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University of the Western Cape UWC Biotechnology Department

University of the Western Cape UWC Biotechnology Department

University of the Western Cape Biotechnology Department, The simplest definition of biotechnology is “applied biology” through the application of biological knowledge and techniques to develop products or services. It may be further defined as the use of living organisms to make a product or run a process. By this definition, the classic techniques used for plant and animal breeding, fermentation and enzyme purification are to be considered biotechnology. The term is also used to refer to the newer tools of genetic science. In this context, biotechnology may be defined as the use of molecular methods to modify the genetic materials of living cells so that they will produce new substances or perform new functions. Examples include recombinant DNA technology, in which a copy of a piece of DNA containing one or a few genes is transferred between organisms or “recombined” within an organism.

Biotechnology is at the forefront of the knowledge economy. In its broadest sense, it is the commercial exploitation of living organisms or their components. 

Biotechnology aims to apply the latest molecular techniques to modern-day problems in industrial and environmental situations. Fundamental research in these areas will help to shape the development of the industrial world.  UWC’s international reputation for research enables us to teach at the cutting edge of biotechnology. Students work in close collaboration with research-active scientists on problems of real significance, making use of the considerable research expertise and facilities available on campus

Biotechnologist tend to be

  • Innovative

  • Curious

  • Meticulous

  • Independent workers/thinkers

  • People who love science and nature and are eager to make a positive contribution to their natural and social environment

Skills acquired

  • Research techniques

  • Scientific writing skills

  • Use of Biological databases

  • Ability to work under pressure

  • Presentation skills


  • B.Sc. (Biotechnology)

  • B.Sc. Honours (Biotechnology)

  • M.Sc. (Biotechnology)

  • Ph.D.

The undergraduate Biotechnology program consists of three main streams and offers excellence in laboratory techniques within the following disciplines: 

Microbiology – the study of microorganisms, including viruses, prokaryotes and simple eukaryotes, today, most of the work in microbiology is done using methods from molecular biology.

Biochemistry – studying the molecules and chemical reactions catalyzed by enzymes that take place in all living organisms, thus the chemistry of life.

Molecular Biology – the science of studying the genetic composition, and mechanism of living organisms at the molecular level, it historically refers to the understanding and manipulation of genes (DNA).

This programme of study provides an appropriate academic background for a professional career in the traditional and emerging biotechnology industries. Standards are high but career prospects are excellent.  Graduates are likely to qualify for technical and research assistant positions within fundamental and applied research positions in Research Institutes and Universities, Biotechnology companies, Agricultural and Food companies, the brewing, dairy and other traditional fermentation industries, pharmaceutical manufacturers as well as diagnostic facilities in medicine and agriculture


The Institute for Microbial Biotechnology and Metagenomics was established by Professor Don Cowan in 2007, and is now led by Professor Marla Tuffin as the Acting Director. Recognised as one of the leading research units at UWC, IMBM forms part of the Department of Biotechnology. IMBM is dedicated to excellence in research and in the training of future research leaders, and additionally contributes to the Department’s undergraduate teaching and activities.

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