Louis Pasteur said, "Invention favors the prepared mind."
As Phoenix, Ariz. tries to become one of the next biotechnology business clusters in the world, career opportunities in the field for more than just scientists will abound.
Today's students may need to determine the safeguards for a medically implanted chip, find an enzyme that safely ripens oranges in half the time or decide to clone or not to clone organs for transplant.
"I try to emphasize to my students that math and science are important for two major reasons," said Payson High School chemistry teacher Cynthia Pool. "First, life takes many unexpected twists and turns and it's hard to predict at the age of 15, 16 or 17 what knowledge and skills will be important to you later.
"Second, medical and scientific breakthroughs can impact our lives in many ways."
Last week Dr. Guy Cardineau, a research professor at Arizona State University, spoke to Payson High School science students about careers in biotechnology.
"Pickles, yogurt and cheese and beer are only a few of the products we use living organism to make," he said. "Plants do have genes. Eighty percent of what we eat has been genetically modified."
According to Cardineau, what is possible and probable in bioscience and biotechnology and what society will allow are different issues.
For instance, "xeno-transplantation" is the use of organs from nonhuman animals for transplantation into a human. "It may sound freaky, but we use pig valves now," Cardineau said.
Pigs and humans have closely related immune systems. Pig valves have been transplanted into human hearts for years. Genetec cloned the insulin gene in the 1970s. Before that time insulin for diabetics came from pig pancreases.
Cardineau's research into vaccines and antibodies in plants has led to the creation of pharmaceuticals grown in potatoes and corn. The plant can be freeze dried, ground and put into a capsule, making needle injections obsolete.
"My kids think that's a great idea. They just wish I'd done it sooner," he said. "Eventually, the idea is that you will be able to go into a place like T-Gen (Translational Genomics Institute in Phoenix) at 10 in the morning and four hours later come back and they will have your entire DNA work-up on a chip." This chip could be small enough to insert in the fleshy part of the wrist.
"How far away is the chip from happening?" asked one student.
Scientist working on what the genes mean and scientists working on nano-technology and chip development right now might make it only 10 to 15 years away, Cardineau said.
"Somebody is going to try to clone a human being," he said. "It's going to happen."
Dr. Cardineau touched on just a few of the ethical issues of biotechnology in his talk.
"We all need a background in the basic sciences (chemistry, physics, and biology) so that we may understand and make informed decisions as future issues arise," he said.