Biotechnologists combine biology, the science of living things, with technology. They research and develop the use of biology to solve problems in areas such as health care, the pharmaceutical and chemical industries, agriculture, food production and environmental protection.
Also known as
- Research Assistant
- Genomic Technologist
- Bioprocessing Engineer
- Fermentation Scientist
Video: - Sharon: Biotechnologist
As a Biotechnologist, you will be a vital role in health care, including in the production of hormones, vaccines and antibodies. For example, you will use your knowledge of genetics and biochemistry to artificially produce insulin, a hormone lacking in people with diabetes, from genetically engineered bacteria.
You can use your knowledge of genetics to identify and map a disease-causing organism's genome. This can enable you to identify and 'knock-out' a gene that creates particular actions of the disease, for example, by inserting DNA so the gene doesn't produce proteins needed to develop the disease.
Biotechnologists also study inherited diseases, identifying the genetic factors involved in the development. This enables you to predict more accurately the likelihood of a person developing conditions such as Huntingdon's disease and breast cancer.
Your knowledge of genetics is very important to agriculture, where a major area of research worldwide is the genetic modification of crops.
Biotechnologists can transfer individual genes to a crop from other species, to add or delete specific characteristics. This can enable you to increase a crop's resistance to disease and pests, or its tolerance to drought or extremes of temperature, for example.
Your work has the potential to be of great benefit to food production, especially in developing countries where huge quantities of crops are lost to pests and diseases.
Biotechnologists are involved in lengthy tests to investigate the impact of genetically modified (GM) foods on human health and the environment.
Biotechnology plays an increasingly important role in protecting the environment, including in waste management, recycling and pollution control.
For example, you can use micro-organisms to break down sewage. Biotechnologists are now extending the use of micro-organisms to break down certain types of industrial waste and to clean up chemical pollutants.
You may research and develop biodegradable plastics and bioethanol and biodiesel fuels produced from crops. These can reduce the use of fossil fuels.
The food and drink industry is an area where your work has been used. It is essential to the production of beer, yoghurt, bread and cheese. You will now be able to develop new additives and preservatives, as well as vegetarian substitutes for meat.
While you might spend time alone performing tests and analysing results in the laboratory, you are also likely to have contact with a wide range of other Scientists.
For example, if you work in the pharmaceuticals industry could be working in a team with Pharmacologists, Toxicologists and Biochemists.
You will often manage teams of Technicians, who look after the day-to-day running of the laboratory.
Your day-to-day work will vary depending on the area of biotechnology you are involved in. However, it will involve laboratory work with equipment such as micro-syringes, automatic pipettes, centrifuges and electron microscopes, and controlled environments (for example, sterility, temperature and humidity) for maintaining and storing cells and tissues.
You will also design, carry out and evaluate experiments, and also write up your results, perhaps for publication in scientific journals.
A typical day could involve reading journals to keep up to date with advances in Biotechnology. You can also go to conferences on your subject area, to meet other Scientists and to discuss the results of your research.
Being able to read, write and speak Welsh may be an advantage when you’re looking for work in Wales.
Personal Qualities and Skills
To become a Biotechnologist, you will need:
- a thorough, patient and methodical approach to your work
- an enquiring mind and problem-solving skills
- the ability to explain results clearly and concisely, including in written reports
- teamwork skills
- number skills to work with statistics
- the ability to use a wide range of technology, including computers
Pay and Opportunities
The pay rates given below are approximate.
- Starting: £27,500 - £30,000
- With experience: £35,000 - £41,000
- Senior Biotechnologists earn £44,500 - £50,000
Hours of work
Biotechnologists typically work 35-39 hours a week, Monday to Friday. However, some might have early starts, late finishes, shifts and weekend work.
Where could I work?
Employers are universities and research institutes, and companies in agrochemicals, horticulture, the food and drink industry and the pharmaceutical industry.
Opportunities for Biotechnologists occur in towns and cities throughout the UK.
