Environmental biotechnology is a growing applied science that primarily uses microorganisms for environmental improvement. Although biotechnology is used in multiple areas of science, environmental biotechnology mainly focuses on improving biological systems.
Bachelor's degree programs offer a foundational knowledge of the field, with courses in mathematics and calculus, as well as in the natural sciences. Lab work plays a major role in this program. Students get to explore topics including environmental microbiology and plant pathogens.
Doctoral students need a bachelor's or master's degree in a relevant field, such as a natural science or engineering. Students complete a few core courses in areas such as biostatistics, then choose an area of specialization for their research. They learn to design experiments and gain experience in scholarly writing.
Students in environmental biotechnology programs have many opportunities for advanced training and internships. They may work in a university research facility or serve a paid internship with a biotech company. In some programs, these internships are required.
Bachelor's Degree in Biotechnology
Undergraduate study of biotechnology covers a wide range of subjects, including natural science, research methods, the biotechnology industry and the role of biological systems in agricultural science. Students can expect to earn a Bachelor of Science in four years, and some programs offer a concentration in environmental biotechnology. Like most bachelor's degree programs, a high school diploma or GED is a prerequisite.
Students explore natural sciences through classroom lectures and develop scientific research prowess through laboratory work. Mathematics courses, such as calculus and statistics, are also typically required as foundation courses. Advanced topics of study may include:
- Animal cell culture
- Environmental microbiology
- Plant pathogens
- Molecular biotechnology
- Environmental biochemistry
Ph.D. in Biotechnology
Graduates from Ph.D. programs in biotechnology work not only in academia but also in government and industry. Many programs offer the option to select environmental biotechnology as an area of specialization. Graduate programs in biotechnology and bioengineering offer advanced study in biotechnology sciences and the environmental applications of current biotechnologies. In addition, doctoral candidates gain experience designing and analyzing experiments. Scientific writing with the intent of scholarly publication is another key expectation of doctoral studies.
Applicants need to have taken core studies required to pursue doctoral coursework, including genetics, physics and organic chemistry. Master's programs may provide graduate students with room to explore an area of specialization and develop research skills before committing to a Ph.D. program.
Core courses for Ph.D. students, such as biostatistics, support the development of a doctoral dissertation. Candidates tend to work with faculty members on research that may involve topics such as:
- Environmental analytical chemistry
- Soil fungal communities
- Environmental toxicology
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Environmental Biotechnology Training
Training opportunities run the gamut from projects at environmental biotechnology research centers to internships in conjunction with graduate programs. Research centers for environmental biotechnology are partly staffed by graduate students, visiting scholars, postdoctoral researchers and interns. Training programs affiliated with Ph.D. programs typically connect candidates with biotech industry professionals who work with environmental concerns. Internships in such programs may involve a stipend.
An exemplary academic record may be required for many training opportunities, which are often competitive. A statement of research intent may also be required upon application.
Undergraduate and graduate coursework in environmental biotechnology described previously lays the foundation for some of the cutting-edge research being performed by research centers to address environmental issues through science. Some areas of research and internship training may include:
- Molecular microbial ecology
- Environmental genomics
- Bioenergy sources
The biotechnology industry employs many types of scientists, including biological scientists for environmental biotechnology and protection. A bachelor's degree may qualify for entry-level jobs in the biotechnology industry. Possible career options include:
- Biotechnology product developer
- Plant breeder
- High school biology teacher
- Lab technician
Environmental biotechnologists develop environmentally safe products and research microbial systems for environmental improvement. In addition to academic research centers, environmental biotechnology scientists may work for a wide range of industries, including the chemical, paper, energy, food and textile industries.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for biochemists and biophysicists was expected to grow 8% between 2014 and 2024, about the average rate for all occupations (www.bls.gov). One of the driving factors for growth is the heightened emphasis on researching alternative energy sources. The BLS reports that the median national annual wage for biochemists and biophysicists was $82,150 as of May 2015.
A bachelor's degree program in biotechnology prepares students for entry-level jobs in the field and provides them with the basics regarding the natural sciences, research methods and the biotechnology industry. Students who wish to conduct research at the academic and government levels should pursue a Ph.D. in Biotechnology.