Revolutions in BioTechnology – The Menstrual Pad Issue
Technology is only as powerful as the people who wield it. Since the era of the wheel we’ve come a long way, with planes, nuclear weapons and space flight. Merriam-Webster defines technology as the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area. As Homo sapiens sapiens learns more and more about his environment, he finds more and more such “areas” to look deeper into and apply his practical knowledge to make them useful to him.
One of the relatively recent areas is the field of Bioengineering. This amazing interdisciplinary field is a result of a Doctor’s problems, and an Engineer’s solutions. A sub-branch called BioTechnology has recently risen to prominence. The use of the smallest organisms on Earth to serve our need. A common example is that of Humulin or Human Insulin. Initially mass created using pigs, we switched over to bacteria in fermentation tanks with the insulin gene inserted into a plasmid(bacterial extrachromosomal DNA) as it was easier, and more efficient.
However, the biotechnological advancement I would like to point out right now is one not yet well-known, or documented, or even completed. It has not been worked on by any world-famous scientists in world-famous labs. It involves a team (called MITADTBio_Pune) of 5 bioengineering students and their teachers from the MITADT School of Bioengineering, an international competition called iGEM, a challenging crisis and one heck of an idea. Let me provide some context for the latter.
According to the Menstrual Hygiene Alliance of India(MHAI) there are 336 million menstruating women in India, 36% of which use disposable Sanitary pads, roughly 121 million. At a conservative 8 pads being used per cycle the mathematics adds up to 12.3 billion pads being used annually. Sanitary pads today comprise 90% plastic, namely polyethylene and polypropylene. They are non-biodegradable and take a minimum of 700 years to degrade, if buried in landfills or left out in waste dumps. A third option is incinerating the waste, which involves the release of even more toxins and harmful chemicals into the environment.
This team is looking for another way out. They plan to engineer a bacterium to secrete an enzyme capable of breaking down the plastic components of the pads so that their effect on the environment is considerably diminished. According to my latest interactions with them, considerable progress has been made in this direction, with the team beginning to reach out to schools and other hubs to spread awareness of this crisis, and the efforts being taken to resolve it.
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