Through lecture-based courses and hands-on lab work, students in a plant biotechnology program explore plant genetics, biochemistry and bioengineering techniques. Programs in the field are available at the bachelor's level as well through a graduate certificate. In order to pursue the graduate certificate, a bachelor's degree in plant biotechnology is generally required, though some programs accept students currently enrolled in a similar degree program, such as chemistry or biology. Some courses and programs are available online.
Bachelor of Science in Plant Biotechnology
Students enrolled in a bachelor's degree program in plant biotechnology primarily study the genetic structures and mechanisms of various plants. They learn how to use the genetic makeup of plants to engineer solutions to health and environmental issues. For example, they might learn how to genetically engineer plants so that they carry more nutrition or are more sustainable in the environment. Students enrolled in a bachelor's degree program in the field study the basic concepts of botany, soil science, genetics, chemistry, microbiology, plant science and statistics. Most of the core courses offered fall within the physical sciences, chemistry and mathematics. Some specific course options might include:
- Ecology and biodiversity
- Crop and soil science
- Organic chemistry and biochemistry
- Principles of genetics
- Plant pathology
- Humans and plant science
Graduate Certificate in Plant Biotechnology
Certificate programs in biotechnology are ideal for students who have an undergraduate degree or academic background in biology, chemistry, chemical engineering, natural resources or a similar field. Students enrolled in such a program learn the same overall concepts of plant biotechnology as those students enrolled in bachelor's degree programs in the field, but in a much more concentrated span of time. Courses cover genetics and biological chemicals related to plants, and students learn how to manipulate plants at a molecular level to produce crops, create foods and improve quality of life. Some examples of advanced courses might include:
- Molecular and cellular biotechnology
- Protein purification
- Tissue culture
- Genome mapping
- Advanced genetics and functional genetics
- Biochemical engineering
Popular Career Options
Research facilities and food companies often hire plant biotechnologists at several levels. Some examples of entry-level careers in the field include:
- Plant biotechnology lab technician
- Biological engineer
- Plant and crop physiologist
- Plant pathologist
- Plant breeder
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
Students who graduate with a certificate in plant biotechnology can go on to work in several different positions in the fields of agriculture and food science. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), soil and plant scientists held 18,000 positions in May 2018 (www.bls.gov). They were employed by independent scientific research services, federal agencies, universities and even food wholesalers. The median annual wage for plant scientists in May 2018 was $63,950.
Plant scientists can opt to gain different types of certification depending upon which section of the industry they are interested in. For example, the American Society of Agronomy offers certification for crop advisors. Individuals must have either a bachelor's degree or four years of work experience before they can qualify for certification.
To begin on the path to a career in plant biotechnology, students can pursue a bachelor's degree in the field, which they can then follow with a graduate certificate program to broaden their knowledge and prepare for future employment as a plant scientist.