Engineering can be defined as the designing, making and putting to use of engines and machinery whilst biology may be defined as the study of the processes that underlie the process that we call life. Bioengineering, incongruous as the term may seem, is a fairly new specialisation that combines the elements of engineering and biology to meet the challenges that face the human race. Properly speaking, it ought not to be surprising that two such seemingly disparate disciplines should merge to form a new one; living systems exhibit some of the most advanced engineering principles known to man, and then some. Bioengineering covers the full spectrum of living systems and the design, analysis and sustainability of products and the like that improve, maintain, and focus on the workings of those systems.
Bioengineering knowledge and expertise is drawn from a very wide variety of fields covering both applied and pure sciences such as kinetics, fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, polymer design, etc.
Generally speaking, bioengineering seeks to imitate life by replacing, expanding or sustaining those chemical and mechanical processes that underlie life functions. Three broad categories may be identified within the larger field.
i. Bioprocess Engineering covers such areas as biocatalysis, i.e. the study, design and production of substances such as enzymes that play a part in the speed of biological processes, or bioinformatics, which area is concerned with the use of the increasing computational ability that is now available in biological work, e.g. studying the numbers and work of the genes that are in a living organism.
ii. Genetic Engineering is concerned with the direct design or redesign of cellular or molecular properties within the organism as well as the design and manufacture of synthetic replacements for natural biological products, e.g. synthetic insulin for the use of diabetic patients.
iii. Biomedical Engineering which covers the area of improved healthcare diagnosis and treatment such as design and production of prosthetics.
Given that bioengineering deals with issues that are very dear to human feelings, i.e. matters of LIFE, it shouldn't come as a surprise that this field is one of the most regulated fields in human affairs. Most of the countries in the world have bodies such as the US Food and Drug Administration, FDA, which exercise regulatory oversight on bioengineering products. A major problem in this area is that different jurisdictions have different requirements as to what constitutes acceptable bioengineering, thus, what may be permissible in one jurisdiction may be impermissible in some other jurisdiction.
Bioengineers need to be very conversant with engineering and biological concepts. Typically, a bioengineer will normally hold a masters or higher degree, although more institutions worldwide are now offering programs at the bachelor level in the fields of bioengineering. Also, the requirement for engineering certification before one can practice as an engineer varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, some jurisdictions requiring certification whilst in others the need for certification is optional. Notwithstanding, many certification bodies now cover an increasing area of the biological field as more and more people enter this rapidly expanding area.