Where are vacancies advertised?
Vacancies are advertised in science magazines such as New Scientist (which also posts jobs on its website), on specialist job boards and in national/local newspapers.
Environmental Jobs is a job board aimed at people interested in environmental careers:
Entry Routes and Training
Biotechnologists usually have at least a first (undergraduate) degree in a relevant subject.
Degrees in biotechnology are widely available in the UK, and there are also specialist degrees in areas such as medical and microbial biotechnology.
A number of sandwich degrees in biotechnology are available.
Some universities offer degree courses with a foundation year. This is an extra year for students who don't have the specified science A levels for entry.
A small number of universities offer integrated science degrees (ISciences), aiming to give graduates interdisciplinary skills and knowledge through a problem-based approach.
Postgraduate qualifications are usually essential for entry to a research position in higher education or a research institute.
Some entrants have related first degrees, for example, in chemistry, biological science, biochemistry, genetics, microbiology and chemical engineering. You may then choose to take a specialist postgraduate qualification before entering employment.
Entry may also be possible with a relevant HND or foundation degree, although this is likely to be at technician level. Some employers enable technicians to study for a degree part-time.
While not essential for entry to employment in industry/agriculture, a postgraduate qualification can enhance your career prospects, and many employers ask for one.
A great way to get into this career is through an internship. Take a look at our information article '
You'll usually have training on-the-job, for example, in laboratory techniques and specialist equipment. Some employers give entrants the opportunity to work towards a postgraduate qualification part-time while in employment.
Previous experience working within a laboratory environment will be really useful for this career.
You could progress to a supervisory or management position, which might involve training other Scientists and Technicians.
For entry to a degree in biotechnology, the usual minimum requirement is:
- 2/3 A levels in either biology or chemistry will usually be essential, with another science subject or maths
- GCSEs at grade C/4 and above in your A level subjects
- a further 2/3 GCSEs at grade C/4 and above
English and maths are usually essential. You might also need any science subjects you don't have at A level.
Alternatives to A levels include:
- BTEC level 3 qualifications
- the International Baccalaureate Diploma
However, course requirements vary, so please check college/university websites very carefully.
Some universities accept the Welsh Baccalaureate as equivalent to 1 A level.
It is illegal for any organisation to set age limits for entry to employment, education or training, unless they can show there is a real need to have these limits.
Some entrants have developed skills and knowledge by working in the biotechnology industry as laboratory technicians. Others have developed skills through relevant scientific fieldwork.
If you don't have the qualifications needed to enter a degree, foundation degree or HND course, you might be able to start one after completing an Access course, for example, Access to Science. You don't usually need any qualifications to enter an Access course, although you should check this with the course provider.
A foundation year before the start of a science degree or HND is available at some universities and higher education colleges for students who don't have the science A levels usually needed for entry to the course.
Part-time biotechnology courses are available.
Sponsorship for higher education study of science subjects is sometimes available from biotechnology companies.
Funding for postgraduate study and research is available, through universities, from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), through awards to research supervisors in the first instance.
- 5% of people in occupations such as biotechnologist work part-time.
- 24% have flexible hours.
- 9% of employees work on a temporary basis.
Apprenticeships: Get In. Go Far
National Apprenticeship Service (NAS)
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Engineering technology news
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Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI)
Address: 7th floor, Southside, 105 Victoria Street, London SW1E 6QT
Tel: 0870 8904333
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
Address: Polaris House, North Star Avenue, Swindon SN2 1UH
Tel: 01793 413200
Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) Scotland
Address: Crichton House, 4 Crichton's Close, Edinburgh EH8 8DT
Tel: 0131 5230493
Address: c/o Portland Customer Services, Commerce Way, Colchester CO2 8HP
Tel: 01206 796351
Royal Society of Biology
Address: Charles Darwin House, 12 Roger Street, London WC1N 2JU
Tel: 020 7685 2550