Shaping the future
You might think that we know all there is to know about biology. It is true that we have learnt a lot (but not everything) about how individual bits and individual organisms work, but organisms (be it humans, animals, plants or even bacteria) don’t live as individuals and there is still a lot of work to be done in understanding how communities work.
Biology is so key to our fundamental existence that there will also be jobs for people who are interested in how to shape the science of the future.
Biologists have a vital role to play in exciting developments for the future, working to produce new and innovative technologies and preparing us for the impact and consequences of climate change. Many new technologies are closer than you think….
Follow a career in biology and you can make a difference. You could tackle some of the big problems facing our society and help to improve our quality of life for the future.
Exciting advances are happening in medicine and in the future, we may get our medicines personalised to us, based on our DNA and environment, making sure we get the most effective treatments possible.
Now that rapidly sequencing an individual's DNA is possible, scientists looking at pharmacogenetics study how variations in a person’s genome can affect how well they respond to certain drugs. Small genetic differences can mean that some people break down certain drugs too slowly, leading to adverse drug reactions and side effects. This will allow doctors to give people the most effective medical treatment available. Biologists will also be involved in considering and regulating the ethics of this work.
Chronobiology involves studying the natural rhythms of the body throughout the day. Research has shown that some drugs are more effective when taken at certain times of the day, so biologists are working on finding out when medicines will be at their most effective.
Biotechnology is an exciting field that applies biology to some of the world’s biggest problems, in food production, sustainable fuels and medicine. Biologists work with technologists, engineers and doctors to use biology to create new technologies to answer some of these questions.
Developing new biofuels from non-food crops, waste biomass, algae and microbes will allow us to create cleaner and greener energy which is more sustainable than fossil fuels. Challenges for biologists in the future include making sure that new biofuels don’t damage the environment or threaten food supplies or land usage, as well as being good value.
Other exciting research into green fuels includes creating an ‘artificial leaf’ which would allow us to capture energy from the sun and store it as fuel, using synthetic biology to artificially create a reaction similar to photosynthesis. As the product would be chemical, this will be easier to store than the energy collected through solar panels, making better use of the sun’s energy.
Systems biology is a growing field which looks at biological systems as a whole, using a range of approaches to explore interactions within networks and systems. For example, to look at how cells function, biologists working on genetics and biochemistry work together with mathematicians, physicists and computer modellers to collect data on different aspects of cell signalling. This allows us to get a bigger picture of what is going on inside cells and other biological systems.
Where will these biologists work?
The future of biology will involve biologists from all over the world working in a variety of settings, from university laboratories and research institutes, in the pharmaceutical and food industries, in agriculture, in hospitals, working in the field and other places. Some of the most exciting work in science occurs when biologists work with scientists and techniques from chemistry, physics, engineering and maths to create interdisciplinary projects.
Becoming a Biologist – Degrees and Careers in Biology (Royal Society of Biology)
BBSRC Research technologies (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council)
Biofuels (The Guardian)
Personalised medicine (BBC)
Stem cells; science and ethics (BBRSC)
Working in genetics (The Genetics Society)
Teaching resources for teachers (Biochemical Society)