Biotechnologists use engineering and science to create new products from biologically based raw materials such as vaccines or pharmaceuticals. They also develop factory processes that reduce pollution or treat waste products. Biotechnologists are also known as: Bioprocess Engineers; Biochemical Engineers; Research Engineers; Process Engineers; and Fermentation Scientists / Technologists.

Biotechnologists study and examine micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungi, yeast, and their enzymes. They operate and maintain equipment used to process biological materials such as whey, foods and pharmaceuticals.

They develop and test methods of making new products on both small and large scales, which may involve genetic modification of organisms to make new products. They may be required to monitor production trends and data and work out budgets and production costs.

Biotechnologists have to deal with problems when processing biologically based materials and products. They may study the effect of waste materials on the environment; develop new waste treatment processes; and actually treat waste for safe disposal.

Biotechnologists need to have mechanical, laboratory and technical skills to perform experiments and tests. Biotechnologists need to know about biochemistry, microbiology, physics and mathematics, as well as mechanics, engineering and industrial processes. They also need budgeting and business management knowledge and skills.

They need to keep up-to-date with the environmental matters, technology and computer applications used in their industry. They may travel overseas to conferences and to meet clients.

Some of their tasks include isolating, identifying and preparing specimens for examination, conducting standardised biological, microbiological or biochemical tests and laboratory analyses to evaluate the quantity or quality of physical or chemical substances in food or other products, participating in the research, development or manufacturing of medicinal and pharmaceutical preparations, analysing experimental data and interpreting the results to write reports and summaries of the findings.  They also need to set up, adjust, calibrate, clean, maintain and troubleshoot laboratory and field equipment, monitor laboratory work to ensure compliance with set standards, and clean, maintain and prepare supplies and work areas.

Equipment that biotechnologists use includes fermenters to make new substances from bacteria; centrifuges and other processing equipment to separate liquids and solids and to modify them chemically and physically; and other laboratory equipment such as microscopes, filters, pumps, and evaporators.  Some use computers, computer-interfaced equipment, robotics or high-technology industrial applications to perform their work duties.  They usually wear protective clothing, such as lab coats, safety glasses and gloves, as they may work in dirty, messy and noisy conditions and in some cases with hazardous chemicals.

Personal Requirements

  • patient and persistent
  • creative and enquiring
  • organised, accurate and observant
  • skill in analysing and interpreting information
  • planning and problem-solving skills
  • research skills
  • communication and people skills
  • mechanical, laboratory and computer skills

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physical Sciences
Recommended subjects: Life Sciences

What to Study

Degree: BSc majoring in Biotechnology or Microbiology - UJ, UWC, RU, UKZN, UCT, UFS, US, UL, or courses offered at DUT, TUT and VUT.

Post-graduate training: a doctorate majoring in biotechnology is the preferred qualification - UCT, UKZN, UFS, UWC, UZ and TUT.

Skills are gained on the job, and employers may provide short courses and training at tertiary institutions.


  • factories
  • water treatment plants
  • dairy, food, and meat processing plants
  • pharmaceutical companies
  • agricultural companies
  • regional councils
  • leather manufacturers
  • pulp and paper processing industries
  • breweries
  • universities

Further Information

The Society of Medical Laboratory Technologists of South Africa
Unit A28
Pinelands Business Park
New Mill Road
Pinelands 7405
Cape Town
Tel: (021) 531-1231

Getting Started

  • try to obtain a vacation job doing laboratory and/or research work; in a quality control situation; or in a processing factory
  • make an appointment to speak to a biotechnologist about this type of career.

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

Study Microbiology at Stellenbosch University

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