what biotechnology is giving us is an understanding of how a person’s genetic makeup affects their ability to respond to disease. And so what biotechnology offers, is the ability to customise medicines to people’s genetic make-up. And that will make them not only safer but a lot more effective.

Pippa Jeram (Malaghan Institute): Biotechnology is pretty essential for what we are doing, which is trying to get right down to the cellular, or not even cellular, but to the sub-cellular level. And have a look at the different molecular characteristics of cancer cells compared to normal cells and why they just start to proliferate madly and lose all their sensitivity to signals around them and all that sort of stuff. And we’re trying to establish what causes those changes and how you can target those differences so you get really specific cancer therapies without the systemic side effects on your normal healthy cells, so they don’t get harmed. And to be able to look at cells that closely and intently you need to have biotechnological tools to get down that close. For what I am doing that is really important and I think that is applicable to a lot of medical areas, so biotechnology helps you to see things that you otherwise wouldn’t see.

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